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The Einstein in the Manchester United dug-out got it right at last. Jose Mourinho finally worked out a theory that involved dropping Wayne Rooney and when he put it into practice for the visit of the champions of England, it worked like a dream.
United purred without Rooney. In fact, they played so well it is difficult to see their captain forcing his way back into the side any time soon.
Rooney cheered and applauded the glut of United goals as enthusiastically as anybody as he sat on the bench but he may yet look back on this match as the beginning of the end of his time at Old Trafford.
Paul Pogba looked to the heavens after scoring his first Manchester United goal and their fourth of the afternoon
The £89million signing lost Christian Fuchs and met Daley Blind’s corner to send a header into the far corner
Pogba celebrated his goal with Jesse Lingard as United ran rampant in the first-half at Old Trafford
Pogba soaks up the acclaim of the Old Trafford support after scoring his first goal since returning to the club
Mourinho’s United functioned more smoothly without him. They looked more fluid and less cumbersome. They moved the ball more quickly. They played with more confidence and freedom.
It is not all Rooney’s fault but now that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the main man in attack, he has been pushed to the margins.
‘When our main striker is Zlatan,’ Mourinho said before the match, ‘we need fast people surrounding him to bring that intensity to the game.’ That was as close as the United manager has got to saying that Rooney may be the most high-profile victim of the change in personnel at the club.
The way in which United swept aside an abject Leicester team encouraged many to predict Rooney’s imminent demise at Old Trafford.
Marcus Rashford slides in to convert United’s third goal from close range following Daley Blind’s well-worked corner
Rashford ran immediately to celebrate with Juan Mata, who played the ball across to him following Blind’s corner
Team P GD Pts 1 Manchester City 5 11 15 2 Everton 5 7 13 3 Manchester United 6 5 12 4 Tottenham Hotspur 5 6 11 5 Arsenal 5 5 10 6 Chelsea 5 4 10 7 Liverpool 5 3 10 8 Crystal Palace 5 2 7 9 Watford 5 1 7 10 West Bromwich Albion 5 1 7 11 Hull City 5 -1 7 12 Leicester City 6 -3 7 13 Middlesbrough 5 -2 5 14 Southampton 5 -2 5 15 Swansea City 5 -3 4 16 Burnley 5 -5 4 17 Bournemouth 5 -6 4 18 West Ham United 5 -6 3 19 Sunderland 5 -6 1 20 Stoke City 5 -11 1
Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Smalling (c), Blind; Ander Herrera, Pogba; Lingard (Carrick 78), Mata (Young 87), Rashford (Rooney 83); Ibrahimovic
Substitutes not used: Romero (GK); Rojo, Fosu-Mensah, Fellaini
Scorers: Smalling 22; Mata 36; Rashford 39; Pogba 42
Leicester City: Zieler; Simpson, Morgan (c), Huth, Fuchs; Mahrez (King 46), Amartey, Drinkwater, Albrighton (Schlupp 62); Vardy (Gray 46), Slimani
Substitutes not used: Hamer (GK); Hernandez, Okazaki, Ulloa
Scorer: Gray 60
Booked: Huth, Simpson
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral)
Cartoons circulated on social media showing Rooney placing a telephone call to MLS clubs. He got on to the pitch as a substitute for Marcus Rashford eight minutes from time but a spell as a bit-part player in the big games may now be his fate.
In his absence, others stepped up. Paul Pogba has struggled to live up to his £89m price tag since his arrival from Juventus, as most players would, but he was magnificent against Claudio Ranieri’s side and thoroughly deserved his first goal for the club amidst the rout. Ander Herrera was superb, too. Rashford, Ibrahimovic and Jesse Lingard linked well in attack.
United were impressive but Leicester made them look even better. It was sad to see men who reached such highs last season and created one of the most memorable stories in English football history, reduced to this. They were a shambles in the first half. ‘It makes you realise how miraculous last season was,’ Gary Lineker wrote on Twitter.
Juan Mata lashes home United’s second goal after a classy move that saw Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard combine
Chris Smalling, Jesse Lingard, Daley Blind and Marcus Rashford rush to congratulate Juan Mata after United’s second goal
This graphic shows the intricacy of Manchester United’s build-up to Juan Mata’s goal that made it 2-0 – there were 18 passes from the moment that United regained possession to Mata’s finish
This, though, was about United and a return to form after the shock of successive defeats against Manchester City and Watford. It was also a welcome relief for Mourinho, who has been under siege and who mocked the suggestions of ‘the Einsteins’ who had started to suggest his own career was in decline. This emphatic 4-1 victory was a trenchant response.
Before the match, Sky pundit and ex-United player Gary Neville had pointed out that Mourinho still had a lot of work to do as he worked out how to deploy players he had inherited from David Moyes and Louis van Gaal.
