Mark Holmes gives his verdict on a 1-1 draw between Manchester United and Leicester City that edged the Foxes closer to the Premier League title.
MAN UTD UP THE TEMPO
One of the biggest criticisms of Louis van Gaal during his time in charge of Manchester United has been the tempo – or lack of it, to be more precise – at which they have performed, but there was certainly no faulting the intensity at which they started this game.
United pressed high up the pitch, chased in packs and snapped into challenges, but even more pleasing for the home fans would have been the speed at which they moved the ball forward having won it back. This was a long way from the slow, ponderous build-up play Van Gaal’s United have often been accused of.
Much like against Everton in the FA Cup semi-final, they could not maintain the levels for the full 90 minutes, but that was no doubt more down to the improvement of Leicester than any lack of effort from the hosts.
The disappointment, of course, is that performances like these have been so few and far between this season. The draw leaves United four points behind Manchester City in fourth place, almost certainly out of the running for the Champions League.
DEFENCES STRUGGLE AT BOTH ENDS
United got the goal their start deserved when Anthony Martial coolly slotted beneath Kasper Schmeichel following Antonio Valencia’s cross, but Claudio Ranieri will not have been happy with the contribution of either full-back.
Christian Fuchs fell for Valencia’s dummy far too easily out on United’s right, but Danny Simpson was even more culpable on the opposite flank having tucked in to leave Martial unmarked and then missing a header as the ball came in.
For a side that has based much of their success, at least in the second half of the season, on a solid defence, it was an uncharacteristically poor goal to concede.
Even worse defending was to come at the other end, however, when Marcos Rojo was beaten to Danny Drinkwater’s floated free-kick with embarrassing ease by Wes Morgan at the far post.
Morgan has out-muscled bigger players than Rojo, true, but the Argentine never once got the right side of Morgan and was brushed off like an 18-year-old debutant rather than the 37-times capped international he actually is.
To make matters worse, it was a battle which Rojo continued to lose as the game went on, with Morgan getting free to head over before half-time and then doing the same earlier in the second half but heading down and into the grateful arms of David de Gea.
Rojo could also have given away a penalty when he stuck out a leg which Riyad Mahrez duly went over to give Michael Oliver a big decision to make…
BOTH TEAMS LEFT TO RUE REFEREE
Many will argue it was a clear-cut penalty, but this particular observer has sympathy for Oliver on this occasion. In real time, it looked for all the world as though Mahrez had gone over too easily in an effort to win a penalty; my initial thought was that the Algerian was slightly fortune not to be booked.
Replays showed Rojo did in fact make contact with Mahrez – but contact can look far more decisive than it was in reality when viewed in slow motion.
Either way, Oliver did not have the benefit of such replays and can be excused in the circumstances. Rojo on the other hand can not – even if Mahrez did go looking for the penalty, it was poor defending to dangle a leg and give the Leicester man the opportunity.
Oliver definitely got it right when keeping his whistle out of his mouth following Jesse Lingard’s tussle with Simpson, who just about stayed within the law when seeking to stop the United winger capitalising on his poor touch as he ran clear, but there can be little doubt that a red card would have been shown before that to Marouane Fellaini following some typical grappling with Robert Huth in the penalty area.
Huth provoked Fellaini by pulling his hair, an act that no doubt would have led to a booking if spotted, but the Belgian should have learned by now not to react in this particular way. He has a reputation for an over-use of his elbows and will not almost certainly be handed a retrospective ban for violent conduct which could even call an early end to his United career.
There was further controversy later in the game, first when Wayne Rooney, already on a booking, got away with tugging back Demarai Gray on the edge of United’s box, and then finally when Drinkwater was sent off for pulling on Memphis Depay’s shirt right on the line of the box at the opposite end.
Drinkwater argued with some justification that contact was minimal, while United argued the incident occurred inside the area, an argument which was tough to settle even after replays. Either way, it ensured a referee will once again dominate discussions after a game which should be remembered for the excellent spectacle it was.
LEICESTER FIGHTBACK FANTASTIC
There can’t surely be too many Leicester doubters remaining at this stage, but the possibility of a late choke may have been entering heads, particularly those of a Spurs persuasion, as the Foxes were given the run-around in the opening stages.
The absence of Jamie Vardy up front, and more specifically the out-ball over the top, certainly appeared to be hindering Claudio Ranieri’s side, but Morgan’s equaliser during that difficult period was yet another clear sign of a team with the necessary spirit to complete this remarkable story.
Set-pieces aside, there weren’t too many opportunities for them to claim victory on the day, but the defence certainly made up for the poor goal they conceded with another obdurate performance, while Schmeichel once again proved his worth to the side this season with a wonderful low save to deny Lingard at 1-0 and then a late dart out of his goal to deny Memphis an open goal at the death.
They might not be the most technically impressive side to ever win the Premier League, but they might just be the hardest working.