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“Pogba is finally living up to the hype” – Three things learnt from Manchester United 2-0 Leicester City

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For much of the Saturday evening fixture, it looked as though Leicester City could deny Manchester United their third consecutive win. The Red Devils were dominant from start to finish but for 70 minutes could not find a way through.

Juan Mata had a first half goal incorrectly ruled out after pouncing on a rebound, but the real golden chance to break the deadlock was Romelu Lukaku’s as Kasper Schmeichel produced a fine penalty save following Danny Simpson’s handball in the box.

Substitute Marcus Rashford did find the breakthrough, pouncing on Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s corner only moments after entering the action.

The next two substitutes produced the next goal as Jesse Lingard’s run created space in the final third before his cross-cum-shot wasn’t deflected into the back of the net by Marouane Fellaini on the six yard box.

Here is what The Boot Room learnt from the game…

Paul Pogba is finally living up to expectations

The Frenchman arrived as the marquee arrival last summer, but in his first season he clearly felt the pressure of his huge £89 million fee. This season, with Nemanja Matic giving him a more liberated role in the midddle of the park, he is having the impact that everyone was expecting from a player who was once the most expensive in the world.

Pogba dictated the tempo and was United’s key attacking outlet, being crucial in the transition from defence to attack. He has been in superb form this season and the key challenge left for him to overcome will he to produce such dominant displays against superior opposition than the mediocre sides that United have faced already this season.

Harry Maguire is the bargain of the summer

Signed from Hull for a fee believed to be around £17 million, Maguire’s towering display showed exactly why he’s just received his first England call up. Leicester may not have been able to hold out for the full 90 minutes, but they were the first side to stop United scoring four and Maguire kept Romelu Lukaku very quiet throughout.

A real mountain of a man, Maguire’s physical presence proved hard to beat. Winning five aerial challenges, more than any other Leicester player, it took United some time to find a way around him. Maguire is the kind of opponent who previously stopped Manchester United in their tracks and held out for a clean sheet, but unfortunately for the 24-year-old, United’s attack is much more clinical this season.

Competition for places is Manchester United’s biggest strength

In each of the two opening games of the season, Anthony Martial has come on as a substitute to score. With Martial starting against the Foxes, it was Marcus Rashford who took up the reigns as super sub and came on to score the opening goal. His strike came only three minutes after his introduction and was indicative of the attitude of Manchester United’s squad.

The second goal was fully constructed by substitutes as Jesse Lingard assisted Marouane Fellaini, and that’s what without even considering the quality of the likes of Ander Herrera and Chris Smalling who couldn’t even make it off the bench despite having been key players last season.

Sam is a Southend United fan and student based in the South-West. He has previously worked for various publications, including FourFourTwo magazine and ITV. Sam also has an extensive knowledge of Spanish football and has previously lived and worked in Spain. Find Sam on Twitter at @samleveridge.

Leicester City

Manchester City 5-1 Leicester City: Sergio Aguero issues timely reminder to Pep Guardiola

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the Etihad as Manchester City dismantled challengers Leicester City, 5-1, to continue their pursuit of the Premier League title.

Rob Meech

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Manchester City
Photo: Reuters

Sergio Aguero scored four second-half goals as Manchester City blitzed Leicester City to take another step towards the Premier League title.

Raheem Sterling’s third-minute opener was cancelled out by Jamie Vardy, as both teams went into half-time level-pegging.

Then came the fireworks.

Aguero netted his first on 48 minutes before putting another three past Kasper Schmeichel, with his fourth and final goal coming on the 90-minute mark.

City’s victory, coupled with Manchester United’s surprising 1-0 defeat to Newcastle United, extended their advantage at the top to the table to 16 points.

Leicester, meanwhile, remain in eighth spot despite enduring a torrid evening at the hands of Aguero and co.

Here are three talking points…

Aguero issues a timely reminder to Pep Guardiola

There is only one place to start.

At times, this has been a difficult season for the Argentinian sharpshooter, who has often played second fiddle to Gabriel Jesus in the crunch fixtures and cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines.

However, the Brazilian’s injury opened the door for Aguero and he has barged through, reminding Pep Guardiola why he can still play a major role as City fight on three fronts; in the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League.

Aguero was at his predatory best against a Leicester side that were far too accommodating in the second period and, with Kevin de Bruyne pulling the strings in behind, the Argentine has the perfect foil.

All the talk right now is about Harry Kane, but Aguero is only two goals behind the Tottenham man in the goalscoring charts, after netting in his seventh straight game at the Etihad.

This tally has also seen the 29-year-old surpass 20 goals for the fourth successive season.

Off-field issues undermine Leicester

With such a major distraction off the pitch this week, a visit to the runaway leaders was not the ideal fixture for Leicester manager Claude Puel.

Riyad Mahrez had dominated the headlines in light of his failure to report for training.

