Man Utd 2 Leicester 0
Phil Jones has had a lot to live up to since the night that Alex Ferguson declared he could become the greatest player in Manchester United’s history. No one doubts the defender’s ability. It is the injury record that continues to give Jose Mourinho concern.
Jones has been a key figure in United’s 100% start to the Premier League season: three matches played, three wins, no goals conceded.
Alongside Eric Bailly, he was instrumental in ensuring that Leicester striker Jamie Vardy barely had a kick. Yet after United ground their way to victory in a match they dominated, manager Mourinho was once again talking about the England international’s injury concerns.
“He’s potentially a very good player,” Mourinho said. “He’s still young. He’s still at a learning age. But for years and years and years, he was injury prone.
“He has a problem now. He is complaining about an ankle problem. So he’s the kind of player where we need to have him always in our hands, with a lot of care from the medical department, from the fitness coach, from my assistants in the gym, working always on prevention, on recovery.
“If we manage to have him safe and protected from injuries, I think potentially, he’s everything I like in a central defender.”
Potentially. It is a big word, with regards to Jones. In six years at Old Trafford, he has never managed to play more than 11 consecutive matches, and has done that only twice. The 25-year-old missed more than a month towards the end of last season with a toe injury sustained in a freak training ground collision with club colleague Chris Smalling while on England duty.
Perhaps he is just unlucky, although sometimes he does not help himself; he will be suspended for United’s opening Champions League fixture, against Basel next month, having been punished by UEFA for swearing at a doping control officer after May’s Europa League final. Mourinho’s decision to spend €34 million on Victor Lindelof in June suggests, among other things, that he does not expect Jones to be available every week.
“Against Basel, Jones and Eric are both suspended, so against Basel we play Victor and Smalling and it is no problem at all,” Mourinho said. “The squad is good and the mentality of the players is very good.”
United’s manager seems content with his lot at present. Saturday’s win was somewhat laboured, and was made more difficult to achieve when Romelu Lukaku failed with a penalty early in the second half. Lukaku’s kick, awarded after Danny Simpson handled Anthony Martial’s cross, was pushed aside brilliantly by Kasper Schmeichel, although the Leicester goalkeeper was fortunate not to be ordered to face a retake, having advanced a good two yards off his line before the kick was taken.
Undeterred, United found a way to victory courtesy of their substitutes, with two goals in the final 20 minutes. Marcus Rashford turned in Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s corner for the first goal, with Marouane Fellaini, also on from the bench, touching in a cross from fellow substitute Jesse Lingard as Leicester appealed in vain for offside.
While Mourinho’s substitutions worked, the jury is out on those made by Craig Shakespeare. Leicester’s manager brought on Demarai Gray and Andy King for Marc Albrighton and Shinji Okazaki with an hour gone, with the belief that he could turn one point into three.
Instead, it turned into none. Shakespeare’s changes were not quite up there with the substitutions that prompted a late collapse at Arsenal two weeks ago, but the manager still had to defend his moves.
“We looked solid enough in there,” Shakespeare said. “The idea was, can we do more with the ball when we had the opportunity?”
This feels like a pivotal part of the season for Leicester. Riyad Mahrez, a long-time Roma target, may yet leave, Chelsea want to sign Danny Drinkwater, who was absent with a groin injury on Saturday, and Islam Slimani has been linked with Monaco. Shakespeare is making no guarantees.
“It’s difficult to say what will happen because I’m not sure what other clubs will do,” Shakespeare said.
At least the Leicester manager can take comfort from the performances of Harry Maguire. Signed from Hull in June and given his first England call-up on Thursday, Maguire was impressive in central defence with Wes Morgan.
“I hope he goes from strength to strength,” Shakespeare said. “He’s been a terrific signing for us. He’s a good character for us, with his ability. I thought he was very solid against one of the best centre-forwards in the league in Lukaku.”
MAN UTD (4-2-3-1): De Gea 7; Valencia 6, Jones 8, Bailly 8, Blind 6; Pogba 6, Matic 7; Mata 6 (Rashford 67, 8), Mkhitaryan 6 (Fellaini 74, 7), Martial 6 (Lingard 76); Lukaku 5.
Substitutes: Romero, Darmian, Smalling, Herrera.
LEICESTER (4-4-1-1): Schmeichel 7; Simpson 5, Morgan 7, Maguire 8, Fuchs 6; Mahrez 7, Ndidi 7, James 7, Albrighton 7 (Gray 60, 6); Okazaki 6 (King 60, 7); Vardy 5 (Slimani 76).
Substitutes: Hamer, Chilwell, Amartey, Iheanacho.
Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland) – 7
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