United Come Untied Against Sly Foxes
It was the best of times for Leicester City, it was the worst of times for Manchester United. A tale of two diamonds and it was the one of the newly promoted Foxes that proved to be value for money with a performance as polished as Esteban Cambiasso’s head.
A hard-earned draw against Arsenal on 31 August seems to have reinvigorated Leicester and they would have hoped for a similar result against United’s “Gaalacticos” but a sparkling performance from Man of the Match Jamie Vardy, who was by far and away a cut above the rest, led the minnows to an unexpected 5-3 victory.
Louis van Gaal sent out a similar side to the one that completely demolished QPR last week and adopted the new, flashy diamond formation, however, Radamel Falcao was included from the start alongside Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney. It was the Colombian who got things off the ground after he made a quick break down the left and floated in a pin-point accurate cross for the Dutchman to head home with only 13 minutes on the board.
Only three minutes later and United had their second after Rooney rolled one in for Angel Di Maria who delicately chipped the ball over Kasper Schmeichel. The game already looked out of the home side’s reach and a cricket score looked on the cards should United wish to continue their new-found form.
But the Foxes’ crown jewel, Leonardo Ulloa had other ideas and responded immediately with a powerful header which David De Gea never looked like getting a hand to. The 28-year-old Argentine managed 39 goals for La Liga outfit Almeria in two years before transferring to Championship side Brighton and Hove Albion in 2013 where he scored 23 in 50 appearances and looks to be having a similar impact on the Premier League.
Like a sprightly old man, United showed signs of youthful exuberance and tried to push themselves forward but there was the constant fear of their bad back not holding up. Halfway through the first period the spine of the team began to crumble when Jonny Evans sustained an ankle injury. The Northern Irishman was replaced by the equally unreliable Chris Smalling who is just coming back from injury himself, and looked vulnerable in defense throughout the game.
The second half looked to unfold in a similar fashion to the first when an attacking United pressed forward early and Rooney setup Falcao but the ball struck the crossbar. Minutes later, however, Di Maria cracked on goalwards which Ander Herrera glanced the opposite direction, wrong-footing Schmeichel and put some daylight between the sides with the score at 3-1.
The turning point came when Vardy threw himself to the ground to win a penalty after a nudge from Rafael da Silva. Referee Mark Clattenburg’s only reasoning for rewarding the dive can surely be that he felt the Brazilian was frustrated at not being awarded a clear free-kick moments earlier and this was a challenge made on the Leicester man as a result. David Nugent scored from the spot to give his side a chance at getting back into proceedings. More sloppy defending from United allowed Cambiasso the opportunity to belt home from just inside the box and level matters at 3-3 just after the hour mark.
United conceded 43 goals last season at an average of 1.13 per game and will be a little concerned that they have already picked the ball out of the net eight times in five outings. The fact that they cannot keep a solid centre back pairing never mind a clean sheet will also be a cause for concern especially now that Evans has picked up a knock. Phil Jones will be out for six weeks, Smalling is barely fully fit, Marcos Rojo is proving he’s only dangerous with a broken bottle in hand, and Tyler Blackett has struggled to keep his head above water at this level so van Gaal is likely to have another reshuffle of defenders and formations before the meeting with a rejuvenated West Ham United on Saturday.
The Foxes had a spring in their step and a bite that the Devils were now lacking. Following a slip by Mata, Vardy was played in and obliged by putting his side 4 – 3 in front. The most shocking aspect of the goal was not De Gea’s slack attitude to not rush the attacker to apply pressure or that the Spaniard failed to make an effort to stop the shot, but it was that Rooney was the nearest to the keeper after racing back when the ball went into the net, closer than any defender.
The final nail in the coffin came when Blackett, who had had a horrible game, fouled his man in the box before being sent off. Ulloa slotted home for his second on the night and his fifth of the season to earn Leicester City a historic 5-3 win that puts them up to fifth in the table for the first time since 2001. Money may not buy you happiness but it will buy you time, however, despite being assisted by the fourth official with an inexplicable six added minutes, United never looked like getting back into the match and continued their sloppy performance.
Van Gaal will need to hold his hand up after such a defeat as it was he who failed to make one central defensive signing during the transfer window and, instead, opted to bring in three left backs alongside a plethora of attacking talents. The job will now be, at least until January, to turn the rough diamond that is United into something that yields value for money.