Leicester City fell to Manchester United by a score of 1-0 at the King Power in the matinee game on Sunday. An early goal from Marcus Rashford was enough to doom the Foxes to defeat. The hosts dominated the second half and went very close through a Rachid Ghezzal free kick, but there was no way past David De Gea.
Manager Claude Puel retained ten of his starting XI from Wednesday’s draw at Liverpool with the one change being due to a hamstring injury to Marc Albrighton. Kasper Schmeichel started in goal behind a back line of Ricardo Pereira, Jonny Evans, Harry Maguire, and Ben Chilwell. The central midfield duo of Nampalys Mendy and Wilfred Ndidi tucked in behind Demarai Gray, James Maddison, and Harvey Barnes. Jamie Vardy was once again the sole striker leading the attack. The other important team news is that this fixture came to soon for new signing Youri Tielemans to make the bench.
The good news is that we made it five minutes without conceding. The bad news is that we didn’t make it ten. Ricardo had all day to make a clearance, but he choose to fire a laser in the direction of Mendy; “in the direction of”, but not actually “to”. Instead he found Paul Pogba who sent a simple ball over the top to Marcus Rashford. Both centre-halfs was badly out of position, so this single touch put the England man through on goal. He made up for an early miss and calmly slotted the ball past Schmeichel and inside the far post.
The Foxes looked more comfortable immediately, which continued the concerning trend of looking nervous and, honestly, scared of the other side until they score and only then settling in to the match. Madders had a half chance after a little pinball in the area saw the ball fall to his right foot, but Luke Shaw slid in and made a fine block to put the ball over the net. He got another look at the goal from distance, but put his shot was directly at David De Gea.
The game settled into the “scrappy” phase with a lot of running around but very few chances. The few that came were on Leicester corners. Oh, we didn’t score, but we actually looked like we might. A ball from the left found the slab-esque head of Maguire, who planted his header directly into about five other players, but he was adjudged to have breathed to heavily on Nemanja Matic so a free kick was awarded to United. Shortly afterwards, another corner from the same location was put just wide by Evans under a great deal of pressure from Eric Bailly. It was never a penalty, but it was far more of a foul than what Maguire had done just earlier.
United very nearly got a second in injury time. Mendy decided he was going to carry the ball out of defense himself and took a heavy touch that gave the ball back to the visitors in a dangerous area. The ball again fell to Rashford, who had a good sight of goal, but his long range effort was easily covered by Schmeichel, and that was it for the first half.
The Foxes started the second half with a sense of purpose completely missing from the first period. Right from the kickoff, Vardy was nearly able to get in behind the defense. Barnes showed some great control to get a shot on target that was turned out for a throw. Madders put one just wide from a tight angle, and Barnes was able to get a cross in from the goal line that was just cleared from in front of Vardy. This was all in the first five minutes of the half.
City should probably have been down to ten men on 55’. Another turnover in our own half led to a rare United attack. Mendy, already on a yellow, pulled Pogba back as he made a run into the area. The World Cup winner went down theatrically (it’s a little comical to think that Mendy could drag Pogba down), but if Mike Dean had seen it, it almost certainly would have been a second yellow.
Leicester were inches from being level of the hour mark. Vardy won a free kick just outside the D in the Vardy-est of ways. Matic had lazily left a leg sticking out and that’s like catnip to the former Stockbridge Steels man. Madders’ free kick was into the wall, but it spun over to Vardy, whose back was to the net. He swung around and struck it with venom, but it was directly at De Gea, who couldn’t gather it first time, but he managed to smother the ball before it crossed the line.
That proved Maddison’s last action of the match. Puel withdrew the former Norwich man in favor of Rachid Ghezzal. The game began to stretch, with both sides seeing not-quite-chances but neither goalkeeper being really troubled. Gray was the next play to come off, with Shinji Okazaki coming into the fray. It was Ghezzal who had the next opportunity to level the terms. His vicious free kick was bound for the corner, but De Gea did well to get a hand to it and turn it over the bar.
City had another brilliant chance to equalise as the game approached the final ten minutes. The tiring Luke Shaw gave up another foul on the wing. The free kick found Maguire, who headed the ball back into the middle of the area. Unfortunately, it feel to Evans, who took a big swing at the ball and missed it completely.
It was United’s turn to ride their luck with the referee. Matic challenged Barnes on the right wing and missed the ball by several feet but did manage to plant his spikes directly in the winger’s thigh. Matic was already on a yellow, but honestly, that one could have been a straight red had Mike Dean seen it.
Puel’s final throw of the dice was to send Kelechi Iheanacho on for Mendy. The match was now extremely open. A break down the left wing saw Barnes cut one back for Vardy, but his first-time shot on his left foot was too near the De Gea.
Maguire was now playing as a fourth striker and he very nearly got the equaliser deep into injury time. A cross from the right caromed across the box and bounced in front of Maguire, who swung a boot at it and managed to place it just wide of goal and just out of reach of Iheanacho. That, as they say, was that.
That was disappointing. Once again, we found ourselves with a mountain to climb thanks to a lapse in concentration leading to an early goal. We looked better almost immediately, as is our wont. We were well on top throughout the entire second half and had several opportunities to level the score, but the key talking point should be that we shouldn’t have been in that situation in the first place.
For all of the second half bluster, noteworthy performances were at a premium. Maguire looked really good after we conceded. Madders had some nice touches, Barnes looked miles better than he did in his first start, and...that was about it, wasn’t it?
It genuinely wasn’t that poor a performance, but we let one in early, our shooting was poor, and De Gea made a big save when it was needed. A draw would have been fair, but in order to get one, we would have had to have caused the United keeper a good deal more bother than we did.
The defeat leaves city on 32 points from 25 matches. That’s good enough to retain 11th place on the table, but leaves us 6 points behind Wolves for the coveted Europa League qualifying spot. We’re off to London next Sunday to take on Spurs and then we don’t see a top six side until 27 April when we host Arsenal.
I truly don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.