XtraTime Web Desk: Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United begins the season with a phenomenal fashion, as the Red Devils beat Leicester City by 2-1.
Goals from Paul Pogba and Luke Shaw – which felt strangely appropriate given the uncertainty over their futures under Mourinho – were not enough for the manager to move on from his burning sense that he has been badly let down this summer by the club’s hierarchy.
Post-match and Mourinho was talking failed transfer targets and tricky pre-seasons – again – and he made a barbed comment about how managers nowadays should all be re-defined as head coaches such is the power they have had to cede to their clubs. A bit like the fable of the scorpion and the fox he just cannot help himself.
Goodness knows what Mourinho’s reaction would have been had United lost to a reshaped Leicester who preyed on that uncertainty and pushed and pushed before scoring in injury-time through substitute Jamie Vardy. The final play of the match was United watching nervously as a header from a Leicester corner, and with goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel in the home penalty area, drifted wide.
The match itself was a microcosm of how Mourinho is perceived. It was either an important, encouraging win earned through managing the depleted resources available to him – for example using 22-year-old attacking midfielder such as Andreas Pereira in a deeper role – or another example that they are a maddeningly constrained curiosity given the vast resources available to them. They won; but they did not win convincingly.
Maddison would have scored but for the excellence of David De Gea who, one-handed, palmed away his fierce shot with Leicester also targeting United right-back Matteo Darmian while Fred, on his debut, worked hard to plug the gaps and Eric Bailly did well in defence.
After the break United were much improved although it was Leicester who went close, and were again denied by De Gea, after Gray met Vardy’s cross when the striker had caught out a dawdling Shaw. Thankfully that would not be Shaw’s only significant involvement.
Schmeichel brilliantly thwarted United substitute Romelu Lukaku, turning over his low shot with an outstretched leg, before Shaw took possession out on the left. His touch was heavy but he reacted quickly to collect it ahead of Ricardo Pereira and volleyed low back across goal to beat Schmeichel.
Just as it felt that would be it and that, despite Mourinho’s demands for a central defender – and with one of those targets, Harry Maguire, playing for Leicester – a clean sheet would be collected by United, Leicester hit back. Vardy had already wastefully hooked a volley over before his presence confused De Gea and Bailly who allowed a Pereira cross to rebound back off the far post for the England striker to head home. Would United throw it away? No, they held on – but Mourinho has not let go of that sense of grievance. Not yet, anyway.