A U-turn saw him make himself available for the City clash, but at such short notice he was only afforded a place in the substitutes bench, coming on just after the hour mark.

Mahrez has acted unprofessionally after a deadline-day move to City was blocked by the club and he will have bridges to build with the club’s supporters.

When Vardy scored for the fourth game in succession to equalise, those fans would have hoped that they could return to the Midlands with a point.

Alas, City flexed their muscles after the interval and extinguished such aspirations.

But Leicester, in the comfort of eighth spot, can hopefully look forward with their best player back in the right frame of mind.

De Bruyne sparkles like a real diamond

This week, Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard was honoured with Belgium’s player of the year award.

Perhaps that was the spur for de Bruyne to produce another virtuoso performance.

He was always at the heart of City’s attacking play, the conductor of the orchestra who is at the peak of his powers.

De Bruyne assisted City’s first three goals to take his tally for the season to 14 – four more than his nearest challenger.

The cross that teed up Sterling was perfectly weighted, so was the delivery that enabled Aguero to open his account.

Another sumptuous ball from de Bruyne for the Argentinian left him with the opportunity to double his tally, which he duly took.

Football is subjective, but it is hard to believe at present there is a better midfielder in Europe than de Bruyne – that includes Hazard.

Belgium are fortunate to have them both in their ranks.

Wrapping them up in cotton wool will be crucial to their World Cup bid.

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Leicester City

How do Leicester City solve a problem like Riyad Mahrez?

January interest from Manchester City has turned the head of Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez. Now it is down to the Foxes hierarchy to dictate the Algerian’s short term future, writes Rob Meech.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

As bargains go, few can beat Leicester City’s capture of Riyad Mahrez.

Signed from French outfit Le Havre for the nominal fee of £320,000 in January 2014, the Algerian has exceeded all expectations to become one of the world’s best footballers.

Mahrez played a starring role in arguably the biggest shock in British sporting history, as the Foxes defied odds of 5,000-1 to lift the Premier League trophy in 2016.

The 26-year-old dazzled spectators with his mazy runs and goals, scoring 17 times in total.

Cutting in from the right wing and curling the ball past the goalkeeper’s outstretched right glove was his trademark.

The nucleus of that title-winning side has since disbanded, with Danny Drinkwater and N’Golo Kante having both swapped the King Power Stadium for Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge.

Mahrez had pledged his future to the Foxes in the months following their sensational triumph, putting pen-to-paper on a bumper four-year-contract.

However, speculation linking the 2016 PFA Player of the Year with a transfer grew and after a disappointing campaign both personally and collectively, he announced his wish to leave the Midlands outfit, saying he felt it was the time to ‘move on.

A number of clubs were linked with him, but a move failed to materialise.

After initially being omitted from the starting line-up in the early stages of this season, the appointment of Claude Puel revitalised Mahrez, who reminded everyone why he had been so highly coveted.

Since then, his relationship with Leicester has turned sour.

He submitted a written transfer request in January and tried to force through a move to Manchester City, whose £60 million offer was rejected by the Foxes.

Sanctioning his departure on deadline day would have given Leicester very little time to sign a replacement.

Moreover, any potential deal would have been greatly inflated, with clubs wise to Leicester’s sudden windfall. Mahrez though, has effectively gone on strike.

He has not appeared at training this week and skipped the club’s past two fixtures.

Mahrez believes he has been denied his dream move.

He has given the club another 18 months of his career after they won the Premier League and in that time has seen the club sell the likes of Drinkwater and Kante.

Now, he feels the club should repay his loyalty. Instead, he feels betrayed.

It leaves Leicester in a predicament.

Even if Mahrez reported for training, it is likely he would incur a heavy fine and/or suspension.

It is hard to believe his team-mates feel anything other than let down by their star player.

By refusing to work at the club that pays his handsome wages, he is also damaging his reputation among the fans, who worshipped him as a hero.

One course of action for Leicester is to banish Mahrez to the reserves, much like Southampton did with Virgil van Dijk.

In reality, the hierarchy will understand it makes no sense in the long-term.

Selling their prized asset for an amount that meets their valuation, at a time that enables them to identify a replacement, would be best for both parties.

On top of the financial aspect is the effect this saga is having on the squad.

In an environment as highly charged as the Premier League, unwanted distractions can have major impacts.

Ultimately, there are rules that must be obeyed and respected.

No player can be allowed to breach his contract and go AWOL just because he doesn’t get what he wants.

Mahrez is tied to Leicester until 2020, a contract he was more than happy to sign.

He is in a privileged position and his childish behaviour only enhances the disconnect between footballers and the man on the street.

Reopening dialogue with the club and apologising for his actions would be a first step towards reconciliation.

Mahrez’s future may lie away from the King Power Stadium, but there are ways and means of going about it. Remaining professional is top of the list.

The supporters deserve better from a man who achieved more than he could possibly have dreamt of at Leicester City.

