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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3805317/Manchester-United-4-1-Leicester-City-Goals-Chris-Smalling-Juan-Mata-Marcus-Rashford-Paul-Pogba-earn-rampant-win-Jose-Mourinho-drops-captain-Wayne-Rooney.html#ixzz4LCAJuw1Y
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