Leicester City and Manchester United settled for a hard-fought draw on Boxing Day at the King Power. The Red Devils took the lead twice through a first half goal by Marcus Rashford and second a half strike by Bruno Fernandes. Harvey Barnes equalised for the Foxes before the break and then a late Jamie Vardy goal in the second period.
Manager Brendan Rodgers did something in naming his starting XI that he hasn’t done in a long time: he made no changes to the squad that started in the 2-0 win against Spurs last Sunday. Kasper Schmeichel got the nod in goal behind a back four of James Justin, Wesley Fofana, Jonny Evans, and Timothy Castagne. Wilfred Ndidi partnered with Youri Tielemans as the deep-lying central midfielders with Harvey Barnes, James Maddison, and Marc Albrighton lining up as attacking midfielders. Jamie Vardy spearheaded the attack as the lone striker.
As is too often the case at home, the Foxes started nervously and should have gone a goal down inside the first five minutes. Stuggling to clear their lines, the defense put themselves under the cosh from the opening whistle, giving the ball away to the Red Devils and allowing Bruno Fernandes to whip a cross in from the left. He found Marcus Rashford unmarked at the far post, but the England striker headed over when you’d have expected him to hit the target and, honestly, the back of the net as well.
Perhaps it was the spirit of the season, but the United defense felt the need to hand the hosts a chance on a platter and, feeling similarly generous, City felt the need to spurn it. David De Gea was rattled by the Leicester press and gave the ball away to Albrighton deep in his own penalty box. The former Villa man pulled it back for the tap in, but the ball was only just put behind for the corner and, Leicester being Leicester, the corner came to nothing.
Both sides seemed a little rattled by the near-misses and the match settled down a little. The Foxes tried to boss the possession while United were content to sit back and try to hit on the break. Neither mode of play was really coming off although City were having slightly the better of it in this phase.
The visitors broke the deadlock and it was from a well-worked routine from a throw-in of all things. Daniel James received the ball on the right and slid it across the middle to Fernandes. It was a poor pass, but the Portugal man got a toe to it and diverted it to Rashford all alone in the area. He kept his cool and slid the ball past Schmeichel with a simple finish.
Harvey Barnes is the future— michael (@mef_57) December 26, 2020
I know this tweet came a little later, but thanks to the magic of editing: Instant foreshadowing!
The goal seemed to wake up the hosts as they moved the ball with greater purpose and they deservedly leveled less than ten minutes later. As is his wont, Ndidi won the ball deep in the United half. The ball was worked across the top of the area to the feet of Barnes. With no one closing him down, the academy product strode forward and unleashed a drive from 20 yards that left De Gea no chance.
As the half wore on, it was the visitors who looked more likely to find a second. Their press was giving the Leicester defense all kinds of difficult, forcing the defenders to half-clear the ball and give away possession cheaply. The back line just about absorbed the pressure but the whistle offered a welcome respite and sides went into the tunnel level at 1-1.
Neither manager made a change at the half, at least not in terms of personnel. Vardy was drifting to the left to see more of the ball and in an effort to isolate Victor Lindelof. Otherwise, the general run of play remained unchanged: the Red Devils looked dangerous on the break and the Foxes looked dangerous on the break as well, but perhaps slightly less so and certainly less often.
It wasn’t one-way traffic by any stretch of the imagination. While Albrighton adopted a more defensive posture on the right, Barnes was running riot on the left, his pace causing all manner of difficulty and eventually forcing the substitution of Lindelof, whose hamstring wasn’t quite up to the pace of play.
On the hour mark, United should have taken the lead. Referee Mike Dean decided there was nothing wrong with shoving Leicester players off the ball, allowing Tielemenas to be mugged in midfield. The visitors broke quickly and the ball found Rashford with only Schmeichel to beat. I say that as though “only Schmeichel to beat” was no small thing, as the Danish stopper got a hand up and parried the ball to safety.
United had the ball in the back of the net just a minute later. This time, Martial was the man who got in behind the Leicester defense. Schmeichel stood tall, by which I mean “he simply stood still as Martial approached” and the striker slid the ball inside the right post. The flag was up for offside and it was close enough for VAR to check it, but not to be overturned.
United took the lead just before the 80’ minute mark through the simplest of attacks. Edinson Cavani found some space in the middle of the Leicester half and picked out Fernandes’ run in the area. He was given entirely too much space to pick his shot, which he scuffed, but he still managed to avoid Schmeichel and sneak the ball inside the far post.
That marked the end of Albrighton’s day as Rodgers sent Ayoze Perez on in his stead. The move worked a treat almost immediately. After a curious incident where Mike Dean decided not to show Fernandes a second yellow for jumping unto Evans’ foot, the Foxes beat the press and worked the ball down the pitch. It fell to Ayoze on the right and, doing a very Ayoze thing, he pulled it back for Vardy. It wasn’t the cleanest of finishes, taking deflection on the way, but it was going in anyway (note: The detestable goal review board have changed it to an Axel Tuanzebe own goal).
Would the Foxes be able to find a late winner? Maddison won a typically Madders free kick deep in the United half. His outswinging free kick was cleared as far as Tielemans. The Belgium man lined up an angled drive that found Ayoze in front of the net. The former Newcastle striker was well offside, which is probably just as well as he contrived to put the ball wide with the last chance of the match.
This one goes into the book as a “good draw” for Leicester. The Foxes fought hard, but they were outmuscled by United for long periods of time and, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, Schmeichel was huge when we needed him and Vardy was undeniable. You’d certainly prefer to take all three points, but we were bound to draw one at some point and this was a good time to do it.
At least he didn’t win a free kick for standing on an opponent this time...
The point gained today puts us on 28 from 15 matches, retaining our 2nd place position on the table three points behind leaders Liverpool. We travel to Selhurst Park in just two days to face Crystal Palace and then we close out the festive period with a visit to Newcastle.