1) Foxes finally draw and stop the usual Boxing Day frustration
Boxing Day hasn’t been a great fixture over the years, prior to today’s point, we had won just twice in the last seven years, and hadn’t even managed a draw in the other games. Draws haven’t been a familiar outcome this season, this being our first in the current Premier League campaign. It was a point we fought hard for too, but felt like a fair outcome.
A draw stops United going above us, until their game in hand anyway, and stops a run of largely losses in recent years. In the last fifteen league meetings, we’ve taken just seven points off Manchester United from a possible forty-five. Our last win, the epic 5-3 feels like a long time ago now.
This felt like a more resolute display after some challenging home performances and while there was no clean sheet, we looked threatening on the attack, most of it coming from the wings again, both James Justin and Harvey Barnes enjoying a lot of space and freedom. Both sides should have punished one another in the opening quarter. The Foxes left it late to level things, but showed why Jamie Vardy only ever needs one opportunity to annoy his opponents. Even if the goal won’t count as his!
2) Harvey Barnes decisive shot was one to remember
Was this Harvey Barnes’ best goal for us yet? There’s a strong argument in its favour. It was a move that showed patience from the Foxes. With both teams employing similar tactics, it was Rodgers’ side who capitalised on a United mistake as Maguire fumbled with the ball and Fernandes showed he doesn’t believe in the grafting side of the game (tracking back clearly isn’t exciting enough). It was a simple pass from James Maddison and Barnes weaved a little bit before executing his shot perfectly.
December hasn’t been an outstanding month for the winger. He was quiet in a few games, ineffective in others and rightly didn’t start a match while we explored another way to skin a cat (sorry to the vegetarians and vegans, I am usually a cat lover). The performance at Tottenham was one of his better ones for the month and he seemed to enjoy himself against United.
Very impressed with the self assurance, composure, footballing intelligence & intuitive movement by Harvey Barnes today. Instinctive first half strike was the midfielder’s seventh goal in 20 games in all competitions this season, equalling his 2018/19 tally for the pic.twitter.com/tI3Ma82JLl— Grant Robbins™️ (@TrequartistaTM) December 26, 2020
His biggest issue in previous seasons was consistency, performing well from game to game. While he’s suffered slightly in the last few games, generally he has improved where that’s concerned and to his credit, seems to be a little stronger this campaign too. Something that’s felt lacking in this campaign is his decision making and his shots. This goal was exactly what we need more of from him. It was clear what he was going to do and he struck it first time too. A joy to watch. There’s still that feeling that the best is yet to come. Sorry to the rest of the Premier League and good luck defending against him when we get there!
3) Like the ghost of Christmas Past, Kasper Schmeichel haunts United
Forgive me for running this pun but I wonder if Kasper’s big frame and a very strong hand to turn away Marcus Rashford’s shot reminded United and Solskjær of a certain Peter Schmeichel. It’s not the first time Kasper has put in a huge performance against the club he loved as a boy. No doubt it’ll generate the annual ‘will Kasper take over at United’ rumours.
As has been the case in almost every game he’s played this season, we’ve called Schmeichel into action at a key moment in the game. Stopping Rashford putting United ahead at that stage helped keep it level for a while longer and a big save so often shifts the momentum for us. It also bailed us out from another counter-attack where we needed to have defended more resolutely.
I know I shouldn’t atm but man Kasper Schmeichel with that sass letting the ball in knowing Martial was offside was something else— Jakie (@Jakie_1993) December 26, 2020
Kasper has also provided much entertainment this season with his running match commentary and antics like the above mentioned Martial offside goal. It’s another reminder that the people who went OTT after his mistake against Everton really need to appreciate him more. We’ll lament the loss of him whenever that moment finally comes. Here’s hoping it’s years down the line still.
4) Youri Tielemans was in full maestro mode
He may not have got on the scoresheet, and we know that’s generally the only way you get Man of the Match nods, Youri Tielemans was the man in control today. It felt like a combination of two things: the last week had been one of the longest gaps between games (Youri had looked somewhat leggy in previous games) and it’s that luxury of having a ball-player like Wilfred Ndidi next to you. For me, Tielemans was the boss for Leicester today.
He was in the middle distributing it around with confident ease. It helps when he has a selection of forward players to feed the ball through to. This was a match where both of our full-backs were granted time and space to move forward. You could argue that Manchester United played it perfectly for the likes of Youri Tielemans. Their approach of inviting us to press them left him working with huge pockets of space to feed balls into it. It also allowed him plenty of time on the ball, not that he needs it with his ability and sight to pick out the right pass with his first touch.
Youri Tielemans vs Manchester United— Football Talent Scout - Jacek Kulig (@FTalentScout) December 26, 2020
86% pass accuracy
7 accurate long balls
6/6 successful dribbles
3 tackles won
1 aerial won
12/20 duels won
Very good performance. pic.twitter.com/3qC54EMYqo
It’s not an exaggeration to say that at this point, Youri would be a starter in pretty much every Premier League side. So it’s not a surprise that while there’s usually at least one of our players that gets linked with numerous clubs in a transfer window, it looks like it’ll be the turn of Tielemans this time. With some outstanding displays for Belgium as well as in a Leicester shirt, he’s worthy of the talk but given how the season is unfolding, and his seeming high levels of happiness, it doesn’t feel as worrying as with other players. If we can give him a rest against Crystal Palace though to ensure he’s fit and raring for 2021, maybe it’ll distract the media for a few minutes though.
5) Sometimes you only need one substitute, as Ayoze Perez proved
While the timing of the substitution felt a little later than expected, bringing on Ayoze for Marc Albrighton felt like the right, and needed, change. Rodgers’ lack of changes otherwise likely comes down to us playing again on Monday and to be fair, the balance in the game felt pretty even. However, as Albrighton tired, we needed a new attacking outlet.
Ayoze’s chances have been limited but he’s looked hungry to get involved in the opportunities he’s had. While Albrighton was more exclusively on the right, it felt like the Spaniard had some freedom to drift into the centre and operate behind Vardy in arguably his strongest role.
The attacker got involved pretty early on, bringing some fresh energy and with him and Maddison swapping their positions, a slightly less predictable approach to our forward play. The true crime in taking Vardy’s goal off him is that it robs Ayoze of a superb assist. His ball to cut across was perfect. It was a ball presented on a gold cushion for our talisman to comfortably slot home. Regardless of any intervention from a red shirt, it was beautifully done and very Leicester.
With such a quick turn around before the Crystal Palace game, it should present an opportunity for Ayoze to start. Carrying in some confidence from having a key impact here can’t hurt him either.
Bonus Learn: Watching Bruno Fernandes today tested a lot of us. Listening to the commentary and the rhetoric around him even more so (Man of the Match for somebody who should have been sent off? Hm, ok). Sure, he’s clearly a talented footballer but his constant whining, the going down and the petulant behaviour makes it impossible for me to like him. Give me an honest, good natured player who only has a fraction of that talent every day of the week. A Marc Albrighton for example. He may not be a world beater but he’s not a cheater and he will always give you 200%.