Five things we learned from Leicester 0 – 1 Manchester United

It was a cagey but well-earned 1-0 away win at Leicester on Thursday night. Manchester United have now won three games in a row in the league for the first time since December 2021. Before that, it was a five game win streak in March and April 2021. That’s two purple patches of form in the space of 18 months. But new boss Erik Ten Hag is bringing in more than just results to his new club. 

Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes surround game-winning goalscorer Jadon Sancho (Photo by MSC Football)

A sense of direction and a buoyant mood are two rewarding by-products that United are enjoying under their new boss. Having made several bold decisions in his five league games so far, not least dropping his club captain Harry Maguire and the enigmatic Cristiano Ronaldo, Ten Hag has showcased in a short space of time why he’s been entrusted to right the United ship.

Here are five things that we’ve learned about United from Thursday’s match. 

Hard work is crucial in this United side

Former interim manager, Ralf Rangnick, was brought in to introduce a high-tempo pressing mentality to a lacklustre side who had significantly lost their way. Though results were torrid, what Rangnick did bring is becoming clearer under the new manager. The new squad seem fitter, hungrier and more willing to put in the off-the-ball work.

There were several instances on Thursday where David de Gea was in possession in front of his own goal needing an option. Impressive full-backs Diogo Dalot and Tyrell Malacia made several clever moves back to offer this option, especially when their goalkeeper was being pressed.

Malacia spots the Leicester press and quickly backtracks to give his goalkeeper a wide option.
Malacia’s positional awareness and willingness to move into useful spaces was crucial. (Footage courtesy of BT Sport)

Not only this, the work rate from all midfielders in the game was exceptional. Eriksen, considering the life-changing 18 months he’s had, has been an engine in the midfield. That’s not mentioning his phenomenal passing ability and calmness on the ball. All of this represents a shift in mentality that United fans have been crying out for for the last half a decade.

Slowly but surely, playing it out from the back is coming 

Manchester United are not Manchester City. Playing out from the back does not come naturally to a lot of the players. Interestingly though, bringing in a manager who is known for getting the best out of his players has shifted this significantly.

The defence and midfield worked together as a solid unit throughout much of this game to pass around the Leicester City press. Leicester, though suffering a lull themselves, did make life hard with their pacey, energetic forwards. Harvey Barnes, James Maddison and of course Jamie Vardy have manufactured their recent success from such doggedness.

There were times vs. Leicester where the calmness of new signing Lisandro Martinez alongside a revitalised Raphael Varane shone. Working as a unit, the United back line and midfield made easy work of the Leicester City press. De Gea still has a real preference to booting the ball high up the field. This has been his game for the best part of a decade. With technically gifted and willing footballers ahead of him, De Gea’s playing out from the back will surely increase game-on-game, week-on-week.

United impressed with their passing out of defence – including this tiki-taka style exchange in the 26th minute. (Footage courtesy of BT Sport)

The new United signings are working

Three new signings have already cemented their place in the starting xi. Tyrell Malacia, Christian Eriksen, and Lisandro Martinez have all usurped their relative positions from their new teammates, and for good reason. The teams simply look better with them. Harry Maguire, Lisandro Martinez’s now–understudy, has had long enough to regain his form. Martinez is now simply undroppable.

Eriksen, who nearly joined United in his Ajax days, is unsurprisingly revelatory in midfield. He makes everyone around him look better. This is cliched but true. Exuding coolness and able to think two steps ahead of the opponent, Eriksen will be a mainstay of United’s this season.

Malaysia, as well, is offering more than Luke Shaw both in attacking and defending senses. When defending, the new left-back is professional and patient with his tackling. He reads the passage well, executes his manager’s game plan well and maintains his shape. When moving forward, Malacia offers a lot both wide and in the increasingly important half-spaces.

Often vs. Leicester, we saw Malacia occupy an almost attacking-midfield role when United had sustained possession. Though not the tallest or most physical player, expect Malacia to score and assist a few from this position before the World Cup.

Left-back Malacia (Number 12) regularly drifted into central, high positions to support his teammates. (Footage courtesy of BT Sport)

McTominay is becoming crucial to this side

There is very little glamour surrounding Scott McTominay. You’re unlikely to see Twitter pages dedicated to the man like you would for new signing Antony. What McTominay does offer however, is a determination unmatched in the squad.

Not least because of his United Heritage, he plays every game as if it were his last. As if he knows one of his crucial tackles will break his leg, or he’ll be dropped and never see the first team again. What those performances give you is a strand of unpredictability. However, what Erik Ten Hag has in front of him is a 25-year-old with nothing to lose, bags of defensive talent and the team around him might well be the perfect fit for his skill-set.

McTominay registers 16 pressures, two tackles, three interceptions and a block vs. Leicester City. Photo by (Getty Images)

An out-and-out box-to-box midfielder, some online fans still hound McTominay. He is still tarred with the mad brush of the infamous ‘McFred’ partnership. Having started the last three wins, the Scotland international is making a clear and strong case for his involvement in the first-team. Even with new signing, world-class midfielder Casemiro, you can foresee a future where McTominay plays 30+ games in the league per season.

Ronaldo can make an impact

As Ronaldo enters the final phase of his legendary and illustrious career, he has found himself on the bench three games. This is as many times as he has done in one season since turning 30.

No man is infallible to the ravages of time and the realities of fatigue.

Having been at the top of his game for 20 years, perhaps we are seeing a shift in Ronaldo‘s mentality. Without knowing the ins and outs of the training ground, it’s clear that Ten Hag values Ronaldo’s impact off the bench rather than from the starting 11.

A cameo of disappointing runs vs. Southampton last week left many thinking Ronaldo had played his last minutes for United. Away at Leicester however, Ronaldo’s 22 minute stint off the bench went well. It almost ended in a spectacular overhead kick and involved lots of decent link-up play with his attacking colleagues.

Ronaldo impressed with his attacking instinct as well as a signature overhead kick which whistled wide in the 83rd minute. (Footage courtesy of BT Sport)

Recent history bias leads us to believe Ronaldo will not be happy riding the bench for United this season. With the team in the forefront, a team that he loves, Ronaldo may now consign himself to sporadic starts and a more ambassadorial role at the club. His contract does end this coming summer. Ten Hag has wasted no time in planning for life without CR7. 

Author: Sam Talbot

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