Martial makes Foxes wait a little longer: 5 things from Man United 1-1 Leicester
1. Champagne on ice, for now
Manchester United started much the brighter, while Leicester looked a little nervous and anxious in the opening 15 minutes. The away side made a number of uncharacteristic mistakes in the first half as whole, with players that had previously looked unfazed now appearing less energetic
It has been an unbelievable season for Leicester City and their followers, but they will have to wait until at least Monday night before they are confirmed as Premier League champions.
Every point has obviously been huge in the pursuit of their fairytale, although the wins at home to Chelsea and away to Tottenham Hotspur, and back-to-back victories over Liverpool and Manchester City laid down a significant marker.
This point was certainly a very hard fought one, although by the end there was an inevitable disappointment that they couldn’t finish the job at Old Trafford.
Manchester United started much the brighter, while Leicester looked a little nervous and anxious in the opening 15 minutes.
The away side made uncharacteristic mistakes in the first half, with players that had previously looked unfazed now appearing less energetic.
United scored inside eight minutes, when Antonio Valencia managed to turn Christian Fuchs and crossed with the outside of his right-boot towards the far post for Anthony Martial to finish the first opportunity. Fortunately for Leicester they were able to respond within 10 minutes, as Danny Drinkwater floated a free-kick into the box for Wes Morgan to squeeze between the United defenders and head in the equaliser.
Leicester were able to impose themselves on the game more in the second half and had the chances to win the game.
Claudio Ranieri has won just two of his 10 matches against United, but that shouldn’t matter too much by the middle of May.
2. Leicester miss Vardy’s runs into the channels
In the reverse fixture at the King Power Stadium, Louis van Gaal switched to three central defenders due to the ability of Jamie Vardy to expose the space between the centre-backs and full-backs.
However, with Vardy serving the second game of his two-match suspension, it was difficult for Leicester to break forward with pace. Leonardo Ulloa is strong and decent at holding up the ball, but United’s defenders were able to close him down quickly and beat him regularly in the air.
Riyad Mahrez and Jeffrey Schlupp did give Ranieri’s side direct threat, but as they were needed in a defensive capacity it was initially hard for them to take advantage of the room left vacated by the United full-backs
Van Gaal’s team were always likely to dominate possession, with Leicester attempting to soak up the pressure and counter-attack at speed. Riyad Mahrez and Jeffrey Schlupp did give Ranieri’s side the direct threat required, but as they were needed in a defensive capacity it was initially hard for them to take advantage of the room left vacated by the United full-backs.
“They pressed so high because without Vardy it was difficult for us to stretch the defensive line,” said Ranieri afterwards. The Italian did use Demarai Gray in the final 20 minutes to push United back, but his first touch and his end product were lacking.
3. Rooney and Fellaini disrupt Foxes' midfield
United lined in a 4-1-4-1 with Wayne Rooney and Marouane Fellaini in behind Marcus Rashford. The two attackers are very different stylistically and offer Van Gaal an array of characteristics. However, both provide a physical competiveness and make it hard for defensive midfielders to pass their way around.
Drinkwater and N’Golo Kante were superb at defending the edge of their own area, but their distribution in the first half lacked the usual precision. This improved after the break, as both players settled into a rhythm and the United pairing looked a little tired.
Former United academy graduate Drinkwater appeared to let the occasion get to him, as he completed only 11 of the 23 passes attempted in the first half. He looked more assured in possession after half-time, when only 5 of his passes went astray, but he was sent off for a second bookable offence late on.
“They are the specialists at playing in their own half and then counter-attacking,” said Van Gaal post-match. “Their only threat was through set plays, so we did it very well.”
4. Schmeichel close to emulating his senior
David de Gea was named in the PFA Team of the Year, but he must have faced stiff competition from Kasper Schmeichel for the honour. The Leicester shot-stopper has been one of the many unsung heroes in the team, especially during the run-in when they have had to play a little more conservatively.
His save from Jesse Lingard just six minutes after the opening goal was crucial, as he got down quickly to deny the winger
It’s 17 years since his father last won the league title at Old Trafford, but unfortunately for the Dane he was unable to replicate him on this occasion. Schmeichel was vital to Leicester earning a point on the ground where his dad was once worshipped.
His save from Jesse Lingard just six minutes after the opening goal was crucial, as he got down quickly to deny the winger. He then spread himself superbly late on, in a manner which his watching parent will have been proud, when both Memphis Depay and Rooney closed in on the edge of the penalty area.
5. Van Gaal not going out without a fight
The rise of Leicester from relegation battlers to near title-winners is just a further indictment of how far United have fallen since Ferguson retired in the eyes of the fans
The FA Cup final appearance for Manchester United has at least helped the negativity around Van Gaal to subside a little, but even if they beat Crystal Palace at Wembley and claim the trophy, it may not be enough for him to see out the final year of his contract. Three years after Sir Alex Ferguson won the Premier League, the supporters have seen their side struggle to exert their influence not only domestically but in Europe as well.
Meanwhile, the rise of Leicester from relegation battlers to near title-winners is just a further indictment of how far United have fallen since Ferguson retired in the eyes of the fans. The fact that the Foxes' campaign is unprecedented and that many of the traditionally bigger clubs have also had below-par seasons will be of little consolation to those that are used to watching their club collect silverware with relative ease.
Van Gaal’s bench was more expensive than the entire Leicester squad, which is another blow to the expenditure made by the United hierarchy in the last two years. However, it was a decent performance from the Red Devils, as Martial and Rashford offered further proof that there are reasons for optimism at the club.
“I have seen one of the best matches of the season from my line-up but it was not enough, you have to score,” admitted Van Gaal.
- Leicester have lost just 1 of the last 10 Premier League games in which they've conceded first (W3 D6) - vs Liverpool in December.
- Anthony Martial has scored 15 goals in all competitions this season, more than any other Manchester United player.
- Martial's goal was the first Leicester had conceded in the opening 10 minutes of their top-flight fixtures this season.
- The Foxes have lost just 1 of the last 5 top-flight games in which they’ve had a player sent off.
- Danny Drinkwater notched his 7th Premier League assist of the season - only James Milner (11), Dele Alli (9) and Ross Barkley (8) have more among English players in 2015/16.
- Juan Mata made his 100th appearance in all competitions for the Red Devils, more than any other outfield player at the club since the Spaniard made his Man United debut in January 2014.
- Leicester remain 1 of only 3 teams Wayne Rooney has faced with Man United in the Premier League without scoring against (along with Blackpool and Derby).
- Claudio Ranieri has enjoyed just 2 victories in his 10 Premier League clashes with the Red Devils (D6 L2).