Monday, 8 August 2016

Wembley Cheer For Mourinho.

Leicester City 1 Manchester United 2.

A brilliant individual solo goal by Lingard and a towering header by Ibrahimovic lit up Wembley and presented Mourinho with his first trophy as Manchester United manager.

The traditional season curtain raiser saw the English champions Leicester City take on FA Cup winners Manchester United at Wembley Stadium in a match that if a team loses it is only a friendly but if they win it turns into a major piece of silverware.

Jose Mourinho led out his United side for the first time at Wembley against Premier League champions Leicester, now there's a sentence I never thought I would write.

So much has changed at Old Trafford since Jesse Lingard scored the dramatic winner against Crystal Palace back in May that allowed Louis van Gaal to end a poor season on a high. It was to be van Gaal's final act as United manager as he was immediately replaced by the fans' choice the 'special one' Jose Mourinho.

In a short space of time, he has rejuvenated the club and given fresh hope to the faithful with a string of shrewd signings. None more so than the capture of world superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic along with solid central defender Eric Bailly and the exciting Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Add to that the confirmation that the world record re-signing of Paul Pogba has been given the green light by Juventus then all seems well at the Theatre of Dreams.

The pre-season has had its ups and downs, including a long trip to China to play only one match as the other against Man City was cancelled. Then a well planned return to Sweden for Ibrahimovic to not only make his debut as a Red Devil, but also score his first goal for the club within four minutes against Galatasaray.

However, the feeling has to be that United have not had enough game time with so many players only returning in the last two weeks after their Euro 2016 exploits and subsequent holidays.

With each team allowed to use six substitutes, it gave Mourinho a chance to utilise his squad to the full enabling him to give as many players as possible valuable time on the pitch. Some players would be left disappointed and the most noticeable absentees from the 18-man squad were Young, Darmian and Memphis whose woes continued as he failed to win a place even on the bench. Mourinho's starting XI was: De Gea, Valencia, Blind, Bailly, Shaw, Carrick, Fellaini, Rooney, Martial, Lingard and Ibrahimovic.

Rashford, Herrera and Mata along with Schneiderlin were named on the bench, but there was one surprise as Fellaini was given the nod ahead of new signing Mkhitaryan.

There was a great atmosphere inside the famous stadium as Leicester got the match underway, a match that if level after 90 minutes would have gone straight to penalties.

United in their new red strip had the majority of the play in the opening minutes, but it was a rush of speed into the box by Vardy after he had nutmegged Bailly that needed a heavy block by Blind to prevent an early chance for the champions.

At the other end Ibrahimovic's first touch was a typical back-heeled volley which was confidently executed by the Swede. His comparisons to Cantona in both stature and skill cannot be ignored. His forward partner Martial entered the fray with a run and shot from the left hand side that he fired into the side-netting.

Overall, it was a lively start from both sides in the opening ten minutes without troubling either keeper.

It was captain Rooney, who provided the first chance on goal when he headed the ball into the arms of Schmeichel after a cross from the left by Shaw. It really is a great sight to see Luke Shaw return to competitive football after his horrific injury. Let's hope that he can have a long injury free run in the side.

The next chance fell to Fellaini inside the Leicester penalty area when he neatly flicked the ball up and shot on the turn, but former United defender Simpson did enough to get his body in the way of the effort and took the sting out of the shot.

It was the turn of the Foxes to try their luck when Okazaki curled a deflected effort just wide of De Gea's post, then the same player clipped a header onto the bar following the resulting corner.

Bailly began to show his quality as a defender as the match progressed and at one point he tracked Vardy all the way to the byline and made a superb tackle to prevent the striker getting a shot in on goal. Brilliant defending from a player who looks to have settled into life fairly well at United bearing in mind his difficulty with the language.

Twice in the opening thirty minutes, Rooney was guilty of losing possession in dangerous areas to give the opposition the advantage. Something that was a familiar theme last season and something he needs to address.

Then in the 32nd minute the breakthrough came and what a moment it was. FA Cup final hero Jesse Lingard did it again as he scored an individual goal of immense quality. After he had collected the ball in a tight spot in the centre of the pitch he only had one thought on his mind and weaved his way past four challenges and once inside the area calmly placed the ball past Schmeichel.

A truly world class goal from a player who has always had that type of skill in his locker and continued his love affair with Wembley which must have impressed new England manager Sam Allardyce as he watched from the stands.

