Leiester City are apparently the final destination of Manchester United’s youth system, with a lot of former reds in the Foxes first team and U21 squad. Ritchie De Laet, Danny Drinkwater, Matty James, Jeff Schlupp (only a trial at United), Danny Simpson and Tom Lawrence are among the Leicester first team players, and Jack Barmby and Arthur Rowley were involved in tonight’s U21 showdown, the one substituted for the other.
United are currently chasing the U21 league title, with Norwich, Liverpool and tonight’s opponents Leicester as the other title contenders in the mix, and a win tonight would’ve been a significant contribution to United’s title bid. However, Leicester didn’t give away anything for free.
Events at both ends – and in the middle
The first chance turned up early on, when Sean Goss in midfield found the overlapping Andy Kellett, who immediately looked for James Wilson in the box. The 19-year-old striker tried to tap home the opener from about the penalty spot, but it took a deflection and went wide.
The former United player Jack Barmby had an attempt after eleven minutes, when the ball was played in behind Rafael, and Barmby picked up the clearance off Jonny Evans’ head. Fortunately, Pereira appeared to control the shot over the bar.
The versatile Donald Love, who appearaed at centre midfield in a 4-3-3 setup, was booked after only twelve minutes of play after an unnecessary and late sliding tackle on the tricky winger Anthony Knockaert.
Leicester on the front foot
The game was barely beyond the quarter of an hour when the hosts went in front. Anthony Knockaert, who was a leading performer for Leicester in the Championship last season, made Kellett slip, went past him and crossed for the U21 league player of the month for March, Harry Panayiotou. The striker, wearing number nine, scored his ninth goal in nine games after evading Jonny Evans’ poor marking.
Leicester were actually fairly close to extend their lead after 24 minutes, when Chilwell dribbled past Rafael and put in a cross. The clearance ended up at McCourt’s feet, and Joel Pereira had to hand the Foxes a corner on his volleyed attempt.
Reds bouncing back
United’s first chance took place just inside the opening half an hour. Van Persie kept the ball up, linked with the inverted winger Wilson, who cut in from the right and let fly, but despite an inconvenient bounce off the grass, Smith was able to parry it. The grey-haired striker was alert, chasing the rebound, but unfortunately he was flagged offside.
However, it was only a matter of minutes before United were back on level terms. Robin van Persie received the ball between Leicester’s centre backs, laid it off for Sean Goss, who, thanks to an excellent first touch, was able to slot home his first goal on U21 level.
Van Persie was involved once again shortly after, cutting in from the right, but his distant attempt was blocked, and Wilson made a mess of the rebound, barely making any contact with the ball.
Raf ending witnessed?
Just before half time, the present United fans might have seen the final challenge of Rafael in the red shirt. A cross was knocked across towards Knockaert, who went for a fifty-fifty challenge with the Brazilian, and ended up with hitting his ribs with the knee. As Rafael isn’t fancied by the current manager Louis van Gaal, a transfer in the summer doesn’t seem unlikely, and if his rib is fractured, he might be done for the season.
Nonetheless, Liam Grimshaw replaced him, which meant Love at right back and Grimshaw in midfield.
Not the best re-start
Five minutes into the second half, Leicester almost took proper advantage of a mispositioned and ball-watching Donald Love at right back. Dodoo got space on the left, found the goalscorer Panayiotou in the box, but fortunately for United, Pereira was able to cross paths with the ball on its way towards the back of the net.
Another inconvenient incident occured ten minutes into the second half, as Adnan Januzaj went over on his ankle. It didn’t look too serious, but he had to leave the action nonetheless, and Josh Harrop took his place.
Wilson leading the lines…
Robin van Persie was the 41st player to represent United’s U21s this season, an incredibly high number that speaks volumes of Warren Joyce’s weekly challenge of picking up eleven men who are ready to play. However, Van Persie made way for James Weir after an hour of play, after delivering a fairly decent performance in this game, particularly in terms of dropping deep and creating.
James Wilson probably didn’t exactly mind the Dutchman leaving the pitch, as he immediately stepped into his favoured number nine position, and got a chance from a squared Love pass shortly after. The effort, though, took a deflection after Wilson hesitated and needed an extra touch, and subsequently it went wide undangerously.
At this point, United pushed on to get out of the level-pegging, and the substitute James Weir came close to make his teammates celebrate. His excellent first touch on the edge of the box set up a good finishing chance, but the ball rose half a yard over the crossbar.
… but doesn’t convert his chances
James Wilson had a chance to clinch the winner a couple of minutes from time, as he got on to the shoulder of the defender Moore, but the Leicester player stood his ground and denied Wilson a decent angle. The effort subsequently went wide without providing any menace.
However, it wasn’t over for the United striker just yet. Two minutes into added time, he played Andy Kellett through on the left, got it returned in the box and he was probably quite convinced he actually had got the winning goal to his name, but he hadn’t; the effort incrediby went just on the goalkeeper and the sitter was wasted!
United – top of the league!
This means that United are currently above all the other U21 sides in England, on 31 points, and two games in hand on second-placed Norwich who are one point behind. Liverpool and Leicester are neck-and neck on 29 points. In terms of games, United have played eighteen, Norwich have played twenty, Leicester nineteen and Liverpool are – as they have been for a quarter of a century – stuck on eighteen.
Leicester City: Smith – Sesay, Davis, Moore, Chilwell – Knockaert, McCourt, Hammond (Stankevicius 68), Dodoo – Barmby (Rowley 75)– Panayiotou
Subs: Miles, Maddison, Rowley, Scott, Stankevicius
United: J. Pereira – Rafael (Grimshaw 44), J. Evans, Blackett, Kellett – Love, Thorpe, Goss – Wilson, Van Persie (Weir 60), Januzaj (Harrop 55)
Subs: Grimshaw, O’Hara, Weir, Fletcher, Harrop