Manchester United continued their revival with a third consecutive victory after Jadon Sancho struck the only goal to keep Leicester winless at the bottom of the Premier League – but Erik ten Hag believes there’s still room for improvement.
Sancho scored his second of the season in the 23rd minute as United, up to fifth and above Liverpool and Chelsea, capitalized on Leicester’s poor defensive positioning with the winger rounding goalkeeper Danny Ward from Marcus Rashford’s through ball.
Leicester were booed off at full-time following a lackluster performance as pressure grows on boss Brendan Rodgers with this their worst start since 1994.
But United’s horror shows of last month against Brighton and Brentford are now long forgotten, although Ten Hag is not convinced they have completely solved their problems ahead of Sunday’s clash against leaders Arsenal.
“Maybe it’s too quick to say [we have turned a corner],” he said. “We’re happy with it, we’re building a team and a squad who are sticking together, fighting for each other, they co-operate and if you do that, you get the right results. We have to step it up further, and Sunday will be a really good game, a really good test, so we’re looking forward.”
Leicester: Ward (5), Justin (5), Evans (5), Ndidi (5), Thomas (5), Dewsbury-Hall (6), Tielemans (5), Soumare (5), Maddison (6), Vardy (5 ), Barnes (6).
Subs: Iheanacho (6), Dhaka (n/a).
Man Utd: De Gea (7), Dalot (7), Martinez (7), Varane (7), Malacia (7), McTominay (7), Eriksen (7), Sancho (7), Fernandes (7), Elanga (6) , Rashford (7).
Subs: Ronaldo (6), Fred (n/a), Casemiro (6).
Man of the match: Christian Eriksen (Manchester United)
How Man Utd marched on
Struggling Leicester were second best throughout a drab clash as United rarely looked troubled in one of the easiest away victories they will have this season.
- James Maddison started for Leicester as Brendan Rodgers makes three changes from last weekend’s 2-1 defeat at Chelsea. Wilfred Ndidi came in along with Luke Thomas as Timothy Castagne, Dennis Praet and Daniel Amartey dropped out.
- Erik ten Hag named an unchanged Man Utd side from their 1-0 win at Southampton. Cristiano Ronaldo was on the bench again.
The home side’s troubles were summed up by the manner in which they conceded. Goalkeeper Danny Ward launched the ball into the United half which was won by Diogo Dalot. With Leicester’s defensive positioning a mess, Bruno Fernandes quickly passed into Rashford, he was allowed to turn and slip in Sancho, whose first touch took him round Ward for an easy finish.
Leicester did not have a touch in the United box during the first half although they did come out after the break with more purpose, determined to end United’s record of not losing for eight years when leading at half-time. James Maddison forced David de Gea into a flying save from a 25-yard free-kick, but that was as close as they’d come.
Ten Hag introduced Casemiro just before the hour and then wanted-away forward Cristiano Ronaldo, who acrobatically shot wide late on as Transfer Deadline Day ticked away in the background.
James Justin shot over from inside the United box with a last-gasp Leicester chance, compounding another miserable night at the King Power.
Ten Hag: I’m happy with a clean sheet
Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag: “I felt we were quite solid. It was a quite solid performance, we had to defend with 11 and we did that very well. There were some moments, but I think we should have been up 2-0 by then. We had some good counter-attacking opportunities and should have taken them.
“Maybe it’s too quick to say [we have turned a corner], we’re happy with it, we’re building a team and a squad who are sticking together, fighting for each other, they co-operate and if you do that, you get the right results. We have to step it up further, and Sunday will be a really good game, a really good test, so we’re looking forward.
“I’m happy with the clean sheet. When our 11 on the pitch who defend and attack together, when you have the team, the energy, you see what you can achieve.
“We need [that extra quality]. We need a good squad, we need numbers with a lot of games to cover. Casemiro and Ronny will get fitter and give more contribution to the team, so we need not only a team but a squad.”
