Belfast Telegraph

Henrikh sparkles for delighted Jose

Leicester City 0 Man United 3

By Miguel Delaney

Jose Mourinho has said that Henrikh Mkhitaryan is finally showing "other things" the manager wants to see beyond the "magic", as he claimed he initially left the playmaker out of the Manchester United side to "protect" him.

The Armenian was moved to the main number 10 role in the middle of the side's ultimately easy 3-0 win away to Leicester City, and proved crucial, putting in a sparkling display as he scored the first goal and assisted Juan Mata's second half clincher.

Mkhitaryan was arguably the most high-profile of a number of players - including Anthony Martial - that the Portuguese has conspicuously sidelined in his first season at Old Trafford, and his comments could be seen as a message to them as much as an explanation for Mkhitaryan's resurgence.

"Sometimes, the best way to protect the players is not to play them," Mourinho said. "I think in your chair, your perspective is always… if a player is not playing, the manager is, I cannot say the word, I have to find a different word… the manager is disturbing him but it's not true.

"Sometimes we don't play players and we protect them and Mkhi was one of these players. He was being protected. And he was adapting.

"And I could see not just what you see - because you see the magic things he can do on the pitch - but I also see other things that I want to see and Mkhi is playing really well."

Of the decision to put Mkhitaryan in the centre, Mourinho said he needed to give his side more attacking freedom.

"We start with two lines of four that gave us great stability defensively. Our wingers were deeper, closer to the central midfielders. We didn't want to give them any space behind, especially when we saw Vardy, Musa, Mahrez, Okazaki. No Slimani, no Ulloa.

"The game has completely different perspective and we did that very, very well but we lacked a little bit of creativity by playing this way. Normally, our wingers are closer to the striker. We have more movement behind the striker and then we decide to change and yes, we improve but then it's the goal that changed the story of the game."

Mourinho has sarcastically said defending is now seen as an "art" in England, in contrast to the criticism his title-winning teams used to receive.

Undoubtedly referencing the praise that Chelsea have enjoyed in streaking clear at the top of the Premier League while occasionally playing pragmatic counter-attacking football, the Portuguese clearly feels that is different to the coverage when he won his three titles with the same club.

"You know, my team is playing very well," Mourinho began. "But for many, many years in my career, especially in this country, when my teams were ruthless, and when my teams were phenomenal defensively and very good on the counter, I listened week after week that it was not enough, in spite of winning the title three times.

"It looks like this season to be phenomenal defensively and good on the counter-attack, is art, so it was a big change in England."

A dour opening half came to life just before the break when the visitors scored twice in two minutes. First, Mkhitaryan latched onto Chris Smalling's flick-on and raced through on goal before beating Kasper Schmeichel with a clinical finish.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic then took advantage of terrible Leicester marking to side-foot home his 15th Premier League goal of the season. Mata ensured there was no way back for the hosts when he finished off a one-two with Mkhitaryan early in the second half. Mourinho was obviously quite proud of the win, insisting they would never play in such a counter-attadcking way.

"But my Manchester United, I don't want to change the profile of our play," he said.

"This is the way we want to play, this is the way the fans want us to play, this is the way the club wants us to play but I don't want also to be the manager of a team that plays very well, creates a lot of chances and doesn't win matches."

LEICESTER: Schmeichel, Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs, Mahrez, Drinkwater, Ndidi, Musa (Gray, 46 mins), Okazaki (King, 46 mins), Vardy. Unused subs: Zieler, Benalouane, Chilwell, Kapustka, Albrighton.

MAN UTD: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Bailly, Rojo (Blind, 46 mins), Pogba, Herrera, Mata (Fellaini, 77 mins), Mkhitaryan, Rashford, Ibrahimovic. Unused subs: Romero, Young, Carrick, Lingard, Martial.

Referee: Anthony Taylor

Man of the match: Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Match rating: 7/10

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