MAN UNITED 2, LEICESTER CITY 1
Manchester United’s performance may have been far from convincing, but victory against Leicester City at Old Trafford was all-important for Jose Mourinho who praised his players.
“It was a good performance, but in the circumstances very good as pre-season was very hard. We needed fantastic spirit of the players to manage the performance and result,” explained the Reds’ manager who still has never lost an opening-day fixture in the Premier League.
“We played some very good football and in the periods when Leicester were stronger we coped well. It was difficult for everybody, but my players gave everything.”
The win went some way towards erasing the negatives vibes and sound bytes during the pre-season build-up as United’s manager has not been a happy chappie.
But an early penalty from Paul Pogba and late strike from left-back Luke Shaw, the first of his career, provided some cheer for the home fans.
Though United almost contrived to blow a two-goal lead in the four minutes of stoppage time, when Jamie Vardy halved the deficit, it was reassuring to collect three points.
Mourinho, who described Pogba as being a “monster”, admitted it was a makeshift side in the absence of players like Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera is midfield.
He added it prompted him to ask Pogba to play as the alternative would have been to play Andreas Pereira and Scott McTominay in centre of midfield.
Mourinho hoped Pogba, back from the World Cup, would manage an hour, but he completed 80 minutes.
Pereira, who had played throughout pre-season and impressed, retained his place in a side that included new Brazilian signing Fred.
World Cup winner Pogba, whose Old Trafford future appeared in doubt, was named as captain.
Notable for their absences were Romelu Lukaku, Ashley Young, Marouane Fellaini and Anthony Martial who were all on the bench for the Reds while Antonio Valencia, Matic and Herrera didn’t feature at all.
Leicester included new record signing James Maddison in their side, but Vardy was only a substitute.
Former Old Trafford player Jonny Evans, signed by the Foxes from West Brom, was also on the bench.
United made a dream start to the campaign winning a penalty after 75 seconds when referee Andre Marriner judged Daniel Amartey to have handled, a decision vindicated by television replays.
Pogba stepped up to fire a perfect spot kick high into the roof of the net giving keeper Kasper Schmeichel no chance.
Leicester quickly regained their composure and were a threat.
Wilfred Ndidi’s drive forced a diving save from David De Gea and that was soon followed by Kelechi Iheanacho pulling a shot wide across the face of goal.
And Leicester came close again when Maddison forced a brilliant reflex save from De Gea and Ricardo when had a goalbound effort deflected for a corner.
United struggled to find fluency in their play, though they had a great chance to make it 2-0 midway through the second period when Pogba and Alexis Sanchez combined to set up Juan Mata who fired agonisingly wide.
Mourinho made his first change in the 66th minute when Lukaku replaced Marcus Rashford who failed to make an impact.
Leicester remained a threat and almost equalised when Vardy set up Iheanacho who was denied by a decent save from De Gea.
Fred made way for McTominay, United’s second change with 14 minutes left.
United had a great chance to seal victory moments later when Sanchez set up Lukaku who was clean through. Schmeichel raced from his line to make a brilliant block as the ball looped on to the roof of the net.
They made it 2-0 in the 83rd minute through an unlikely source, left-back Shaw with his first goal in his 141st career appearance and 67th for the Reds.
Mata lofted a ball over the Leicester defence and the overlapping left-back raced clear to squeeze home a shot from the tightest of angles.
Pogba was then given a breather as Fellaini was handed a cameo for the last six minutes.
There could, however, have been a dramatic late twist as Leicester could have snatched a point in stoppage time.
First Vardy volleyed well over from in front of goal, the sort of chance you would expect him to score nine times out of 10.
Vardy then displayed his usual predatory instinct as he reacted quickest when Ricardo whipped in a cross that hit the far post and he applied the finish from one yard.
Keeper Schmeichel came up for a corner in the final seconds, but headed wide as United had been left clinging on to a slender lead.