Leicester and Manchester United played out a very interesting game at the King Power Stadium as the final fixture before Christmas day came to a close. Jamie Vardy opened the scoring in classic Leicester style before Juan Mata rolled in the equaliser. The Spaniard was there again to add the second from a free-kick as United looked the better of the two sides. Second-half substitute Daniel Amarteywas sent off for two yellows which gave the visitors all of the initiative. However, Harry Maguire stole in at the back post to score the equaliser, and to cap off an awful week for Manchester United.
From the game, what give things did we learn?
A slow start that explodes into a frantic second 25 minutes
With Leicester’s rejuvenation both on and off the field this season, many thought that they would try to start the game brightly with some quick offensive intent that would put Manchester United on the backfoot. Jose Mourinho’s men were not really put in a position in which they could be pressurised though, with the Foxes clearly happy to let the visitors see the majority of the ball.
This saw very few chances of note to begin with as the likes of Paul Pogba, Juan Mata and Romelu Lukaku were all too eager to take on efforts that were wasted. However, Leicester were able to score through Jamie Vardy which forced the visitors to come forward, and it opened the game up massively. Mourinho’s men looked far better after going a goal down, and perhaps Vardy’s finish had more positives than many thought it would for the visitors.
Pogba looked to drag his side forward as he utilised possession well from the middle, with the side looking to use their wide players to supply chances for Lukaku in the box. This saw Mata open the scoring in clinical fashion, and both teams broke one after the other as the game opened up, with United involved in a very interesting and open game, something that has not been said about them often this season.
Leicester are still scintillating on the break
It was the Leicester of their Premier League winning vintage on Saturday evening as their first goal brought memories flooding back. Claude Puel may not be regarded in the same bracket as Claudio Ranieri, but he has got the confidence flowing through the side once again. It was a rather quiet opening 20 minutes, with Manchester United the masters of slowing a game down, however, they could not halt their hosts lightning fast counter-attacking.
Wilfred Ndidi was able to launch a glorious long-ball out towards Riyad Mahrez with the winger running at just Chris Smalling and David De Gea. In true Mahrez style, he took his time and waited for the opportune moment to play a cute pass into the feet of Jamie Vardy who rolled the ball into the bottom corner. The Englishman’s 50th Premier League goal summed up everything that Leicester are: lightning fast on the break and able to punish even the best defences when they are presented with a chance.
Going a goal up meant that United had to come forward and could not sit back. This played into Leicester’s hands as they were then able to continue their counter-attacking style that has been so successful for the side. It also displayed the fact that despite Mourinho’s apparent massive leaning towards defending, his side were left with very little at the back, with one long ball able to tear United apart.
Mata is the man yet again
Manchester United needed someone to step up as the half drew to a close with the visitors a goal down. Their moment came as Anthony Martial’s cross was partially stopped by Danny Simpson, but the ball fell for Juan Mata in the box, and he steadied himself before firing through a crowd of legs and into the bottom corner. With the week that Manchester United have had, they could not really afford to go in a goal down as the team talk from Mourinho would have hardly been a pleasant one.
However, where was their incredibly expensive striker throughout the half? Romelu Lukaku has been criticised massively this season as he continues to struggle for form against the top sides, with his first-half showing doing nothing to prove that he has turned a corner. He was slow, his first touch was poor, he rarely took up good positions, and he was generally anonymous throughout the opening 45. It was a first-half to forget for the Belgian.
The second-half saw a very different Lukaku though, While he was not of the scoresheet, he was the assister to a number of big chances for his teammates as he aided his team in ways he has not been able to before. While United could not take these chances, Mourinho will be hoping that this is the beginning of a Lukaku that can score and create goals.
Anthony Martial misses a huge chance, but Mata redeems him
Jon Moss allowed Manchester United to play on with an advantage after Jesse Lingard was taken down in midfield, and it meant that Lukaku, who was so poor in the first-half, was able to thread a ball into Anthony Martial who had a one-on-one chance with Kasper Schmeichel. Many would have put a lot of money on the forward scoring there, but he blazed his effort over in surprising fashion.
It seemed as though this could be a defining moment in the game, with the Frenchman usually so clinical going forward. However, Mata was on hand to spare his blushes by adding a second goal on the hour mark. With a free-kick right on the edge of the Leicester box, Mata struck the ball over the wall and it dipped into the goal, beating the despairing dive of Schmeichel, who was picking the ball out of the back of the net from a Mata effort for the second time in the game. Mata is a player that does not always seem to get the credit he deserves from the fans or the manager, but he did all he could to win all three points for his team.
Manchester United made to rue missed chances
What a finish it was to the game. Daniel Amartey was sent off for receiving his second yellow card just 17 minutes after coming on and this saw United in the ascendancy. Jesse Lingard and the Marcus Rashford had huge chances to put the game out of sight in the second-half, but the former rounded Schmeichel only to hit the post, while the latter seemed to be brought down but no penalty was given.
Leicester continued to pile forward with United hitting them on the counter each time, but chances went begging. With Chris Smalling then picking up a groin injury, Leicester clearly smelt blood. Centre-half Harry Maguire remained in the United box and he took advantage of Smalling’s injury to ghost in at the back post and equalise. The King Power Stadium was rocking, with the Foxes clawing themselves back to 2-2 with question marks over the marking and whether David De Gea should have come out to challenge for a ball that was only three yards away from him.
United are now a massive 13 points short of Manchester City at the top with the title race surely over, while Leicester are up to eighth, but they are still some way behind seventh-placed Burnley.
Leicester City: Schmeichel 6 – Simpson 6 (Amartey 3), Morgan 6, Maguire 7.5, Fuchs 6 – Mahrez 7, Ndidi 6, Iborra 6 (Okazaki 6), Albrighton 6.5 – Gray 5 (Chilwell 6), Vardy 7.
Unused subs: Hamer, Dragovic, King, Slimani.
Manchester United: De Gea 6 – Lindelof 6, Jones 7, Smalling 5, Young 6 – Matic 6, Pogba 6 – Mata 8 (Mkhitaryan 5), Lingard 6 (Herrera 5), Martial 6 (Rashford 6) – Lukaku 7.
Unused subs: Romero, Rojo, Shaw, Ibrahimovic.
Referee: Jon Moss.
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