What a performance and what a result! There is no way I’ll be able to do this game the justice it deserves but here’s my effort.
In a weekend full of football shocks and surprises, Leicester were keen to join in the fun and certainly didn’t disappoint. Following a priceless away win at Stoke, there was plenty of optimism in the air that we could possibly gain a point out of this tough fixture. This Manchester United side who had a net spend of £113.2m compared with Leicester’s £11m this summer, were however the heavy favourites this early afternoon having dominated QPR 4-0 last Sunday and were seemingly determined to build on their “new start”. It was also a significant day for Ritchie De Laet, Danny Drinkwater and Matty James who were all recruited from United’s youth team by Leicester, and will be eager to impress their former club.
The United boss went for four at the back for the second week running, with a very attack minded diamond accommodating Falcao, van Persie, di Maria, Rooney and Herrera, keeping the Spaniard Juan Mata on the bench. Nigel Pearson decided to mix up his tactics to fit in Cambiasso and Drinkwater after their positive contributions against Stoke, meaning the full backs De Laet and Konchesky would be needed to help provide the width. David Nugent was acting as a “false 9” to support Vardy and Ulloa, and I had the feeling that this was his final opportunity to start a game, as he is still awaiting his first Premier League goal and his performances have so far been mediocre.
It’s obvious from just looking at the team sheet where Manchester United’s strengths and weaknesses are, so it is perhaps not a surprise that Pearson opted for a front three to keep constant pressure on the fragile backline, as well as keeping Hammond in the team for his defensive discipline and cover, in order to help the Leicester defence out.
It was a scary line-up nonetheless, and when van Persie put the Red Devils ahead 13 minutes in, to be quickly followed up by di Maria, I was bracing myself for a bad result. Ritchie De Laet started the game having a very tough time against the world-class talent that he was matched up against – understandably – and there is no denying that he was at fault for the first after being shrugged off the ball too easily by Falcao. You can trace every goal back to a mistake but di Maria’s chip to make it 2-0 was too special that I can’t really blame the players.
The previous home games this season, the opening 2-2 draw with Everton, and the 1-1 against Arsenal, Leicester fought back precisely two minutes after conceding the first goal. Well to make up for letting two goals in without reply, it took just a minute from di Maria’s beauty for the Foxes to make it 2-1. These quick responses have been perfect for the team to get back in the game, and once again renewed our spirits as we got a taste of what’s to come.
It was that man Ulloa who scored it to make it his fourth goal in five games. He perfectly placed his header under pressure past De Gea, thanks to a beautiful ball from the right by Vardy, using his pace and strength to get the better of Rojo and swing in the cross. It was a fairly even game throughout the first half, although United did have the better quality chances, with such an ambitious hit by Falcao rattling the crossbar a stand out.
While the score remained 2-1 at half-time, United’s defence did not. Chris Smalling was brought on to replace Jonny Evans 15 minutes before the break due to injury. I can’t say if this was a key moment in the game but it did reduce van Gaal’s substitution options in the second half.
As the teams came out for the second half I was hopeful we may get ourselves a draw out of this. United however thought otherwise and began the second half with much more enthusiasm and intent than we did, seeing their efforts rewarded on the 57th minute by Herrera who scored his first league goal for the Red Devils. It was very unlucky from our point of view as it would have been a comfortable save for Schmeichel had Herrera, who I don’t think knew about it, not got in the way of di Maria’s shot and sent the ball into the net. 1-3. Game over. Right?
This goal had the opposite effect on the players. Jamie Vardy won a penalty a few minutes later after a battle with Rafael in the United box led to the Brazilian bringing down the former Fleetwood man. It seems like this decision by Clattenburg has raised much controversy, but I certainly wasn’t protesting and it surely makes up for his previously beneficial United decisions in the past! Penalty king David Nugent blasted the ball down the centre to make the scoreline 2-3. Can we snatch and hold onto a draw with 30 minutes left?
Minutes later – I must have said that a lot already! – we found that equaliser. Straight from United’s kickoff we forced them to release the ball, with everyone renewed in belief, and it was a shot from Dean Hammond that found itself to Cambiasso, with a touch of fortune we deserved after Herrera’s goal, who passed the ball into the net, causing the stadium to shake in celebration. The United fans were stunned and weren’t heard again for the rest of the match. We, on the other hand, were bouncing and I think these two contrasting moods reflected onto the pitch where Leicester just kept building attack after attack.
Surely we can’t let this slip now? We’ve got the momentum, maybe we can get more out of this game? All the players, including Nugent and De Laet who had previously struggled in the match, sensed the vulnerability of their opponents and looked eager to continue this remarkable comeback.
The manager’s were also aware of the shift that had taken place, with both making a couple of changes around the 75 minute mark. Firstly the excellent Cambiasso came off to a thunderous applause for Andy King. He really had Rooney in his pocket for the entire game so I think it must have be tiredness that was his reason for coming off. Adnan Januzaj was next to enter for Falcao, before Matty James came on for Nugent and Mata replaced di Maria. Both Falcao and di Maria had very good games, and it was a pleasure to have seen the two live. The introduction of James led to a slightly more defensive formation, with Drinkwater taking over Nugent’s role.
Louis van Gaal’s substitutes had little time to affect the game, with his plans ripped up when the Foxes got themselves in front for the first time through my man of the match, Jamie Vardy. De Laet who had been growing in confidence after a poor start managed to shrug off Mata like Falcao had done to him earlier, before chipping the ball excellently to Vardy, who ran one on one with De Gea and slotted past him with ease.
Ten minutes left on the clock, this is incredible, we aren’t actually winning are we?! I think disbelief was on the faces of everyone when that goal went in, at least for me I was just stunned. From that moment never have I heard the stadium so loud. Every pass was applauded, every tackle urged and celebrated. Phenomal atmosphere! “We want five” was the cheer, much to my amusement. It was just getting through that we’d managed to turn this game around. 2-0 down, 3-1 down. 4-3!
We want five was the chant, Andy King almost answered the request when he narrowly stroked the ball wide, before Vardy who still wasn’t done, forced Blackett into a last ditch challenge, resulting in his sending off and another penalty. Ulloa was tasked with converting, which he did with great confidence, netting his second of the match, making his record 5 goals in 5 games.
5-3 was how it ended. Breathless. Absolutely crazy game and I don’t think I’ll ever witness a more thrilling match in my life! 8 points from 5 games now. We’ve just made such good work of this difficult start that I really have to be positive about our survival chances.
My favourite chant of the game came of course at the end, with the cries of “Caaannn we play you every week!” being directed at the United fans and players making me laugh out loud! Thankfully games are never won on paper, and it was Manchester United’s lack of balance in their starting eleven that has to be questioned for me. They played much too open, and it meant their defence, their one weakness, could be so easily exploited, and that’s exactly what Vardy did today. Man of the match for sure, but an excellent team performance all round.