Half-time and United led 1-0 thanks to Lingard's wonderful effort. The half was an even but fairly scruffy forty-five minutes and one that didn't really give us any clearer idea of Mourinho's tactics. Rooney and Martial had a half that they would rather forget and Ibrahimovic had to backtrack too many times either to look for the ball or help out with defensive duties.

On a positive note, both full backs Valencia and Shaw, along with Bailly and Blind looked impressive at the back.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic got the second half underway as United looked to put in a more confident display as Mourinho decided against making any changes at the beginning of the half.

Bailly continued to be the rock at the heart of United's defence by making two strong tackles in quick succession to clear his lines. Up at the other end a lethargic looking Rooney wasted a chance to provide the ammunition for an attack on goal when he was far too easily dispossessed on the edge of Leicester's penalty area.

Then in the 52nd minute, Vardy equalised for Leicester when he jumped on a poor back pass by Fellaini and neatly passed the ball into the net. An opportunist goal, but the mistake by Fellaini provided the striker with the chance after the Belgian had done well to intercept a through ball by the pacey Musa.

All square and all to play for as the game became a little feisty with some hefty challenges flying in especially by King on scorer Lingard. The first change made by Mourinho came on the hour mark as Herrera replaced Carrick in midfield.

Following the equaliser, Leicester looked the more dangerous of the two sides and United needed to get hold of the ball and work more openings up front. Substitute Musa was a handful and he almost directed a header past De Gea as he fell backwards unmarked in the area.

The second change for United was one that was forced on the manager as Lingard had taken one too many sly kicks from the opposition and had to be taken off to be replaced by Mata.

There was a warm round of applause in the 66th minute in tribute to the England World Cup winning team to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their one and only triumph.

Shortly after Fellaini smartly teed up Rooney on the edge of the box only for the captain to shoot weakly at the keeper.

More changes followed as Rashford and Rojo came on for Martial and Shaw with twenty minutes left on the clock.

Bailly received an unfair caution for a shoulder-barge on Vardy then Vardy himself picked up his own booking with a reckless challenge on Mata which probably deserved a red and could have caused serious damage to the Spaniard.

Since his introduction, Rashford brought his usual spark to the proceedings winning a succession of corners and free kicks that were all taken by Rooney and all wasted. It looked as though Ibrahimovic would put the ball in from close range after he had been set up inadvertently by Rooney but his underhit shot was cleared off the line by Drinkwater.

Not to worry as two minutes later the new Red Devil hero made amends by scoring with a well-directed header in the 83rd minute. Valencia did all the work as he sent in a delightful cross from the right side of the penalty area which Ibrahimovic rose majestically for and placed the ball expertly into the net. Valencia has impressed in the pre-season with his forays forward and assists from his right-back position.

Schneiderlin eventually came on for the ineffective Rooney to tighten the midfield for the final few minutes as Leicester hunted for another equaliser.

With the clock showing four minutes of added time new signing Mkhitaryan made his first Wembley appearance for United by coming on for fellow substitute Mata who looked far from happy about the change as he had only been involved for a short time.

Leicester spent the last couple of minutes of the match throwing everything and everyone, including Schmeichel, forward into United's penalty area only to be thwarted by De Gea and Bailly.

At the end of the game, United survived the onslaught of Leicester to see the match out with a hard fought victory and presented Jose Mourinho with his first silverware thanks mainly to the man of the match Eric Bailly who put in a solid performance at the heart of the defence. Chris Smalling must be looking forward to building a partnership with the Ivorian.

The two goals United scored were both top draw and will undoubtedly grab the headlines over the coming days, but they shouldn't take the attention away from the fact that this wasn't a fluid performance by United who are clearly still coming to terms with the new manager's ideas and certain players performed below par most notably Rooney.

There is still a concern about the value to the side of Fellaini who continues to make mistakes like the one he made to present the chance for Vardy to score. If the rumours are true about Moyes wanting to sign him for a third time he wouldn't be that great a loss to United.

Of course, this match will pale into insignificance come the start of the Premier League campaign. However, it does show that the team is at least headed on the right track and to lift a trophy at the start of a new season does wonders for confidence, especially when you add to that the imminent arrival of Pogba to inject much needed flair and creativeness into the midfield.

The real hard work starts next week with a long away trip to Bournemouth to kick-start the new season. By that time we can expect some slight changes to the squad and it will be interesting to see the team that Mourinho decides to put out against the Cherries.

Until then thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.