Rashford fires Manchester United to win over Leicester
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer remains unbeaten and is presenting an increasingly compelling case to be named Manchester United’s permanent manager, after now succeeding where Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Maurizio Sarri have all tripped up.
It is nine victories from ten games for Solskjaer and while it was not a performance full of the recent verve and vigour, Marcus Rashford’s winner on his 100th Premier League appearance lifted United closer towards the top four.
Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea stumbled against Claude Puel’s unpredictable Leicester side in recent weeks and United had to withstand a second-half of constant pressure to maintain their manager’s outstanding record.
Solskjaer has now won five consecutive away games in all competitions for the first time since a similar sequence in September and October 2012, in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season in charge.
The Norwegian has, at the very least, presented United’s board with a genuine dilemma and the next six weeks appear crucial in his hopes of being named manager beyond the summer.
With Rashford and Paul Pogba revitalised since the departure of Jose Mourinho, and David De Gea continuing his recent heroics with a brilliant second-half save from Leicester substitute Rachid Ghezzal, the portents are promising.
Solskjaer departed the King Power Stadium in a hurry, flying to France to watch PSG play in Lyon an hour after the final whistle. He said: “I’ve got to say it’s enjoyable working with them, they’re a group that want to improve and want to be better.
“I don’t think we can be too happy with the performance and that’s a good thing, we know we’ve got plenty of things to work on and I think we’ll see that progression in the next few weeks because it’s going be a tough and enjoyable February.
“Our attitude was spot on. There are couple of bruised noses and knees.
“It is supposed to be like this, there are three points on the line. Our lads sacrificed everything they had. Now we’ve got a chance to climb the table, which is important, and put the pressure on the top four positions.”
It was perhaps fitting that Rashford claimed the only goal, on his century of league appearances for the club. At 21 years and 95 days old, he is the youngest player to secure that landmark for United since Ryan Giggs in December 1993.
The striker had already missed a sitter, heading Luke Shaw’s cross wide from four yards out, before giving United a ninth-minute lead.
Ricardo Pereira’s poor clearance was picked off by Pogba and the midfielder dinked a wonderful pass over the Leicester defence and into the feet of Rashford, who took one touch before driving the ball past Kasper Schmeichel. It was brutally simple, and a gift from Pereira: the 17th time in 25 games Leicester have gone behind first.
With deadline day loan signing Youri Tielemans not even in the squad, Leicester did threaten sporadically, with James Maddison and Harvey Barnes producing moments of invention behind Jamie Vardy.
Maddison had Leicester’s first shot on target, aiming a 20-yard shot straight at David De Gea, but United’s defence appeared in control and Vardy was struggling to get involved.
It was no surprise when Vardy’s frustration boiled over in the 34th minute, with a late challenge on Victor Lindelof which resulted in a booking. It could easily have been referee Mike Dean’s 100th red card.
There was always a sense that United could move up a gear but they were made to endure a number of nervy moments in the second half. Barnes flashed a shot across goal before Maddison angled the ball into the side netting.
There was almost a moment of embarrassment in the 61st minute for De Gea, after he fumbled an overhead kick from Vardy before recovering the ball as it rolled towards the goalline.
Puel surprisingly replaced Maddison shortly after that incident, resulting in further scrutiny from Leicester’s fans at a time when the hosts were threatening an equaliser.
Maddison’s replacement, Ghezzal, forced De Gea into a fine save with a 25-yard free kick and Vardy shot straight at the United goalkeeper from close range, after a strong run down the left by Barnes. Jonny Evans and Harry Maguire also had decent opportunities in the final stages.
But United had done enough, and the big question over the next few months is whether Solskjaer will do the same.
Puel has now lost three home games in a row and continues to polarise opinion among Leicester’s supporters.
He said: “There’s a lot of frustration because we had all the possibility to get at least a draw. It’s not a fair result because we had all the chances. It’s too difficult to chase the game and we are not happy about it.”
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