For all of the talk about the ways in which Erik ten Hag may or may not revolutionise Manchester United, for now it seems his team are quite happy grinding out results, as they recorded their third straight Premier League victory for the first time since before last Christmas.
It was largely as gutsy as it was a pretty performance but Jadon Sancho’s superbly taken first-half strike was enough to secure United successive away wins for the first time since last September.
For Leicester, who remain bottom, it was another dispiriting result and they were roundly booed off at full time. Even still they could have grabbed a point had James Justin shot on target after latching on to Patson Daka’s clever pass into stoppage time.
For Ten Hag, who spent much of the game surveying the scene hands in pockets on the edge of his technical area, the buzz word after victories over Liverpool and Southampton was standards, with the Dutchman stressing the importance of maintaining them.
Ten Hag has acknowledged United remain a work in progress but they do look increasingly comfortable in their own skin. Sancho seems a different player to the one weighed down by expectations and, after a torrid time, Marcus Rashford appears to have rediscovered the fearlessness that helped him burst on to the scene. Ten Hag named an unchanged team, meaning Casemiro, Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Maguire again began on the bench.
More often than not programme notes amount to nothing more than empty platitudes but the Leicester chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha used his to address some of the questions that have surrounded the club throughout a trying and at times destabilising summer in which Wout Faes, a £15m arrival from Reims, represented their only outfield signing.
Aiyawatt reassured supporters that the club’s financial footing is as safe as ever and referenced the close of the transfer window as an opportunity for Rodgers to reset. Much of the last few weeks has been dominated by Wesley Fofana, who accused Rodgers of choosing to “expose me a lot lately”. Rodgers responded before kick-off by discounting that message. “I know where the statement came from and I know it wasn’t Wesley Fofana,” he said.
Until conceding on 23 minutes Leicester had not done an awful lot wrong but were punished for a defensive lapse. The galling thing for Rodgers was that it stemmed from Danny Ward booming a clearance upfield. Leicester failed to make the ball stick and United feasted on Leicester’s dishevelment. Diogo Dalot located Fernandes, who strayed out on the right flank, free of the attention of Luke Thomas, who was caught out of position. The United captain found Rashford, who simply nudged the ball into the advancing Sancho. Leicester looked’s defenders looked along the line towards the assistant referee for an offside that never arrived and Sancho coolly rounded Ward in the Leicester goal.
Moments earlier Leicester had enjoyed arguably their best spell of a first half light on quality but United’s goal punctured Leicester’s belief and exposed the hosts’ vulnerability. From there some Leicester players were guilty of trying too hard, panicking in their attempts to source an equaliser. Leicester were wobbling. Thomas, one of three changes, seemed to go into his shell and appeared overwhelmed by Dalot, again bright from right-back. Harvey Barnes drew gasps after a curling effort out of nothing from 20 yards flashed over David de Gea’s upright.
United’s supporters sang a few Olés as they beat the Leicester press shortly after scoring but the beginning of the second half was not so comfortable, leading Ten Hag to introduce Casemiro in place of Anthony Elanga approaching the hour.
The always willing Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall furrowed a path towards goal before eventually being unfairly crowded out by a blur of red shirts, with Lisandro Martínez booked for a trip. The resulting free-kick allowed Maddison to take aim from 25 yards and De Gea made a fine save to prevent the ball from heading for the top corner. Somehow Scott McTominay later avoided a caution after tugging at Maddison as the midfielder swivelled on the edge of the 18-yard box. Maddison understandably asked questions of the referee Craig Pawson before sending a free-kick against the wall. Earlier Dewsbury-Hall picked out Barnes but the winger could not direct his header goalwards.
Ronaldo replaced Sancho with 68 minutes on the clock but United continued to struggle to assert themselves. Fernandes almost picked out Dalot with a cute through ball but Leicester were alert to the danger. Christian Eriksen would have surely doubled United’s lead eight minutes from time had Jonny Evans not intercepted Ronaldo’s centre from the left. Ronaldo could have capped victory in style moments later but his acrobatic scissors kick dropped wide of a post.