Manchester United and Leicester played out a one all draw in the top of the table clash on Saturday night. The Red Devils fell behind earlier on to a Jamie Vardy goal before Bastian Schweinsteiger equalized on the stroke of half time. That goal made Jamie Vardy the only player in the Premier League history to score in 11 consecutive games- beating Ruud Van Nistelrooy who had scored in 10 consecutive games. His fairy tale run continues.
It was interesting to see how both teams were going to line up. For United in particular, the major question was how they would deal with the threat of Vardy and prevent him from probably scoring. Leicester this season have been outscoring teams with their direct pacey counterattacking play. Considering they had scored 28 goals and conceded 20 prior to this it was clear that the defending has not been their forte this season.
Following that abysmal display in midweek, United line up needed some tinkering and Van Gaal obliged. Carrick was welcomed back to the starting line up in place of Morgan Schneiderlin, Mata started and so too did Paddy McCNair as United reverted to a 3-4-1-2 formation with Young and Darmian playing as wing backs. Memphis had a place on the bench. Leicester City gave Okazaki his first start in 5 games alongside Vardy. Mahrez continued in midfield with Kante, Drinkwater, and Albrighton.
United started the brighter of the two sides- possession wise with no real threat as has been the criticism of their play in recent times. The Foxes were looking to outfox United with counter attacking play as they struggled to get a grip of the opening exchanges. They pressed United on the ball and almost got their reward when a Darmian back pass fell to Vardy but the man from Sheffield failed to capitalize as Smalling slid to block his shot.
They say lightning doesn’t strike twice but Jamie Vardy defied the odds and scored for the 11 game in a row to set a new record. The goal came in the 24th minute when the ball broke to Christian Fuchs from a United corner. He found Vardy who had made a delightful run between Ashley Young and Darmian. The 28-year old proved too strong for the Italian to handle and he shot past David De Gea to open the scoring.
It was ironic since that was the kind of play the United of old had been known for. Leicester City fans were in seventh heaven and Vardy was living a dream. Only a few years ago he was playing in the lower leagues and now he is being spoken of in the same frame as some world class strikers. What a rise to stardom! The wry smile from England Manager Roy Hodgson- in attendance – said it all. Have the three lions finally found a goal scorer who can take them all out in the Euros?
Martial and Rooney were back after missing last week’s win over Watford. Rooney who has been lethargic and lackluster this season did nothing to help his case in this game. He was ineffective at best- posing no real threat in attack. He had a chance in the opening minutes but shot the ball straight at the keeper. And later on in the game he got a free header only for him to knock it to the ground and straight into the hands of the keeper.
Martial who has been much lauded over the weeks for his electrifying pace and dribbling skills could do nothing in this game to help his team equalize. He made good link up plays but was stifled against a resolute and determined defense. He created one moment of magic though when he tried to cut back after dribbling on the byline only for it to be cleared for a corner.
The equalizer did come on the stroke of half time from Bastian Schweinsteiger when he nodded in from a Daley Blind corner. It was a deserved goal as United had been pushing for it after going behind. Ashley Young was proving to be a great outlet- whipping in dangerous crosses. And it was no surprise the goal came after one of his crosses led to a corner which ultimately gave United the equalizer.
After the break, United went on to try and push for the winner. They completely dominated the play from the offset but were blunt in the final third. Carrick was somewhat stuttering and finding it hard to influence the game as he should have been. Schweinsteiger almost had his second goal from a free kick but his header was punched away by the keeper Schmeichel into the path of Rooney who was offside.
Leicester had few chances overall in the second half. Substitute Leo Ulloa who came on for Okazaki had a chance to score but played the ball straight at keeper De Gea as the Spaniard cleared it with his legs. Another chance came for Vardy but the presence of Smalling was enough to put him off as he played the ball across instead of trying to shoot himself.
Notable mention for Chris Smalling as he handled the threat of Vardy very well. He made wonderful tackles and never put a foot wrong on the night- maybe apart from not tracking back to stop Vardy’s goal. Overall he was impressive. Smalling has really improved this season and continues to show it week in week out.
Memphis also had a chance to win it in the dying embers of the game after coming on for Rooney who apparently had a knock. His snap shot was sky high.
Both teams went all out deep into stoppage time to get the winner but it was not meant to be as the game ended 1-1.
The dream continues for Leicester City and they showed that they are no pushover on Saturday night with a spirited first half performance. They sit second on the table after City’s win earlier in the day sent them top.
United on the other hand could learn a thing or two from this Leicester team in terms of their direct play and pace on the attack. They had 71 per cent of the possession but quantity in possession without quality is not what a team like United should be aiming for especially when they have their eyes on the title. The draw puts them in third place and within a point of the top two teams.