Manchester United 2 – 0 Leicester City
Report by Chris Griffin
I could not have been the only City fan on the East Didsbury to Trafford Bar metro who travelled with apprehension at the thought of the game at Old Trafford. In contrast the many Manchester United fans on Sir Matt Busby Way had a confidence in their step: a confidence which was justified.
The City players worked their socks off but hard work was not enough against a £400 million side. All too often City put themselves under pressure with misplaced passes and anywhere-will-do clearances. The “defend deep and hit on the counter” strategy which worked so well in the title year was built on neat and accurate one and two touch passing, often prompted by Drinkwater and the long-departed Kante. City passing of that quality was rare last night.
United brought in Martial for Rashford. An unchanged City defended the Stretford End goal first half. The opening minutes were hectic in the City penalty area. Morgan blocked a goal bound Mkhitaryan effort. Valencia crossed but referee Oliver blew for a foul on Schmeichel. Martial was getting a lot of the ball and causing problems running at the heart of the City defence.
City gained a little respite by passing long into the channels and Vardy just missed out on one long pass with de Gea beating him to the ball.
The pattern continued. United players passed quickly and smartly while Leicester could not keep the ball. Schmeichel made a smart save from a Lukaku shot on the turn. Mata put the rebound in the net but was ruled offside. Pogba – totally unmarked at the far post – knocked a good chance across the face of the City goal. The pressure built and Leicester fans were relieved to see Schmeichel make a superb save from a Mata shot, tipping the ball around the post.
Pogba was prominent in driving forward and also letting fly with several long range shots. The French international was given too much room with the City midfield sitting so deep. Schmeichel pushed away one fierce Pogba drive. Blind made a good cross from the left but Lukaku headed wide.
At the other end Vardy and Okazaki combined but Shinji’s shot did not trouble de Gea. All too often the front men found themselves isolated from any midfield support.
The half finished 0-0. Maguire, Morgan, Simpson and Fuchs had showed great resilience under pressure. Ndidi and James ran and worked tirelessly in pursuit of their defensive duties supported by Albrighton and Mahrez. But it was hard to avoid the thought that United pressure would tell.
The second half started with the home team on the front foot straight way. Mahrez had to be alert when he blocked one driving Blind run. The ball was repeatedly in the City penalty area and Maguire and Morgan were working overtime to deal with the threats. Lukaku went down in the area following one Morgan challenge but referee Oliver waved play on.
Mr Oliver also waved play on when the ball was driven against Fuchs’ arm in the City penalty area from close range. Seconds later, however, he pointed to the penalty spot when Simpson’s right arm was struck by a cross from Martial. To be fair the City protests were muted.
No matter: Lukaku stepped up and blasted his shot to Schmeichel’s right but the City keeper had anticipated well and palmed the spot-kick around the post.
City were beginning to get a little more joy going forward, mainly through Mahrez. Mkhitaryan was forced into a yellow card challenge on the Leicester winger. Then Mahrez drove a cross across the United goal which de Gea cleared with his foot. Mahrez then dribbled round Jones but the United man got back with a challenge just as Mahrez was about to shoot.
On the hour manager Shakespeare introduced Gray for Albrighton and King for Okazaki. But United kept pressing. It seemed as if they were camped in the City defensive third. Mkhitaryan played a smart ball for Martial but Morgan cleared the danger with an excellent challenge. At the other end Gray played Mahrez into the box but Jones blocked his shot. Mahrez then flashed a drive across the United penalty area but no one was on hand to tap the ball in.
After 68 minutes United replaced Mata with Rashford and this proved decisive. Rashford was soon running at the City defence and after one effort he forced Maguire into a good covering tackle that led to a corner. Incredibly Mkhitaryan’s regulation outswinger fell at the feet of the unmarked Rashford just in front of the penalty spot. Rashford’s contact wasn’t the best but it surprised Schmeichel who could only parry the shot into his own net. Last season Leicester conceded three soft goals to corners at Old Trafford. Déjà vu indeed.
Leicester responded with a Gray run but his long range shot lacked power. On the 73rd minute Mkhitaryan was replaced by Fellaini and Martial by Lingard. Meanwhile City replaced Vardy with Slimani. A Mahrez free kick led to a scramble in the United penalty area but Lingard cleared.
United countered and increased their lead. Lingard found space in the City penalty area. His low drive, under pressure from Morgan, found Fellaini in front of goal and the ball cannoned into the Leicester net off the knee of the Belgium international. He looked in an offside position.
James picked up a yellow card after fouling Rashford. Two City corners came to nothing, then Gray went on a good run in overtime. His near post cross was turned goalwards by King but de Gea made a smart save. The final whistle went: it was all too easy to think it could have been worse than 2-0.
Where do we go from here? Clearly Iheanacho, Drinkwater and Iborra need to get fit. As the close of the transfer window approaches it seems to have gone worryingly quiet on the quality-players-in front whereas it is all too noisy on the quality-players-out front. Internet and media speculation should be taken with considerable quantities of salt but if the mooted departures of Vardy, Drinkwater and Mahrez take place then the team’s creativity would be shredded.
Manchester United: De Gea, Valencia, Bailly, Jones, Blind, Matic, Pogba, Mata, Mkhitaryan, Martial, Lukaku. Subs Romero, Darmian, Smalling, Herrera, Fellaini, Lingard, Rashford
Leicester City: Schmeichel, Simpson, Morgan (c), Maguire, Fuchs, Mahrez, Ndidi, James, Albrighton, Okazaki, Vardy. Subs Hamer, Chilwell, Amartey, King, Gray, Iheanacho, Slimani
Referee Michael Oliver; Attendance 75,275
The views expressed in this report are the opinions of the Trust member nominated to file the report only and do not represent the views of the Foxes Trust organisation