‘You’ve got a plate that’s got Bolognese on it, chicken tikka masala, a roast dinner with a load of curry and gravy thrown over the top,’ Neville said, ‘and individually they are quite nice but together he has got to find out which bits of the plate he doesn’t like.’ The signs were that Mourinho’s starting to trust his palate again.
Smalling leaps above the Leicester back line to head home Daley Blind’s corner and give United a 22nd-minute lead
Smalling turns to celebrate with Marcus Rashford as United take the lead halfway through the opening period
Smalling is congratulated by Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford as United get in front
United celebrate the opening goal at Old Trafford, scoring by their stand-in captain Chris Smalling
Leicester players Danny Drinkwater and Wes Morgan look stunned as the champions concede four first-half goals
By contrast, United’s largely redundant goalkeeper David de Gea was jubilant at the other end as the goals rained in
Wayne Rooney did eventually get onto the pitch in the closing 10 minutes, though United couldn’t add to their lead
United took the lead midway through the first half when they won a corner on the left. Daley Blind swung it over and Chris Smalling rose high above Robert Huth to power his header down and goalwards. Leicester keeper Ron-Robert Zieler tried to push the ball out but only succeeded in palming it into the corner of the net.
United might easily have gone two goals up a few minutes later when Ibrahimovic raced on to a through-ball from Ander Herrera and squared it to Rashford. Rashford’s first touch was a little heavy, though, and he blazed his shot high over the Leicester bar.
United were rampant now. Pogba, looking more comfortable at last, dinked a clever chip into over Leicester’s static defence and into the path of Ibrahimovic. The Sweden forward chested it down and turned in one moment. He caught his volley sweetly but it flew just too high.
Leicester substitute Demarai Gray curled in a spectacular consolation on the hour mark, making the score 4-1
Gray celebrates with Danny Drinkwater and Daniel Amartey after reducing the arrears during the second half
Eight minutes before half time, United finally doubled their lead. It was the kind of beautifully worked goal their football had been threatening, the kind of goal their football deserved. Pogba was instrumental in the move again, flicking a clever ball forward for Lingard, who laid it off to Mata. Mata ran on to it and rifled his shot past Zieler.
Leicester were reeling, an impotent, uncertain shadow of the team that carried all before them last season and United capitalised. Five minutes before half time, United went further ahead. Blind took a quick corner towards the near post, Mata swept it on and Rashford stretched to prod it high into the net. It was amateur night in the Leicester defence.
Nor were United finished. A minute later, they made it four. Another corner from Blind found the Leicester defence in disarray again and this time it was Pogba who ran on to it and glanced his header across Zieler and into the bottom corner of the Leicester net.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic wasted an excellent chance to double United’s lead, blazing over the bar after turning in the box
Bizarrely, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was confronted by a lookalike pitch invader during the first-half, though he saw the funny side
Moments earlier, Marcus Rashford tried his luck with an overhead kick that flew high and wide of the target
United’s teenage striker Marcus Rashford attempts to hold off Leicester duo Danny Drinkwater (left) and Riyad Mahrez
Pogba and Herrera had been dominating the game in the centre of the United midfield and the rest of United’s parts were operating smoothly around them. Rooney smiled as broadly as the rest when Pogba’s header went in but it must have occurred to him that his absence appeared to have unleashed an avalanche of goals.
Leicester were part of the equation, too. They were abject. Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, the kings of last season, were substituted at half time. They deserved their fate, too. Mahrez, in particular, has been unable to get anywhere near the level he reached when they won the title.
Chris Smalling manages to get up above Islam Slimani to clear United’s line during the opening stages at Old Trafford
Leicester’s Marc Albrighton gets in front of United wing-back Antonio Valencia close to the touchline
Pogba chases after the ball pursued by Danny Drinkwater during the second-half at Old Trafford
Marcus Rashford is brought down by former United man Danny Simpson, the Leicester man earning a booking
United’s world record signing Paul Pogba hurdles a slide challenge from the Leicester captain Wes Morgan
Leicester clawed back a little pride after an hour when one of the second half substitutes, Demarai Gray, cut inside and unleashed an unstoppable 25 yard drive that flew into the top corner beyond the despairing left hand of the diving David de Gea.
Rooney came on for an eight-minute cameo but there was not enough time for him to make an impression. He may have to get used to that.
United centre-half Chris Smalling clears the ball under pressure from Leicester striker Jamie Vardy
The managers Claudio Ranieri and Jose Mourinho embrace on the touchline ahead of kick-off at Old Trafford
Legendary former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson watches the match with ex-United defender Nemanja Vidic
Wayne Rooney watches the early exchanges unfold from his position on the Manchester United subs’ bench
United captain Wayne Rooney empties a bag of balls having been dropped to the bench by manager Jose Mourinho
Rooney proceeded to practise his ball control and skills during the warm-up. Mourinho dropped him following poor form
Manchester United supporters take selfies outside Old Trafford in the build-up to kick-off on Saturday lunch