The good news for Manchester United is that they have rediscovered their winning habit. They won this game despite missing a number of key players with injury and, for that alone, Ole Gunnar Solskjær can probably accept the fact their performance never got any higher than six out of 10 – there was lots of huffing and puffing but none of the old panache.
Leicester certainly had enough of the ball to believe they ought to have extended United’s winless sequence to four matches. Ultimately, though, Solskjær and his players can reflect on a decent afternoon’s work bearing in mind Leicester have ambitions of their own to break into the Premier League’s top four.
Marcus Rashford’s seventh-minute penalty was the game’s decisive moment and, in particular, it must have been a satisfying day for Harry Maguire given the Leicester supporters, for reasons not particularly clear, spent large parts of the afternoon targeting their former player with a very unflattering chant. Maguire played well, winning his personal battle with Jamie Vardy, and Solskjær was entitled to feel happy about the commitment of his team. It was certainly one of Andreas Pereira’s better games for the club. Daniel James showed some nice touches and Rashford was always a difficult opponent. United might have provided reminders of their flaws at times but, if nothing else, nobody could doubt their determination.
In the process Rashford also demonstrated they have not completely forgotten the art of taking a penalty kick. With Paul Pogba among the absentees, at least there was no debate about who should take this one. Both players had missed one in United’s opening fixtures and, in those circumstances, Rashford could probably have been forgiven if he felt slightly apprehensive approaching the ball. He did not give that impression, steering his kick to Kasper Schmeichel’s left as the goalkeeper shaped to go the other way.
Anthony Martial’s absence meant Rashford was given a role through the middle. It is the position Gareth Southgate says does not bring out the best in the player but, while there may be something in that argument, it was also Rashford’s quickness to the ball that led to the penalty. Caglar Soyuncu did not seem to realise how speedily his opponent was going to get across to the ball and, as soon as Rashford got there ahead of him, it was always likely the attacking player would go over the defender’s trailing foot. The VAR replays confirmed Soyuncu had clipped him and Pereira also deserves a mention for the sliding tackle on Hamza Choudury that turned the ball into the penalty area.
By that point Schmeichel had already denied Pereira, direct from a free-kick, with a scrambling save beneath his crossbar. James Maddison had a chance to punish United for some poor defending but it took a while before Leicester, having gone behind, started to attack again with the potency that might have been expected. When they did, however, it must have been startling for the United crowd to see how quickly their own players lost momentum. Ben Chilwell’s volley brought a flying save from David de Gea and there was enough danger for the home team to realise a difficult second half lay ahead.
Sure enough, Leicester started it brightly but, for all their possession, they never found a pass to release Vardy. The onslaught that might have been anticipated in the final 20 minutes never really materialised. Rashford struck the angle of crossbar and post from a free-kick and the afternoon concluded with the Stretford End singing Solskjær’s name.
“We want to play better than this,” the manager said. “Of course we want to dominate games but sometimes you play against a team that plays well and I thought we rode out the threat well.”