LONDON: Wayne Rooney may have to become used to watching Manchester United from the substitutes’ bench.
His poor recent form, allied to three defeats in four games, prompted manager Jose Mourinho to ‘welcome’ champions Leicester City by removing his captain from the firing line of fans and media.
This, the most difficult decision of Mourinho’s Old Trafford reign thus far, was rewarded with a 4-1 victory in which United played with verve and a great deal more pace than they had shown until now. Juan Mata looked happily at home in the No10 role while Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard provided exciting support for Zlatan Ibrahimovic up at centre-forward.
United looked more like the sort of team Mourinho wants, playing the sort of football he demands.
Chris Smalling headed them into a 22nd-minute lead and Mata scored the first of three further goals in five minutes before half-time. Rashford added United’s third and Paul Pogba the fourth. Substitute Demarai Gray struck Leicester’s second-half consolation before Rooney appeared as an 83rd-minute substitute too late to matter.
Mourinho said: “When our main striker is Ibrahimovic, we need fast people surrounding him to bring intensity to the game. It worked.”
Rooney was last dropped by Louis van Gaal on Boxing Day 2015 but returned immediately after a 2-0 defeat at Stoke. This time his return to the starting line-up may not be so simple though Mourinho tried to play down the significance of his choice.
He said: “He’s my man, I trust him completely. He’s as happy as I am at this moment and that’s [for] the team. He’s a big player for me, for United, for this country.”
The last comment was ironic, considering Mourinho’s pre-match suggestion that Rooney’s form had dipped because of the criticism he incurred after England’s 1-0 win over Slovakia in their opening World Cup qualifier.
United remain six points behind league leaders and rivalsManchester City, whose latest win came via a 3-1 scoreline at strugglingSwansea.
Two goals from the returning Sergio Aguero, and a third from Raheem Sterling, left City with the maximum 18 points from six league games and continued their 100 per cent record since Pep Guardiola’s appointment.
Fernando Llorente took Swansea level four minutes after Aguero had given them a ninth-minute lead, before the Argentinian restored their advantage in the second half.
Liverpool took advantage of a red card for Hull’s Ahmed Elmohamady to ease to a 5-1 victory.
Adam Lallana had already given the hosts the lead when Elmohamady conceded a penalty and was sent off for hand ball.
James Milner’s penalty put Liverpool 2-0 up, before further goals from Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho – either side of one for Hull’s David Meyler – and Milner’s second spot-kick secured all three points.
The combination of that result, with Everton’s surprise 1-0 defeat atBournemouth, took Liverpool above their rivals on goal difference.
Everton had remained undefeated in the league since Ronald Koeman’s appointment as manager, but Junior Stanislas’ 23rd-minute finish secured Bournemouth’s second win of the season.
An impressive fightback from Crystal Palace earned a 3-2 victory atSunderland, denying David Moyes his first league victory as Black Cats manager.
Two goals from Jermain Defoe gave them a promising lead, but Joe Ledley scored for Palace in the 61st minute, almost immediately after Defoe’s second.
James McArthur’s 76th-minute goal brought Palace level before, in the fourth minute of stoppage time, Christian Benteke scored to secure their latest win.
There was also a defeat for Sunderland’s North East rivals Middlesbrough, via a 2-1 scoreline at home to Tottenham.
In the absence of the injured Harry Kane, Son Heung-min scored two impressive goals to give them a convincing half-time lead. Ben Gibson reduced the deficit for Middlesbrough in the second half.
Finally, in Tony Pulis’ 1,000th game as manager, a late goal from Salomon Rondon earned his West Brom team a 1-1 draw at his former club Stoke.
Joe Allen had given Stoke the lead in the 73rd minute before Rondon’s stoppage-time equaliser ensured pressure would continue to build on the hosts’ manager Mark Hughes.