Man Utd’s backline show signs of rising standards

The sight of Lisandro Martinez fist-pumping and celebrating with Diogo Dalot after the Portuguese right-back made an important block to deny Harvey Barnes from crossing will be welcomed by Manchester United supporters. Theirs is a defence which has rightly been much-maligned recently.

This single-goal victory over Leicester City was United’s second successive clean sheet in the Premier League — a much-needed antidote to conceding six across their first two games of the season. Erik ten Hag’s decision to withdraw Harry Maguire from the firing line and install Martinez and Raphael Varane as the centre-back pairing is paying off.

Celebrating clearances and, subsequently another shutout, shows that United’s defence are aiming for step-by-step improvements. No one believes they are great shakes quite yet, but clearly Ten Hag’s work on the training pitch is working.

Gaps did appear at the back during this rather slow and cumbersome game — none more so than when Tyrell Malacia failed to spot the run of James Justin late on only to be let off by the Leicester full-back skying his shot. That was a rare Leicester foray that had the home crowd close to the edge of their seat.

By and large, United were in control, with the game played to their tune, and they didn’t need to get out of second gear to achieve this third successive win. Dalot kept Leicester’s brightest spark, Barnes, in check while Martinez and Varane won all but one of their ground duels. Yet the collection of three needless yellow cards by three members of the back four (Martinez, Dalot and Malacia) for shirt pulls or misjudgements highlight that they still play on the edge.

The arrival of high-flying Arsenal at Old Trafford on Sunday will be a truer test of their current resolve. Overall, Leicester didn’t pose too many questions; David De Gea was barely tested and Jamie Vardy often cut an isolated figure up front.

Brendan Rodger’s side didn’t create any big chances and played within themselves, it was the first time that they have failed to score in the league so far this season but also their eighth successive outing in which they have not kept a clean sheet.

The crowd didn’t warm to Leicester’s latest underwhelming performance and greeted the final whistle with indifference, not booing, which hints at a possible disconnect.

It is troubling for Rodgers whose team are at the foot of the table, without a victory to their name and only one point to call their own. Unlike Jadon Sancho, who scored from his only real chance in front of goal, Leicester’s attacking players lacked incision.

Now the transfer window is shut and Rodgers knows what he has to work with, a response will be sought when they travel to Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday before hosting Aston Villa a week later. Anything other than an uplift will only see the concern build around a team that does appear to be growing stale.

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