Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho’s decision to leave captain Wayne Rooney on the bench stole the pre-match headlines against Leicester on Saturday, while an impressive return to winning ways and a first goal for Paul Pogba were the hot topics afterwards.
However, there were other key features of the side Mourinho put out against last season’s champions.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) September 25, 2016
Flexibility in attack
Due to the amount of changes Mourinho made for the game it’s difficult to say who got Rooney’s place.
In a positional sense, it was probably Juan Mata but the increased flexibility of United as an attacking unit was evident.
Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard lined up either side of Zlatan Ibrahimovic but United’s attacking shape was far from symmetrical.
Their manager, it seemed, was content to allow Antonio Valencia, pushing forward from full back, to take almost sole responsibility for offering width on the right.
As a result, Lingard was free to roam infield and regularly to the other flank to good effect.
The 23-year-old bagged the assist for Mata’s goal but it was the fact that he was popping up all over the final third in the build up that stood out.
— Jesse Lingard (@JesseLingard) September 24, 2016
Lingard in a free role was also something that brought some success in the Louis Van Gaal era.
The Red Devils’ struggles in the middle of the park were particularly evident in the defeats against Man City and Watford, with the debate about the best solution intensified by the issue of how to get the best from Pogba.
Heavy support during the last week was behind the notion of reinstating Michael Carrick but after starting in mid-week, the former England man again found himself on the bench.
The role in front of the back four was given instead to Ander Herrera.
Ander Herrera vs Leicester City:
Passes 78, Take-ons 1, Tackles 2, Interceptions 6,
Ball recoveries 7, Clearances 3 and
Blocks 1 #MUFC
— Manchester United (@ManUtdUpdates_) September 25, 2016
The Spaniard’s performance was low profile – no bad thing considering the job description, but also noticeably effective.
Herrera might like to play higher up the pitch but has the chance to nail down a place in the side by making the role his own.
The former Athletic Bilbao man has the quality to his passing game but United were coasting before half-time on Saturday and it remains to be seen if he can offer enough defensive cover to the back four, when the pressure is on.
With United in poor form, Luke Shaw missing and Daley Blind lining up at left-back against Riyad Mahrez, all things pointed to a difficult afternoon for the utility man.
— Daley Blind (@BlindDaley) September 24, 2016
As it turned out though, a very strong case could have been made for the Dutch international being named man-of-the-match.
The absence of Rooney from the starting XI saw Blind on permanent corner duty and it was something that reaped huge rewards.
Leicester’s marking, or lack of, played no small part but Blind finished the game with two assists and having played a part in three of the four goals.
The former Ajax man produced great quality form the dead ball to the benefit of Pogba and Chris Smalling.
Blind has been allocated the responsibility in the past, to little effect, but if he can maintain the standard of deliveries he produced this weekend, it could become a feature of Mourinho’s side for the rest of the campaign.