A few points from tonight’s draw at Leicester.
Arsenal in fancy dress
You can take your pick of what you want to pin the blame on today; the profligacy of last season which returned to say hello, or the horrendous defending which gifted Leicester two goals.
Romelu Lukaku missed a chance in the first half, but that was more a case of hesitation rather than a genuine miss. Martial, Lingard and Rashford all missed chances to make this result comfortable. Those extra goals would have been just what United deserved for some very enterprising forward play which gives extra strength to the theory that Lingard and Mata provide a fluidity that is necessary at the moment (the idea that such a pair can elevate United into a team that can challenge for the title is a point for another day).
And yet, they ended with a draw which they also deserved for some terrible defending. This was self-inflicted. Manchester United cannot progress as a team with Smalling and Jones in central defence. If you play Arsenal level defenders you can expect Arsenal level results and you can also expect haphazard, calamity occurrences which provide much humour for opposition fans. Chris Smalling going down and coming off, resulting in him rushing back into a disorganised defence which left him as the last man watching as Harry Maguire equalised was just as appalling as the defending for the first goal, which you wouldn’t expect in the Championship.
A small note on this and some blame needs to be attached to the manager. We’ll resist from blaming him for the defence (although, come on, a lesson has surely been learned) but was it really necessary to make a change to close out the result? Bringing on Herrera for Lingard was a conservative move. Mind, United did miss chances to wrap it up after this change.
The hard line on Lukaku
The Belgian striker missed a great chance in the first 15 minutes which happened because his reactions weren’t quick enough.
Let this comment be prefaced by this opinion – in no way, shape or form do we attribute Lukaku’s missed chances to being the cause which separates Manchester United and Manchester City. Those problems are mostly in the backline. And there is no shame in not yet being a world class striker; there is no shame if he never becomes one. Andy Cole had a spell of a year where he could be described as a top class goalscorer throughout the year 2000 but the reason he, Yorke, Sheringham and Solskjaer were so successful as a quartet was that each of them were different types of goalscorer and they played in front of a midfield that were prolific at breaking down most defences. Ruud van Nistelrooy’s arrival was such a breakthrough because he was a goalscorer capable of dominating any defender.
And yet. What if Lukaku had scored one of those chances he ought to have scored against Stoke City in the draw? What if he had scored that opportunity at Anfield? What if he had converted that one chance against City? Those three instances of admittedly very very harsh observations would have this title race open, in theory if not in practice. One would hope that in moments of introspection these are the moments where Romelu Lukaku is hard on himself and wants to improve. Considering his reaction in recent celebrations, one wonders if he feels he should do better, or if he feels hard done by.
He was not the forward whose missed will be lamented on today, so this is more of a general point than a reaction, but, well…
Lindelof wrong to be right – another defensive horror show
So the experiment didn’t work but the worst thing about it was the level of accommodation it provided to Chris Smalling and Phil Jones. Like Matteo Darmian, we need no further evidence to tell us that playing those two together will undermine United’s aspirations of success in major competitions. And, as harsh as it is, and as well as he has done, if United continue to play Ashley Young at left back, they will remain a position short of being able to challenge Manchester City.
The defending for Leicester’s goals would not have looked out of place at the Emirates last night such were their shambolic nature – we’ve made that point already. But it’s difficult to pin the blame on an out of position Lindelof when the usual suspects were up to their usual antics.