Ibrahimovic earns Community Shield glory for Man United vs. Leicester
LONDON -- Three thoughts on Manchester United's 2-1 win vs. Leicester City in the FA Community Shield.
1. Ibrahimovic announces himself for Man United
He was never going to arrive quietly. Until the 83rd minute, Zlatan Ibrahimovic had been virtually anonymous by his standards, shackled effectively by Leicester's Wes Morgan and struggling to find space to exert his usual influence.
But given his appetite for theatre, it was no huge surprise that the Swedish striker settled a tight, often scrappy Community Shield after Jesse Lingard and Jamie Vardy had traded goals. Manchester United will hope it provides some sort of springboard for brighter times over the next nine months.
When the decisive moment arrived, it was straightforward enough. Antonio Valencia's cross, stood up to the far post, brought about another of the contests Ibrahimovic had been losing for most of the afternoon. But this time, he won the header against Morgan and -- with the Leicester captain possibly getting the final touch -- nodded across Kasper Schmeichel and in off the far post.
Lingard's opener seemed a long time ago, but it was worth committing to memory. The 23-year-old has taken a liking to Wembley. It was his excellent FA Cup final winner against Crystal Palace that brought United to this game and within 32 minutes he had produced another moment of magic, albeit different in nature.
United certainly needed something; they had laboured for the most part but, after Andy King had dived into and missed a tackle 10 yards inside the Leicester half, Lingard found himself in space. Past one challenge he went, then past another from a rash Morgan, and the winger found himself one-on-one with Schmeichel. He finished coolly and sparked a game that had badly needed such a show of initiative.
It should have been the foundation for United to kick on and set down a marker. Instead, Marouane Fellaini provided an apt reminder of existing failings seven minutes after the break.
The midfielder did well enough to track back and intercept a ball toward Vardy from substitute Ahmed Musa, but Fellaini's subsequent contribution was to sell David De Gea short with a hopelessly underhit backpass, allowing Vardy to steal in and slot in the equaliser from an angle.
It was Ibrahimovic who had the final say, though, as United stepped up the pressure late on. They have won the first silverware of the 2016-17 season, although this was not a curtain raiser to live particularly long in the memory.
2. United show why Pogba is needed
Watching this game, you could only think that Paul Pogba cannot arrive quickly enough. The midfielder only has to pass a medical for his drawn-out transfer to Man United finally to be confirmed and such was the lack of cohesion in his new club's engine room that there is any number of jobs he could perform.
United lined up at Wembley with Wayne Rooney in the No. 10 position Mourinho appears to have earmarked for him, plus Michael Carrick and Fellaini sitting behind in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
The balance never looked right; Rooney, starved of meaningful possession early on despite a dominant start from United, found himself pulled backwards as the first half progressed, with King and Danny Drinkwater dominating in the centre for Leicester.
There were no indications of a burgeoning relationship with Ibrahimovic, who was peripheral until his winner, and the only sign of any forward thrust from the middle came when Lingard, a wide player, foraged inside to such tremendous effect for his goal.
It was sluggish, one-paced fare and a reminder of Mourinho's pre-match concern that it will take time to evolve United's game from the safe, possession-based approach of Louis van Gaal to one that seeks quick penetration between the lines.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, seen only in added time here, should also change that if used centrally and, as United probed with little direct threat, the abiding sense was that the midfielders Mourinho inherited have neither the speed of foot or thought to harbour hopes of a long-term future at Old Trafford.
Rooney must be included in their number. He plugged away, slashing wildly over after Vardy's equaliser and shooting at Schmeichel following a rare link-up with Ibrahimovic, but it is difficult to see where he is going to fit in unless Pogba's power can somehow be used to spark him.
Juan Mata might feel similarly. The Spaniard, introduced in the 63rd minute, was the man withdrawn for Mkhitaryan and must wonder about his own future. It was another reminder that, even if Pogba is almost back on English shores, there remain many issues to deal with at Old Trafford.
3. Leicester lose but can be pleased
Leicester can approach the new campaign with a sense of reassurance, regardless of their late disappointment here. There had been mild cause for preseason concern when they shipped eight goals against Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, but the opposition had to be taken into account and they bore a decent resemblance to last season's selves at Wembley.
Lingard's goal was cruelly timed; Claudio Ranieri's side had wrestled control of the game after a cagey first 15 minutes and had almost taken the lead when Shinji Okazaki, having seen a shot deflected just wide, hit the crossbar with a header from the resulting corner.
The one nagging doubt came in the build-up to United's opener. The missed tackle from King that opened the door for Lingard summed up Leicester's typically committed approach but it was impossible to swat away the thought that N'Golo Kante, whose place King he had taken, would have won the ball.
Somehow, Kante's contribution needs to be mitigated. Ranieri said before the game that they will "have to think different and close space quicker -- but it will need to happen in more disciplined fashion than this if Leicester are not to appear loose. An encouraging performance from substitute Nampalys Mendy assuaged a few of those concerns.
The speed of substitutes Musa and Demarai Gray, who almost equalised at the death, troubled United in the second half and Leicester will certainly have more strings to their attacking bow than last season. That extra depth will be crucial, as will quick elimination of the soft defending that led to both goals here.
Any recriminations, though, will be few. "Champions of England, we know what we are," was the Leicester fans' refrain throughout the afternoon. They will be for a good few months yet, and there remains no good reason not to bask in the fact.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.