LEICESTER CITY vs MANCHESTER UNITED
Fresh from a confidence boosting 4-0 victory, United faced Leicester, the third of three of the promoted teams. Amidst the euphoria it was worth noting that both teams shared the same form going into the game.
- Man marking not pressing – Leicester were keen to mark United tightly rather than press. It meant that there were few options for Evans, Blackett and De Gea to pass to.
- Cambiasso - This Argentine had the greatest impact on the game. Primarily the sole player in front of the Leicester defence he was excellent in nullifying Rooney and any real through ball threat.
- United’s Defence – A back four looked on edge throughout, getting behind the defence presented little challenge to Leicester. The difference in space between theirs and United’s was stark.
- Leadership - there is none. True Rooney gave a roasting to his defence but the spine is not there in this team right now.
- Energy – Whilst it was frustrating that United let the 3-1 lead go there was a distinct drop in confidence and application. It appeared that this type of game took a lot out of them. However, the big thing is that there’s a distinct belief between attack and defence.
We saw an interesting approach from Leicester in each half of the pitch; United’s half saw them man mark rather than press, Blind in particular and once United were in Leicester’s half they pressed tightly. This troubled United’s back four which was a lopsided back three with Rafael further up the field situated close to Herrera, yielding the top pass combination. This was surprising as, as the first half panned out the lack of activity on the right was startling.
The main action for United came on the left in the channel between de Laet and Morgan, the first attempt a through ball from di Maria to van Persie
Soon it was 1-0 following a van Persie header. Boom! Falcao took the pass from Rojo, rolled round de Laet with his strength and crossed to van Persie, note how he pulled away from Moore to make the space. With three strikers there was great movement in the early stages, but we saw how Rooney dropped further as the game progressed. Consideration must also be taken for Cambiasso’s position in front of Morgan and Moore.
Then it was 2-0 after a superb di Maria chip displayed the speed a goal can be scored at. Quick interchange with Rooney. Boom!
However, in one of van Gaal’s four books on Leicester, it must have made reference to their fighting spirit, seen in all their games so far this season; their fightback was led by Vardy and Ulloa. It was the latter who headed in from close range after a catalogue of errors:-
- The positions of Evans and Rafael was poor and showed a lack of communication
- As did the space between Evans and Blackett.
- Rojo allowed Vardy to pass him too easily (Rojo’s performance could be described as shaky).
This goal characterized the way Ulloa played off the shoulders of the defenders and occupied the channels and the space behind the fullbacks. Leicester took particular advantage of the left hand side behind Rojo.
The diamond was employed again for this game but it was felt that Herrera and Blind found the going much tougher than the previous week’s jaunt against QPR
Leicester were seen baiting De Gea to kick long, this must be seen as a tactic because most of his kicks over the halfway line were unsuccessful.
The Spaniard’s form is of concern which leads to the bigger issue of the defence and it’s perceived ‘soft centre’ to quote Gary Neville. There is no doubting the goalkeeper and his defenders ability but there appears to be a lack of decisiveness, a lack of personality and a lack of application. Could you imagine Schmeichel reacting the way De Gea does when his defence let him down?
Formations were matched, diamond versus diamond, but Leicester were seen to change more frequently (de Laet in particular), adjusting to the changes in United’s positioning up front; one with two behind, then two with one behind.
Leicester’s curious formation shifts continued into the second half, where we saw a 4-2-2-2 (fans of this formation may remember how Copenhagen set up the same way against Barcelona in 2010) and a 4-1-4-1 with Cambiasso pivotal.
Di Maria is a great addition to this team and his runs, where he cuts in, is a delight to watch. It was the Argentinian’s miscued shot, cutely flicked in by Herrera, which saw United take a 3-1 lead. Boom!
This should have been the point where United closed the game out, thirty minutes to go and likely three points secured. However, this isn’t a team, yet, that can rely on it’s defence and midfield to protect a lead. It was a key moment when Rafael allowed Vardy too get the wrong side of him (and get fouled) then give away a penalty which Nugent finished.
Leicester were now 4-1-3-2. Chaos reigned in the United defence.
Rafael and Smalling were going for the same header, Rooney was making poor clearances and Blackett was too far away from the play as Cambiasso struck the equaliser.
Madness. Herrera and Blind sat as a two in front of the defence briefly.
A lack of composure saw poor ball retention, particularly from Herrera, and no option for the second ball. With di Maria off there were few players who could take the game to Leicester. It wasn’t helped by the interruption of the diamond by Hammond who sat right in the middle of it.
Leicester were now a 4-4-1-1 waiting for the counter as United attempted to regain the lead. Unfortunately, too many players were having off games and it was summed up by the exchange between Mata and Rojo which led to the counter attack and Vardy to score.
Mata was dispossessed too easily and Blackett was wildly out of position. To make matters worse 4-3 became 5-3 after Blackett gave away a penalty.
With the above fully covered and the defence a clear weakness it was the decline in the number of penetrating runs behind Leicester’s defence that is concerning and the positioning of Rooney and his tendency to fall back in an attempt to do it all left a lightness in balls through didn’t help. That Leicester had more attacking third passes hurts.
The left hand side full back/wing back was gaping despite the tendency for the lopsided three seeing Rojo not progressing forward as much as Rafael. Leicester made the most of this.
Whilst the QPR game showed signs of improvement, this game shows that there’s still a long way to go.