Ahh, the return of the false dawn. How greatly you have been missed. Having just endured a season rife with corners potentially turned, Manchester United returned to a dispiriting habit and threw away a 1-3 lead in the East Midlands. A four-goal spurt in a little over twenty minutes ripped Louis van Gaal’s side apart as Nigel Pearson’s side embarrassed United with their direct, committed performance. Just to make matters worse, a catastrophic afternoon for a troubled defence was compounded with the losses of Jonny Evans to injury and Tyler Blackett to a late red card, leaving United looking overwhelmed, well-beaten and at least several miles away from being title contenders.
After a hugely positive thrashing of Queens Park Rangers last Sunday, attention switched quickly from United’s attack to its untested defence as soon as the whistle blew, with Blackett and Marcos Rojo immediately tested down the visitors left flank. Leonardo Ulloa had two sights at goal in the early offing, and only a loose touch from Leicester’s new star prevented him from a very presentable opportunity.
Thankfully, United’s quality up front hadn’t vanished, and after some polite probing in the early stages, they were ahead after thirteen minutes. Former United right-back Ritchie De Laet failed miserably in an attempt to stop Radamel Falcao reaching the ball, and the Colombian had all the time in the world to pick out Robin van Persie with a delicious cross at the back post, who duly buried his header past Kasper Schmiechel. One became two shortly afterwards, with Angel Di Maria exchanging a neat one-two with Wayne Rooney and then clipping a delicious chip over the Dane a few minutes later for United’s second, although its beauty was somewhat tempered by Leicester’s quick-fire response. Jamie Vardy’s pace and willingness to attack United’s left lead to cross towards David de Gea’s near-post, and with Rafael failing to cover, Ulloa powered a brilliant header past the prone keeper.
Perhaps wary of conceding another, the pace of the game dropped a little after that third strike in 17 minutes. Vardy and Ulloa continued to cause problems, and United’s shaky defence was hardly aided by an injury to Jonny Evans. At the other end, Di Maria continued his impressive start to life in a red shirt with two curling crosses that came within inches of reaching Falcao, and he was at the heart of United’s third ten minutes into the second half. A low strike into a crowded penalty area was turned in by Ander Herrera to give the visitors a little more breathing room, but again, it was short-lived. Vardy barged Rafael over down Leicester’s left flank in what appeared a clear foul, but Mark Clattenburg only blew when he adjudged the Brazilian to have knocked Leicester’s number 9 over seconds later, in what appeared a rather clear dive. Further disappointment swiftly followed a minute later when Esteban Cambiasso opened his account for his new team with a low drive just inside the area after United had failed to clear.
It was breathless stuff, United’s daring going forward only matched by their soft underbelly and Leicester with the bit firmly between their teeth. Andy King almost gave them a fairytale lead but fired just wide after De Laet had battled past Di Maria. They didn’t have to wait long for it, unfortunately. Juan Mata’s slip, allowing De Laet to feed the unmarked Vardy who coolly slid in to provide Leicester’s fourth of a remarkable afternoon. Vardy was again at the centre of the action as he raced through on goal again shortly after only for Tyler Blackett, nudged away far too easily in the build up to bundle him over. Red card, penalty, and Ulloa fired home for number five.
The ease with which United were dismantled was terrifying. They wilted under Leicester’s pressure, and couldn’t deal with their long balls or pace. Daley Blind and Ander Herrera were completely overwhelmed in the final thirty minutes, and United were easy pickings on the break once they started to exert some pressure in an attempt to get back into the match. Clattenburg’s more-than questionable award of the first penalty was crucial, but it doesn’t excuse the capitulation that followed. With Di Maria and Falcao removed, and a man down, United struggled to offer a response, and slipped to a second defeat in five league games having registered a hugely disappointing five points out of fifteen. Premier League champions? Not at this rate.