“Champions should be winning games like these” was the bottom-line of Van Gaal’s post match presser where he looked, for the first time in his reign at United, all panicky and clearly irritated. For 90 minutes, Manchester United dominated the game, at least according to the Dutchman, yet failed again, to control the outcome. It has been the story of United’s season in that they set themselves up very hard to beat rather than go and do it from the outset. Whether the fans appreciate that kind of a mindset or whether the Red Devils have alienated themselves to flamboyant attacking football is a different conversation altogether but will it keep Manchester United in the title mix come March and April? Positive.
United started the game at the King Power very similar to how they usually approached games away from home. Alarmingly cautious, recycling the ball within the back four, five in fact in contrary to the home side who pressed the life out of the full backs, especially Ashley Young and Darmian, forcing them to go long. Jamie Vardy, who was on the cusp of making history ahead of the game, stretched the defenders, thereby stretched the line, did so well to convert the only chance he got in the first half, partly worked by himself when he timed a brilliant run past the shoulders of Matteo Darmian to slot it past David De Gea, scoring a record 11th consecutive Premier League goal, in what’s been a historic season for the 28-year old and the club.
The away side got behind Leicester’s back four for the first time in the 38th minute, yes, 38th minute when Martial dribbled past the right back to get to the byline and his weak attempt at the near post was seen off by Kasper Schmeichel, who was never troubled until then. Manchester United, pegged one back, crucially at the stroke of half-time when Bastian Schweinsteiger directed a perfect Daley Blind corner towards the goal, playing a vital role in terms of contributing to important goals, in his second Premier League game in a row. Though, United should still have got more from the 8 corners they were awarded owing to the Foxes’ lack of height and any form of defensive organization during dead ball scenarios, it looks like they have finally found someone that can find Red shirts during set-piece situations and that’s a major step up from last season.
United started the second half brightly with all the momentum gained after the equalizing goal from Bastian Schweinsteiger. A similar header to the goal from Bastian in the 48th minute resulting from a set piece was parried away by Kasper Schmeichel but arguably the best chance of the half went to Leicester when they counter attacked, in a 3 v 3 situation when Mahrez slid the ball brilliantly through to Ulloa, who should have scored, only managed to pass it straight to David De Gea. Memphis Depay, who came on for Rooney, also had a chance to score in his second consecutive Premier League game right in the 83rd minute yet his first touch took the ball away from him, making the angle tighter and harder to score.
For a side aspiring to be crowned champions in May, this is a poor result. Manchester United, it’s a cliche now, should be winning games like these, especially when they enjoy so much of the ball. Not many teams can go to a side that’s top of the league, scored more goals than anyone else with a striker who’s rewriting the record books and have 69% of possession. But possession doesn’t matter if the ball is played in areas where the opposition don’t feel threatened. Leicester City made 169 passes in total as opposed to Manchester United’s 488. But Louis Van Gaal’s United only made 59 more passes in the attacking third than the home side (162 to 103) and that says something about the contrast in styles. Credit to Ranieri for getting his side play some really exciting football, bold football perhaps, with the relatively limited resources at his disposal. Louis Van Gaal can afford to release the shackles at least in games where they could really do with a win, like the one in midweek against PSV Eindhoven.
Weirdly enough, Manchester United look like a side that can win this league with a couple more players in the attacking areas, now that their midfield and defence are pretty much sorted for good measure. They are quite resilient and resilience is oftentimes an underrated virtue in football matches. Flair can win games but only the robustness and the nature of not giving in to the prospect of defeat will take teams further in the league. Manchester United themselves, in the past, are testament to that. Quoting Gary Neville cannot be any more appropriate in this time, Manchester United’s football might not be “everyone’s cup of tea” but they do have the makings of a side that can go all the way.