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Leicester City 2-0 Watford: Three talking points from the King Power

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Leicester City
Photo: Reuters

Leicester City moved up to seventh in the Premier League table as goals in either half from Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez earnt a comfortable win over struggling Watford on Saturday afternoon.

It was a far from fluid encounter between two sides looking to turn around some below par recent form, but it was the hosts who went closest early on when Vardy’s low drive was parried away by incoming goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis.

Troy Deeney found the net for Watford only to see it chalked off for offside before Vardy did open the scoring, being hauled down by Molla Wague’s late challenge before coolly sending Karnezis the wrong way with the spot-kick.

Watford made some attacking substitutions after the break as they went in search of an equaliser and Andre Gray went closest when his effort was pushed aside, but by committing men into the attack they were always vulnerable to the counter and Mahrez tucked home to secure all the points.

The result sees the Foxes earn just their second win in seven league matches, lifting them above Burnley into seventh, whilst Watford remain in 10th with just the solitary win in their past 11 games.

Defeat proves the final straw as Silva sacked

What a difference a few months can make.

At the end of September, Watford were within touching distance of the Champions League spots after a blistering start to the season, losing just one out of eight matches.

There were genuine talks that the Hornets could be the team to try and muscle their way into the top six such was the way they ground out results and it was testament to some expansive football.

But a wretched run of form since a 3-0 away win at Newcastle in late November has ended those lofty ambitions and sent Watford – and boss Marco Silva – crashing back down to earth with an unwanted reality check, and defeat at Leicester means it’s now just the solitary win in 11 league outings.

It also signalled the end of Silva’s time in charge after just a matter of months, with the Club releasing a statement on Sunday morning announcing that they have parted company with the Portuguese tactician.

It may not come as a surprise considering their recent run of form but it’s a decision that has a feeling of haste about it, as Silva’s rejuvenation of Watford at the start of the season was unlike anything seen at Vicarage Road for a number of years.

Yet ultimately football is a results driven business and this – allied with an underlying message about Everton’s approach before Christmas – has resulted in his swift dismissal.

As for Watford’s demise, it’s hard to pinpoint an area as to why this has happened.

Over the course of these games they’ve conceded 23 times and only scored 11 – the same amount they managed in their opening seven games of the year – and there’s evidently glaring problems at both ends of the pitch.

Constant injuries to first-team players has hampered any hopes of progress but there’s still more than enough quality in the Watford squad, and whoever the new man in is they will need to find a way to get them firing again.

Record-signing Gray draws blank again

It’s perhaps not a coincidence that Watford’s decline in form has come at the same time as a dry patch from young Brazilian Richarlison, who had proven to be a revelation in the Premier League since his summer move.

The 20-year-old has failed to find the net since the 2-0 win over West Ham in mid-November – 12 matches ago – and in the same period of time he’s only managed to create nine chances for his side.

For a point of comparison, he managed to score five goals and craft 14 opportunities in his opening 12 games when Watford were firing on all fronts. This will no doubt worry whoever Silva’s successor is as, whenever Richarlison isn’t impacting matches, it seems that there’s no-one else who will pick up the goal-scoring burden.

And one of the biggest disappointments of the season to date for the Hornets has been the patchy form of club-record signing Andre Gray.

At £18.5million there was a lot of hope and expectation on the shoulders of the former Burnley man but, with just four goals from 23 outings, he hasn’t quite had the desired impact since arriving at Vicarage Road.

It was a match where clear chances were few and far between but Watford’s best chance of an equaliser fell to Gray in the second-half, where his shot from inside the area was pushed away by Kasper Schmeichel. It was a smart stop but, on another day and with an in-form striker, it should have been buried and Gray will be kicking himself over it.

The players will know that they need to just grind out a result and their form could turn around again, and they will hope to get a second wind under a new manager and return to winning ways when they visit relegation-threatened Stoke City in a fortnight’s time.

Vardy and Mahrez run Watford ragged

Leicester City supporters can be forgiven for thinking that it’s the 2015-16 Premier League season once again as Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez ran the show to earn a convincing win over Watford.

The duo have both endured some testing spells since the euphoric title-winning year but under Claude Puel they seem to be thriving, and the way they ran the show on Saturday was merely indicative of the confidence that is flowing through their veins again.

Watford will no doubt be sick of the sight of Mahrez after he notched his fifth goal in his last five appearances against the Hornets, rounding things off in injury-time with a composed finish.

There seems to be far less speculation over the Algerian’s future in this January transfer window compared to last year and it’s arguably this that allows him to focus on his football and nothing else.

And he was well accompanied by Vardy on the day, who caused constant problems for an under-strength Watford back-line. Their centre-back pairing of Molla Wague – who brought him down for the penalty – and Christian Kabasele just couldn’t contain his pace nor keep track of his late runs.

If both Vardy and Mahrez can sustain this sort of form long into the season then it’s anyone’s guess as to where Leicester may finish – and who knows, seventh might be a more than realistic target.

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