Manchester United 2 v Leicester City 1
Report by Colin Murrant
For the third year running Leicester were away for the first match of the Premier League season, at the end of the match they were, as on the previous two occasions, bottom of the table with a goal difference of minus 1. However, whereas at Hull City they were dreadful, and at Arsenal they were ultimately undone by some strange late substitutions, at Old Trafford they were very impressive in defeat and possession having 54% of it.
There has been a lot of pressure by the Premier League Trusts to get more reasonable kick off times from the TV companies so that fans can best use public transport, to no avail. With an 8 o’clock kick off at Manchester, and on a Friday night, this fixture provided no options but to endure the M1/M6 either by bus or car.
When arriving at Old Trafford the security is quite tight for pedestrians and vehicles alike. The car park at the ground had security staff conducting under vehicle scanning, car boot searches, and bag searches as you left the car park. Some larger bags were not allowed into the stadium and you could leave them for collection later paying £5 (to charity) for the privilege. There were further body searches at the turnstiles and at least three sniffer dogs to pass; such is the need for security requirements of today although this far exceeds anything seen at other grounds.
Old Trafford itself is a magnificent arena, and the buzz and activities around the stadium is second to none. Replica European Cup, and other trophies, are available to have your photo taken with them, and the number of stalls and non-official scarf sellers leading up to, and outside of the Sir Matt Busby Stand generates a real party atmosphere: all this overseen by the Charlton/Best/Law statue.
The place is quite intimidating from its pure size, although the fans are generally so quiet these days that its self-proclaimed title as ‘Theatre of Dreams’ applies these days may not so much for the recent major titles won, perhaps more for the corporates sleeping after their prawn cocktail sandwiches?
And, so to the match itself. What you want at Old Trafford is to have a steady start and get through the first 20 minutes without conceding; sadly, it was not to be. After only a minute Amartey, a surprise inclusion to most, handled in the box and Pogba despatched the penalty past Schmeichel who dived the right way but was perhaps deceived by Pogba’s initial walk and later run up.
Shortly afterwards the City keeper had to be alert to come out of his area to clear and there was a worry City could be swept aside by the early United tempo. Gradually though City came into the game with Maddison and Silva having more influence in midfield and Chilwell and Gray attacking down the left flank.
Although City were having more possession they were looking vulnerable to the counter attack. City’s best chance came after 29 minutes, Maddison got the ball in the box and unleashed a shot that seemed to be going in until De Gea got a hand to the ball.
At half time the City fans were all in agreement that City were the best team, the only problem is that for all their possession they were not creating all that many good chances, even from numerous free kicks and corners.
The second-half was more even although it continued in the same vein with City having slightly more possession. Pogba was playing well for United and the Leicester midfield was not so dominant, the tackles were getting tastier without any real nasties although Fred may have seen red on another day for one of his tackles.
On 65 minutes Iheanacho could and should have had a penalty, moving into the box from a long ball from Ndidi he was tackled by Bailly who made no contact with the ball as the City striker fell. If this could have been a turning point in the match, City had another great chance 10 minute later. Vardy had just come on and in typical rampaging style robbed Shaw near the corner flag. His cross into the box was flicked towards goal by Gray; unfortunately, the shot had no great pace and De Gea saved with some comfort. Gray had another shot from distance minutes later but easily cleared the bar.
United on the counter attack should have scored but for a typical Schmeichel wonder save: Sanchez beating Ricardo in the box laid the ball to Lukaku in oceans of space. He shot but the mountain that is the City custodian got his body in the way and the ball flew up over the bar. Then came the killer blow, Shaw found himself one-on-one with Ricardo, he flicked it over the full-back’s head, and then shot across Schmeichel into the far corner.
City kept pushing forward but nothing was created until the game was in added-on time. Firstly, Ricardo found Vardy who volleyed over from 6 yards. Then two minutes later Ricardo shot across goal, hit the post and Vardy headed the rebound in from a yard. There was one last chance in the last minute when Schmeichel, up for the corner, headed wide.
So, what did we learn from this first match of the season?
Puel’s influence on the possession style of football is much in evidence but it needs to be more effective in the last third of the pitch. The style leaves more open to counter attacks and a pacey centre back alongside Maguire will help.
Ricardo is a lovely player to watch, but is a lot more inspiring going forward than defending, but bags of promise. He seems uncomfortable one-on one in tight situations noticeable in the World Cup too
Maguire is clearly focussed and the World Cup and transfer rumours have done nothing to detract from his game or commitment.
Maddison is class with enormous potential, looked perfectly at home at this level, with much more to come as he gets to know Vardy and vice versa.
Schmeichel was dominant, catching the high ball better in this game than I have seen him do for a long while.
Chilwell and Gray combined well and add an electric dimension when attacking, Gray covered well at times too.
Ndidi was getting back to his best and Ghezzal showed promise in his late cameo.
With the new centre backs this is becoming a youthful team which hopefully will develop and serve City for years to come.
One swallow doesn’t make a summer, but this was a hugely promising start, with so many reasons to be cheerful!
Man Utd XI: De Gea; Darmian, Bailly, Lindelof, Shaw; Pogba (c), A Pereira, Fred; Mata, Rashford, Sanchez. Subs: Grant, Smalling, Young, Fellaini, McTominay, Martial, Lukaku.
Leicester City XI: Schmeichel; Ricardo, Morgan (c), Maguire, Chilwell. Amartey, Silva, Ndidi, Maddison Gray, Iheanacho. Subs: Ward, Evans, Vardy, Albrighton, Iborra, Fuchs, Ghezzal.
Referee: Andre Marriner Attendance: 74,439
The views expressed in this report are the opinions of the Trust member nominated to file the report only and do not represent the views of the Foxes Trust organisation