Leicester City 2-2 Manchester United: Three talking points from the King Power
Manchester United lost further ground on rivals Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table as Harry Maguire’s dramatic injury-time strike salvaged a late point for ten-man Leicester City.
Heading into the weekend 11 points behind their city neighbours, Jose Mourinho’s side fell behind in the first-half when Jamie Vardy slotted into the corner following a blistering counter-attacking move.
The visitors pushed for an equaliser and got their reward five minutes before the break, with Juan Mata capitalising on some pinball inside the Leicester penalty area to arrow a low drive into the net.
And it was the Spaniard who turned the game around shortly before the hour mark with a sublime free-kick from the edge of the area, curling an effort just over the wall and into the roof of the goal.
It seemed like the visitors were well on their way to collecting a precious three points when substitute Daniel Amartey was shown two yellow cards in the space of 17 minutes, although both Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard missed a host of gilt-edged chances to make the advantage more comfortable.
This wastefulness in front of goal came back to bite them as, with the last kick of the game, Harry Maguire popped up unmarked to prod beyond David de Gea and send the King Power into raptures.
After Manchester City comfortably saw off Bournemouth earlier in the day the late setback sees United now fall to 13 points adrift of the league leaders, whilst Leicester City remain in eighth place.
Leicester late show dents United’s faint title hopes
Christmas Day may well soon be upon us but there certainly wasn’t a merry feeling on the red side of Manchester last night as Manchester City put one hand firmly on the Premier League title.
Never in the history of English top-flight football has a gap between first and second been as vast as 13 points on Christmas Day, and if Manchester United – or any other team for that matter – are going to stop Pep Guardiola’s men from winning the title we’re set for some second-half of the year.
It was the unlikeliest of stoppage time goals from the unlikeliest of sources, but Leicester City defender Harry Maguire was in the right place at the right time to salvage a point at the death.
In truth it was a scarcely deserved point but it goes to prove that a one-goal lead is always a precarious one, and credit should go to the hosts for piling men forward for the final ten minutes despite being a man down.
And whilst the King Power erupted the moment the ball nestled in the back of the net, the desolate look on the face of Jose Mourinho on the bench was one of a man who knows the title’s all but gone.
A run of games against the Foxes, Burnley (twice), Southampton and Everton until the latter part of January presented United with a decent chance of putting some sort of pressure on Manchester City, who have to face the prospect of Liverpool at Anfield during the same five weeks.
But his side have fallen at the first hurdle and, unless something remarkable happens, the focus should now turn to securing second spot in the league and a possible run in the Champions League.
Mata shines but Mourinho’s men left to rue missed chances
On a night where Manchester United needed to get a positive result to at least try and keep pace with Manchester City at the top of the table they were denied three points in the cruellest of ways.
However, whilst the manner of Harry Maguire’s late winner will cause anger, the main frustration should lie in the fact that a team of United’s quality and calibre couldn’t put the game to bed earlier.
Jose Mourinho labelled his side as ‘childish’ in his post-match interview, citing the fact that numerous ‘incredible chances’ were missed, and it’s hard to disagree with the Portuguese tactician’s summary of the final 25 minutes of football.
From the moment that Leicester went down to ten-men they were vulnerable in defence, pushing numbers forward in search of an equaliser yet in doing so leaving huge amounts of gaps in defence.
And United can only blame themselves for not wrapping up the three points earlier. Jesse Lingard started the ball rolling when he rounded Kasper Schmeichel only to see his effort – with an open goal at his mercy – come back off the upright, Marcus Rashford missed two glorious chances to seal proceedings for the night and Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial were guilty of the same too.
There was little wrong with the performance as a whole and it could easily have finished 4-1 or even 5-1 had they not been so wasteful, but when trailing the leaders by so many points performances alone aren’t enough anymore.
One man who will most definitely be left ruing his teammates lack of composure is Juan Mata, who put in his best display in a United shirt this season and took them to the brink of three points.
The Spaniard was at his masterful and assured best throughout, exemplified by his two sumptuous goals – the second of which was a glorious curling free-kick – and he showed he still has a part to play at Old Trafford this season.
But on the day even he couldn’t lead United to victory, and it’s a long way back to City now.
Puel’s Leicester revival shows no sign of stopping
On the face of it, some may call it a fortunate draw.
But a last-gasp winner aside, Leicester City have been making remarkable improvements since Claude Puel took over at the helm and they seem to be re-finding a spark from the 2016 season.
All of a sudden they’re back playing to their counter-attacking strengths, utilising the raw pace that Riyad Mahrez, Demarai Gray and Marc Albrighton have to break out of their own half before consistently providing the dangerous Jamie Vardy with intricate passes and through balls in attack.
It was all epitomised in the Leicester opener, with Mahrez bursting forward and patiently holding the ball up knowing that Vardy was going to be steaming up the pitch alongside him.
The England striker delivered just that, stroking home a neat finish to notch his 50th Premier League goal, and in doing so he became the first Leicester player to reach that landmark in the competition.
Whilst Manchester United arguably would have deserved to win had they hung on to their lead the hosts had chances of their own, with Harry Maguire and Christian Fuchs both spurning clear-cut opportunities, and no-one will begrudge the Foxes a point that sees them move closer to the top seven and European football again.
The spirit and fight shown in the ten-men will also provide hope for upcoming fixtures against Liverpool and Chelsea, games that’ll provide a further test of how far they have come under Puel.
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