On whether new signing Antony will be involved this weekend, Ten Hag said: “We have to see [if he’ll be in the squad]. Today is his first training, then we’ll have team sessions and we’ll see.”
Rodgers: It’s clear to see we are weaker
Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers: “I’m happy the window is shut, it’s been a huge distraction for us. To have to watch virtually every club in the top five leagues get players in and for us to not be able to improve that was difficult as a manager and players Players want to compete; this group has shown they can compete but we needed help and unfortunately we haven’t been able to get that.
“In terms of results, it’s my responsibility. We should have won by now, we’ve been in really good positions in a couple of games and not seen it through so I totally understand it, the supporters want to see their team win and if they’re not, they’ll tell.
“I think it’s clear to see [that the squad is weaker than last year]. I came to Leicester to compete and in the first few years we were able to do that but in the last couple of windows we’ve been unable to add to the squad.
“What’s most important is the sustainability of the club. I would have loved to have added five, six players to add to the quality of the group but if you can’t do it I respect that. I have to do the very best with the resources I have.
“It’s frustrating but I respect the people here.”
Analysis: Ten Hag’s Man Utd starting to click?
Sky Sports’ Adam Bate at the King Power Stadium:
Erik ten Hag might be onto something. After those miserable two matches to start his time as Manchester United manager, the visit of Liverpool followed by tricky away fixtures at Southampton and Leicester looked so dangerous for the Dutchman.
Instead, it is three wins in a row and three games in which his players have been committed to the cause. There is a platform on which he can build and, crucially, he appears to have identified those players whom he can trust to take the team forward in the short term.
Once again he named an unchanged side without Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Maguire and once again it paid off. There are new heroes now. Bruno Fernandes has the armband, his name sung at full-time. Lisandro Martinez has Maguire’s spot on the left of defense.
‘Argentina’ they chanted from the away end at the King Power Stadium. Martinez’s combative approach wins over supporters quickly and he has soon formed a connection with the equally tenacious Tyrell Malacia playing outside him. It is an improvement.
The newfound spirit was perhaps summed up in the second half when Diogo Dalot managed to deny Harvey Barnes a corner. Immediately, he was up and slapping the chest of the Manchester United centre-backs. Encouragingly, there is a bite to this team again.
Scott McTominay provided that in midfield, a dominant presence for the 45 minutes, and ahead of him there are promising signs too. The moment of quality that separated the sides featured excellent work from Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho.
Rashford, in particular, was better here, showcasing some one-touch lay-offs that suggested he might be regaining his confidence. Anthony Elanga has brought energy and there is, of course, the impending introduction of Antony on that right side to add a new dimension.
That will please Ten Hag – the fact that it is easy to envisage Antony and Casemiro, brought on here, being slotted into this side now. The fear was that the signings would have to make sense of the system. Now they can be added from a position of relative strength.
Perhaps there is even the possibility of a refocused Ronaldo contributing to the team in the coming months now the uncertainty over his future can be parked until after the World Cup. From nowhere, United have some positives. And that feels long overdue.
Fantasy Premier League stats
FPL stats: Leicester vs Man Utd
|Bonus points||Dalot (3pts), Sancho (2pts), Varane (1pt)|
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Opta stats – Ronaldo’s new bench warming role
- Manchester United have won three Premier League games in a row for the first time since December – which was also the last time they named the same starting XI in three consecutive games in the competition.
- Leicester have lost their last two home league games, as many as they had in their previous 14 at the King Power Stadium (W8 D4).
- Manchester United have received more yellow cards than any other Premier League side this season (17). Their average of 3.4 cards per game is the highest for a club in a single campaign in the competition’s history.
- Each of Cristiano Ronaldo’s last three appearances for Manchester United have been as a substitute, the first time since December 2005 he’s played three consecutive games from the bench in his club career.
Leicester travel to Brighton on Sunday; kick-off 2pm. Manchester United later host Arsenal on Super Sunday; kick-off 4.30pm, live on Sky Sports Premier League.