Manchester United took full advantage of some favourable Premier League results to close the gap on the teams at the top thanks to a convincing 3-0 victory over champions Leicester City at the King Power Stadium.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s excellent solo goal and a composed finish from top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the space of two minutes towards the end of the first half gave the Reds a comfortable cushion at the break.
The impressive Juan Mata added a third early in the second period as Jose Mourinho’s men ended a run of three successive draws with a deserved third win of the season over the goal-shy Foxes.
Mourinho made three changes to the side frustrated by Hull on Wednesday night as Chris Smalling came in for the injured Phil Jones and was captain in the absence of the ill Wayne Rooney. He played alongside Eric Bailly, who appeared for the first time for the senior side in 2017, while Mata came into midfield, with Daley Blind and Michael Carrick dropping to the bench.
Amid a vibrant atmosphere in the East Midlands, United were first to threaten when Marcos Rojo, who switched to left-back following Bailly’s return, latched onto Ibrahimovic’s flick and lashed a fierce shot straight at Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel in the fifth minute.
With Marcus Rashford operating from a central position, the Reds enjoyed plenty of early possession but Leicester worked their way into the game and came close when Riyad Mahrez’s free-kick was helped on by Jamie Vardy and captain Wes Morgan’s header deflected behind off Paul Pogba.
Moments later, the Foxes launched an attack down the left flank with Vardy releasing Ahmed Musa but the Nigerian was thwarted in his tracks by brilliant last-ditch defending from Bailly, whose well-timed tackle diverted the ball for a corner.
At the other end, United went close again when Mata linked up well with Mkhitaryan and delivered a low cross for Rashford, who couldn’t keep his effort down although the ball took an awkward bounce in front of him.
The England frontman did manage to bring Schmeichel into action soon after with an intelligent low shot, which would have crept into the bottom corner without the keeper’s smart reactions.
Indeed, the Reds ended the first half the stronger and made the breakthrough three minutes before the break when Mkhitaryan latched onto Smalling’s knockdown, raced away from Robert Huth and ran the full length of the Leicester half before calmly rifling beyond the reach of Schmeichel.
No sooner had the 3,200 travelling United fans inside the stadium finished celebrating, it got even better just over a minute later when Valencia accelerated down the right and delivered an inch-perfect cutback for Ibrahimovic to slam home his 20th goal of the season.
David De Gea preserved the two-goal cushion in stoppage time with a comfortable save – his first of the afternoon – from Wilfred Ndidi’s 20-yard effort but the Reds were firmly in the driving seat at the break.
HALF-TIME MATCH STATS
Possession: Leicester 33% United 67%
Shots: Leicester 4 United 8
On target: Leicester 1 United 5
Corners: Leicester 3 United 2
A rejuvenated United, who introduced Blind for Rojo at the start of the second half, immediately went on the attack and increased the advantage just four minutes after the restart.
Mata, a scorer against the Foxes in September’s 4-1 victory at Old Trafford, checked inside of Christian Fuchs and cleverly exchanged passes with Mkhitaryan inside the box before coolly slotting past Schmeichel to all but seal the three points.
The dominant Reds looked increasingly threatening and in the mood for inflicting further damage against the beleaguered Foxes, who are hovering perilously close to the relegation zone just months after securing a historic first-ever top-flight title.
Rashford was denied by Schmeichel at the near post after being released by Herrera, before Mata timed his run well to latch onto Blind’s raking pass forward but couldn’t find the finish on this occasion to get the better of the Danish stopper.
With a firm grip on proceedings, United sent on Marouane Fellaini and Ashley Young in place of Mata and Rashford during the closing stages and continued to control the game in a professional manner.
Mkhitaryan could have added to his fifth goal of the season late on but fired Valencia’s cutback over the crossbar from inside the box.
it mattered little though as the three points had long been secured by the Reds, who returned to winning ways in some style and are now unbeaten in seven away league games.
FULL-TIME MATCH STATS
Possession: Leicester 33% United 67%
Shots: Leicester 10 United 15
On target: Leicester 1 United 9
Corners: Leicester 10 United 3
Leicester: Schmeichel; Simpson, Morgan (c), Huth, Fuchs; Mahrez, Drinkwater, Ndidi, Musa (Gray 45); Okazaki (King 45), Vardy.
Subs not used: Zieler, Benalouane, Chilwell, Kapustka, Albrighton.
Booked: Drinkwater, Fuchs
United: De Gea; Valencia, Smalling (c), Bailly, Rojo (Blind 45); Pogba, Herrera; Mata (Fellaini 77), Mkhitaryan, Rashford; Ibrahimovic.
Subs not used: Romero, Young, Carrick, Lingard, Martial.
Booked: Mata, Herrera, Pogba, De Gea