Leicester City – Manchester United: Foxes Foil Solskjær’s Scheming (4-2)

Manchester United’s trip to the King Power Stadium would see a clash of two talented outfits in desperate search of a win. Yet, if the away team had hoped to catch Leicester City off form, they were sorely mistaken. Familiar flaws allowed the hosts to show flashes of their old selves before pulling away at the end of the contest to heap further confusion on a side bereft of direction.

Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.


Manchester United and Leicester City have embodied their spirit animals to take the Premier League by storm at their best. But ahead of this contest, nature is yet to reveal the way forward for both teams.

Slyly crafting a way out of any pitfall facing them, the mythical traits of the fox have prospered in the Midlands. Leicester City came into the new season off the back of taking fifth spot and two trophies to confirm their interest at England’s top tier. But now, they face their thorniest trap. Lying in 13th place, Brendan Rodgers needed a string of results to keep the respect he has worked so hard to earn.

Manchester United know all too well about losing the aura an outfit has built. Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s cultural reset of the club aimed to rekindle an occultic the fear of the devils, but he has failed to put the rest of the league under his spell. Victories have struggled to mask the same flaws that have seen his men drop points and exit the Carabao Cup, leaving lessons unlearned and frustrations simmering.

Rodgers opted for a change of system, lining up his men in a 3-5-2 formation. Jonny Evans returned to face his old club, making his first league start since the end of last season. Boubakary Soumaré joined Youri Tielemans at the heart of the midfield while James Maddison came back into the fold, looking to service a front two that both bagged in their last outing away to Crystal Palace.

Solskjær’s choice of a 4-2-3-1 shape was not in doubt. However, he made five changes to the side that faced Everton before the break. Harry Maguire came in for Raphäel Varane at the back, who missed out with a groin injury, while Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matić made up the double pivot. Jadon Sancho replaced Anthony Martial on the left wing, and Cristiano Ronaldo started as the striker.


United turn to the width

Solskjær may have hoped that the introduction of a new pairing at the base of the midfield would have boosted United’s prospects, but it was to no avail. His men operated on the ball in their usual 4-2-3-1 offensive structure, running familiar patterns of play. Sancho and Luke Shaw formed an attacking pair on the left flank, where Ronaldo would drift to demand the ball briefly. Mason Greenwood and Aaron wan-Bissaka then partnered up on the right, while Bruno Fernandes started off in the right halfspace.



From here, familiar problems plagued United. They generated little dynamism in their passing circuits, finding it hard to connect, let alone move the ball at speed from one halfspace to the other. In the end, most of the play ended up at the flanks where the guests usually try to force a breakthrough in the final third. What’s more, once the play reached the edge of Leicester’s box, attackers were guilty of standing passively on a flat line, helping the hosts read and contain any aerial threat into the area.


Individual brilliance masks structural failings

To worsen matters, Rodgers’ men offered a recurring threat on the break. United’s poor structure has often proven costly in attempts to break down a deep block, but here it also meant the team was not ready to stop transitions at their source. Frequently, Kelechi Iheanacho and Jamie Vardy forced the center-backs to move outward and defend the channels in situations where they were not comfortable.


21st minute: Shaw’s deflected cross bounces to Soumaré. Ronaldo and Greenwood are in a flat, passive line, waiting for the delivery, and neither respond aggressively to Timothy Castagne on the break. Matić eventually vacates the center and support Lindelöf in trying to slow down the transition.


Yet, for all their woes, it was the visitors that took the initial advantage. In the 19th minute, wan-Bissaka, Greenwood, and Fernandes linked up on the right flank, rotating the ball to the winger. Greenwood then sharply cut onto his left foot, breaking away from Castagne, and cannoned an effort past a diving Peter Schmeichel off the inside of the post into the net. An outstanding piece of individual brilliance out of nowhere had handed United the lead.


Leicester find their groove

Leicester looked to move the ball smoothly from back to front, using an asymmetric back three in the buildup phase. Daniel Amartey shifted wide, leaving Ricardo Pereira to move down the flank. Evans played to the right of Schmeichel while Çağlar Söyüncü operated from the position of a left sided center-back in a back four. Soumaré and Tielemans then alternated supporting from midfield.


Leicester’s deep buildup structure against United’s 4-4-2 high pressing block


The away team set up off the ball in their usual 4-4-2 block, where Fernandes moved higher to join Ronaldo in the first line of defense. Their pressing was hesitant and lacked aggression, repeatedly forcing the fullbacks to push out to cover the wing-backs. However, for all of Leicester’s patient ball circulation, they needed a mistake from United on the ball to draw themselves level on the scoreline.

A deep free kick invited Leicester to trigger a press, forcing the play to Maguire. The defender looked to slip away from the pressure, but Iheanacho pinched the ball, squaring it to Tielemans on the edge of the box. Without any delay, the midfielder bent a strike over the goalkeeper to beat him all ends up.

The goal seemed to give Leicester the spark they were seeking. Over time, they developed a better rhythm on the ball against United’s pressing scheme, no longer relying too much on finding direct routes to through the forwards. Instead, more intricate patterns of play emerged to find a blue shirt between the lines. The first half ended 1-1, but Rodgers’ men were in the ascendancy.


Substitutes decide the duel

In the end, neither team could break the deadlock. Leicester could not keep up their momentum while United kept falling foul of the same flaws in organized possession. Their attempts to break Leicester’s press saw Greenwood threaten to score again, but Rodgers had no intention of giving up on the points.

Seeking to swing the tide, he had made two changes by the 77th minute. Ayoze Perez came on for Maddison while Patson Daka swapped places with Iheanacho. The summer signing almost made an explosive impact, darting in behind the back four before drawing a parry from de Gea. Yet, the danger was far from over. Daka forced the goalkeeper to repeat the feat from a corner, but Söyüncü steered the rebound into an empty net. Leicester had completed the turnaround.



Scott McTominay and Jesse Lingard immediately entered the fray. But it was another substitute that made the difference five minutes later for United. Lindelöf picked out a raking aerial pass, sending the play in behind the backline. Marcus Rashford dashed onto the ball, steadying himself before slotting a fierce strike past Schmeichel to draw the guests level. United had given themselves a precious lifeline.

Or so they thought. From the kickoff, Evans hit a switch to Castagne, who stabbed the ball down the line past a lunging wan-Bissaka. Ayoze Perez peeled out wide, teased at McTominay and dinked a pitching cutback to Vardy, whose sweet half volley spun beyond de Gea to restore Leicester’s lead.

And Vardy’s work was not yet complete, sensing more blood. Harrying wan-Bissaka, he cut across the right back’s path, drawing a foul to earn a free kick on the edge of United’s box. Tielemans’ delivery drifted to the far post, where Daka ran off the back of Maguire to bag Leicester’s fourth. Game over.


Takeaways

Leicester City still do not look like they can slip seamlessly into offensive high gear from more patient play, but Rodgers will be delighted to have seen his outfit rise to the occasion to seal a victory. Next up is the acid test of their credentials as they prepare to face Brentford on the road.

Another mediocre display from United this campaign, despite the improvement of the talent pool at Solskjær’s disposal, is not a shock but concerning all the same. What should worry the team the most at the moment is an upcoming set of fixtures that could have defined the outlook of their season by the end of November. Atalanta, Liverpool, and ‘the best player in the world‘ will grace Old Trafford in the next seven days. Looking no closer to learning from old mistakes, the signs are ominous.



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