United not just outfoxed but outfought

Van Gaal HollandManchester United’s capitulation at the King Power on Sunday was an object lesson in what can happen if you get ahead of yourself.

A week ago, United fans were understandably bubbly after a stylish win over QPR at Old Trafford. But it was only QPR they were told. Only QPR. Perhaps many sensible fans took that on board. But if they did, you get the sense the playing staff didn’t, not if Sunday was anything to go by.

In truth, after 57 minutes, there was little to suggest this was going to be anything other than another United win, and Leicester would have been unbackable on Betfair. Another step in their revival. Ander Herrera had just restored their two goal advantage with a clever piece of improvisation. It looked like game over.

Getting ahead of yourself is easy. Indeed, yours truly was guilty. As Herrera flicked in the third, I was scribbling in my notebook that energy and commitment will only get you so far against serious quality. But as events unfolded, Leicester reminded me – and United’s expensive array of stars – that technical quality without energy, commitment and, critically, organisation only gets you so far too.

That United descended into a shambles was probably the most newsworthy tale from the fixture. But this shouldn’t distract from the excellence of Leicester’s work. They deserve great credit for pressurising the visitors into that collapse, pinpointing weaknesses – like the wide open spaces behind United’s fullbacks and their poor judgement in and out of possession – and relentlessly targeting them.

Cambiasso and Vardy took most of the plaudits, but for me, the brave and tenacious display of former United player Ritchie De Laet epitomised all that was good about the Foxes. Skinned by Falcao for the first and tormented by Angel Di Maria for long periods, Leicester’s right full stuck grimly to his task.

It was a truly impressive effort, the more so given that he played for an hour under serious threat of an early bath after picking up a silly yellow for a lunge on Tyler Blackett. And although he did have to ride his luck, he never shirked a tackle. Nor indeed did he lose his sense of endeavour, capping his display by robbing Mata deep in his own half after Rojo’s ill-considered pass, dashing 50 yards with the ball before slotting in the inspirational Vardy for the home side’s fourth.

That kind of courage and determination was lacking in Manchester United as Leicester mounted their comeback. Yes, the hosts got a helping hand from ref Clattenburg in awarding them the softest of penalties on the hour – but the ease with which the visitors yielded their lead and then the match was truly shocking.

One reading of United’s summer business suggests that Van Gaal is gambling on goals to at least put United in the Top 4 conversation – much as Liverpool did last season. But while Liverpool’s defending was calamitous at times, United’s efforts at Leicester made Reds back four of the 2013/14 vintage look positively mean!

Naturally in such circumstances, the spotlight falls on the likes of the struggling Blackett, who saw red late on. But defending should be a collective effort, and so a level of understanding is warranted for the youngster and the eventually overrun Daley Blind given that many of those ahead of them clearly thought “job done” on 57 minutes and downed tools.

Van Gaal’s gamble may ultimately prove an astute one, but if the likes of Leicester can score five against his side, then messrs Van Persie, Rooney, Falcao and Di Maria will need to set some scoring records this season to get United back to where they want to be.

The Author

Paul Little

Freelance football columnist. European Football with the Irish Daily Star. Hold the Back Page podcast regular. Family and Renaissance Man. Dublin born, Wicklow resident.

2 thoughts on “United not just outfoxed but outfought

  1. United defense had been all weak but the worst came Evans exited due to injury and Smalling came and he remained out of position as the defense crumbled

  2. whilst begrudgingly accepting man u being inept in defence people are totally missing the officials part in an also inept match management. two goals were assisted by mark clattenberg and linesman. Leicester did do a great job, but they will realise one swallow does not make a summer. if normal service is resumed later in the season , officials make no cock ups, man u gets decent defenders the Leicester will be anilhated at old Trafford, that’s fact not hyped up rubbish as being circulated at present.

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