Leiecester City could not complete their dream in the Theatre of dreams as Manchester United held them to a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford. Leicester City would still go away as the happier of the two sides, with a hard earned point away.
Manchester United began on a bright note, keeping the ball and testing Leicester’s backline with slick passing. They were duly rewarded 9 minutes into the game with Anthony Martial beating Kasper Schmeichel on his near post with a strong low shot from Antonio Valenica’s cross.
It was almost 2-0 shortly after, but a low shot from Lingard was brilliantly saved by Schmeichel. And as has happened innumerable times this season, Leicester City managed to get a goal in from nowhere when the huge Wes Morgan managed to shrug off Marcos Rojo to head in from Danny Drinkwater’s free kick.
The game settled in the second half with clear cut chances few and far between. In spite of late drama due to Drinkwater’s red card, Leicester managed to hold on to secure a point. The game wasn’t short of action and drama and here are a few talking points about the game.
Marouane Fellaini is by no means a fan favourite at Old Trafford, evidenced by the boos and even sarcastic cheers he has received after being subbed off. However, in recent weeks Fellaini has shown signs of improvement and looks to be the player he was at Everton.
Operating in a midfield 3 with Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney, Fellaini has been given the freedom to move forward. Today he did exactly what was asked of him by Van Gaal: Get forward and make yourself a nuisance in the box. He was at the backpost on most occasions and won a few headers to set up his team mates. He tracked back a few times as well showing good work ethic. Although his future at the club remains uncertain, he went on to show that when deployed properly he can be a good asset to the team.
Leicester City have scored 20 goals from set-pieces this season, second only to Tottenham. They have utilized the strength in the air of their huge central defenders Wes Morgan and Robert Huth and also Leonardo Ulloa to the optimum this season.
Once again, their captain came up with the goods when it was required, displacing off Rojo and putting in a thumping header into the back off the net. United haven’t been the best at defending set pieces, themselves. They do not possess natural height in their team apart from Smalling and Fellaini. Thus, it was absurd to see Fellaini being in the 3-man wall of the free kick from which the goal was scored. Leicester looked like a threat from set-pieces throughout the game and were unlucky not to pluck another one.
Manchester United got into some really good positions especially in the first half but as has happened so many times this season, lacked the killer ball to let anyone through on goal. United kept possession really well and moved the ball around crisply. However, the front three of Martial, Lingard and Rashford just did not test Schmeichel often enough.
Barring the goal, their crossing was just not upto the mark. In spite of being in some good crossing positions, they weren’t able to capitalize the aerial strength of Fellaini to the utmost. That intricate final pass is where United seem to be lacking and Van Gaal might be interested in bringing in reinforcements for the same during the summer.
The refereeing was good in most parts of the game. However, the two penalty appeals, one in either half, had the jury divided. The first one, was when Marcos Rojo brought down Riyadh Mahrez in the penalty box with his left leg. The referee Michael Oliver however thought that Mahrez ran into Rojo and thus deciding against giving the penalty. Replays suggest that Michael Oliver might have got this wrong but considering his angle and the way Mahrez fell on Rojo the decision might be justified.
The second one was when Drinkwater was sent off for a tackle on Depay. The United players appealed for a penalty but a free kick was given on the edge of the box. Replays suggested that the contact was inside the box and considering that Drinkwater was sent off, it was a penalty.
This match was of a much greater significance for the team in Red than the team in Blue. United are desperately trying to save their season with an FA cup win and a late surge for the 4th spot. However, now with a difference of 7 points between them and Arsenal and 4 points between them and City and with just 3 games to play, top 4 seems highly unlikely for Van Gaal’s men.
For a team that was being touted as title challengers, another season without Champions League football seems a big failure. United must win all their remaining matches and hope either of those teams slip up really badly to keep the Champions League nights at Old Trafford next season.