Neil Humphreys: Red Devils’ risky business pays off
Manchester United make big decisions to create big goal against Leicester City
Manchester United keep winning because they keep taking risks.
Even in scrappy games, brave decisions lead to decisive goals and narrow victories.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men remain undefeated because he won't allow timidity to triumph over his side's creativity.
United pulled off a slender 1-0 victory against Leicester City last night, thanks to a stunning strike that would not have been scored under Solskjaer's predecessor.
Entire columns could be devoted to United's only goal of the game.
Like a jeweller stripping back an elegant timepiece, it was a pleasure just admiring the components and movements that contributed to such exquisite timing.
Poor Ricardo Pereira didn't help himself, hitting his clearance straight to Paul Pogba in the ninth minute. But the Frenchman was still some way from goal and hardly overwhelmed with attacking options.
But Pogba cushioned a chipped ball over Leicester's defence that took the breath away.
The ball wasn't passed. It was pinged. It was a Roger Federer slice, a hole in one, a gymnast finding the sweet spot on a trampoline, that moment of flawless connection that separates the magicians from the mortals.
And that was only part one of the goal.
On the move and in the air, with his leg raised in anticipation, Marcus Rashford plucked the ball from the sky and nudged it forward with the loving grace of a parent gently kissing a newborn.
His second touch smashed a low strike away from the corner.
Three touches. Three steps to heaven.
The goal was done and dusted in seconds, but the confident move was light years away from the tentative drudgery churned out under Jose Mourinho.
Whatever else Solskjaer achieves during his United stint, he has brought back the swagger. With the title challengers struggling with a touch of the jitters, the Red Devils are the fun ones to watch these days, something that hasn't been said about the club since the final days of Sir Alex Ferguson.
That said, the sublime pass and finish and the rather tepid contest that followed epitomised the new United under Solskjaer.
It's still the old United with increased risk-taking.
Quite rightly, much has been made of the same footballers hitting very different stats under Solskjaer, with the likes of Pogba and Rashford running longer and faster than they did previously under Mourinho, which hints at a mutiny.
They stopped the clock for the moaning one. Then they hit the reset button for the chirpy, happy-go-lucky Norwegian. The stats don't lie, but the interim manager might have given his recharged performers a reason to run more.
Under instruction from Solskjaer, Pogba looked for the riskiest pass to find Rashford. Under Mourinho, he played safe and invariably found a nearer target.
But the sideways scuttling has gone. The crabs are creators once more.
As a result, Rashford made the run in anticipation of the bolder ball from Pogba. Under Mourinho, he didn't. He was much less involved.
So the change of philosophy has contributed to a change in momentum, proven by the uncomfortable fact that many of the old flaws under Mourinho remain.
Their defence is still dodgy.
Perhaps encouraged by Burnley's 2-2 draw against United, Leicester pushed their attacking trio of Harvey Barnes, James Maddison and Demarai Gray forward to probe United's back four.
Barnes targeted Ashley Young, particularly in the second half, and United's 33-year-old often lacked the legs to keep up.
David de Gea had his palms stung a few times, routine saves that served as a warm-up for two remarkable stops. The first saw him push away Jamie Vardy's close-range overhead kick, but the second was even better, reaching the top corner to tip over Rachid Ghezzal's whipped free-kick.
The game became a scruffy affair, but the exhausted Red Devils hung on. Their shortcomings persist, but Solskjaer's renaissance continues.
In this instance, fortune really did favour the brave.