Stunning. Simply astonishing. You wouldn’t have been surprised had Manchester United failed to repeat a performance like the one that led to the thrashing of QPR, such was Rangers’ pitifulness. Leicester City were always going to be a different opponent entirely, having already, in just the first few games, showed mettle, grit and the ability to score. Leo Ulloa had netted against Chelsea and Arsenal, and against United’s shaky defence, he was licking his lips. Esteban Cambiasso had settled in to life as a Fox nicely. But for United, after going 3-1 up with 17 minutes to go, to then lose in the way they did, it boggled the mind. It was like watching the 7-1 in Brazil; this may have been even more unlikely a result.
Leicester were ably assisted by some extremely questionable refereeing decisions from the official Mark Clattenburg. The key officiating error was the decision to award Leicester a penalty with the score at 3-1, when James Vardy barged over Rafael in the Manchester United penalty area. The Brazilian displayed a void of common sense with his retaliatory push on Vardy, but the initial foul should have been given. The penalty was smashed in by Nugent, and Leicester were within a single goal again, thanks to Clattenburg. This doesn’t excuse United’s collapse, however, nor does it invalidate the Leicester comeback.
United had been purring just a few minutes earlier, up by two goals and passing the ball around with ease. Di Maria had dazzled with a sublime chip, Van Persie had opened his Premier League account after a lovely cross from Falcao. Herrera had neatly flicked in a cherry on top. There was no hint of what was to come.
But with the back line that United have, the potential for disaster is always there. The sense of electric anticipation that rises as Di Maria and co surge forward is only matched by the sense of stomach-turning calamity that grows as the defenders in red backtrack. After having a fairly strong game, as soon as the Leicester fight back started, Blackett was much less assured and Rojo went completely missing. Chris Smalling was his usual flaky self, and Evans had gone off injured. Blind seemed to disapparate in the manner of Hermione Granger as soon as the going got tough, and the defending (or lack thereof) around Cambiasso’s equalizer was diabolical. The Argentinian was allowed to shoot straight and true, after the United defenders failed haplessly to clear a ball. He spanked home a debut goal, and ran wildly to the corner flag with the fiery roars of the crowds raining down on him like a Pompeii villager. Blackett then got himself sent off, after weakly playing for a foul, being out-muscled and letting Vardy escape. He scythed him down from behind and the red was a given. Ulloa scored the penalty.
A game of two halves, indeed. Ulloa had managed to keep the Foxes within touching distance in the first half, scoring an emphatic reply after United had gone 2-0 up. It was a cracking header, and the Argentinian now stands second on the Premier League goalscoring ranks, behind Diego Costa. It would prove a vital lifeline that Leicester used, along with some luck, to de-fibrillate themselves in the second half. James Vardy was a constant, sticky, painful thorn in the sides of every United defender, and he didn’t stop running until he sat down on the bench. He scored a composed, confident goal to put the Foxes ahead on a break away, started after Mata was robbed far too easily.
The superiority of United in the first half was eclipsed by the meekness of their second half implosion. This is not to take anything away from the fighting spirit that every Leicester player showed. It was a remarkable turnaround and surely Leicester’s best ever Premier League performance. With West Ham, Everton and Chelsea to come for United, the pain might not stop here. Evans limped off and was sitting on the bench with a moon-boot on, and now with Blackett suspended, the centre back depth, which you wouldn’t want to dive into at the best of times, is being severely tested.
Cynics will say that United were on the receiving end of one of the referee-assisted victories that they used to be famous for, when Ferguson stalked the touchline. Still, Clattenburg will be hounded after this display, and on top of the penalty, he was very stingy with his yellow cards, particularly when the occasion called for a Leicester player to receive a second one of them. The Leicester right back, De Laet, was lucky to be on the park when he set up the Vardy go-ahead goal.
Again, United fans, if they can see through the misery that surely grips them now, will appreciate how well they attacked. But their defending, and the lack of resolve shown when Leicester swelled, will seriously worry them.
Here are the goals.