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Disorganised and leaderless: Inexplicable from Man United in a frantic and costly finale

Some of the decisions that were made in the final minutes against Leicester were baffling.

Image: Mike Egerton

IN THE GRAND scheme of things, Manchester United’s 2-2 draw with Leicester probably won’t be remembered too much when we look back on critical Premier League moments from 2017/18.

But the finale was so bizarre that you can’t help but ponder on it in the immediate aftermath.

United had come from behind and were leading 2-1 at the King Power Stadium thanks to Juan Mata’s excellent double when the home side suffered another major blow.

Danny Simpson had already been forced off because of injury with Daniel Amartey replacing him. But he was remarkably sent off just 16 minutes and nine seconds later after picking up two yellow cards in quick succession.

With United finding much joy from Romelu Lukaku’s hold-up play and how well he was gelling with Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and later Marcus Rashford, it seemed to be a crucial turning point. It made sense that United would exploit the extra space, their energy and movement would lead to more chances and they’d tack on at least one more goal.

Instead, just three minutes after the red card, Mourinho hooked Lingard – who had been involved in some of United’s best moments and who wasted a great opportunity in the second-half when he struck the post after rounding Kasper Schmeichel – and sent on Ander Herrera to tighten things up.

Leicester City v Manchester United - Premier League - King Power Stadium Source: Nigel French

The move ensured United sat deeper and the change in attitude was recognised by Leicester. Yes, they got lucky when Rashford went down under a tap from Schmeichel that went unpunished but the lack of urgency in United’s game became apparent to Claude Puel’s, his players and the Leicester support.

The atmosphere changed and the hosts were encouraged to send in dangerous crosses. Especially when given the time and space, Marc Albrighton has great quality and he’d already contributed two excellent deliveries at earlier intervals that Leicester failed to convert. But United didn’t heed the warnings.

In injury time, when Rashford broke forward on the counter, he did the smart thing. He kept possession and held the ball up rather than trying to play Lukaku in. He headed for the touchline before involving Nemanja Matic. The midfielder, for some reason, tried to play Lukaku in but the striker had strayed offside and possession returned to Leicester who would instantly go direct and put United under more pressure.

Still, the most baffling development in the final stages was when Chris Smalling picked up a groin injury.

Clearly struggling, he tried to play on but needed a dig-out, someone to drop in alongside him and help. But there seemed to be zero communication between the United players. At one stage, as Leicester lurked ominously around 30 yards from goal, Smalling dropped to the ground. For what reason, nobody is sure. Did he genuinely expect Leicester to put the ball out of play? He eventually got back up and attempted to stay in the game but he could barely move. Jones attempted to re-organise before Herrera volunteered to drop to right-back, which allowed Lindelof to step in alongside Smalling.

Leicester City v Manchester United - Premier League - King Power Stadium Source: Mike Egerton

Inevitably, Smalling couldn’t continue and went down again moments later. This time the United medical staff came on, treated him and he gingerly walked off with them. The break in play had allowed United to have a chat and get their system sorted. But, for some inexplicable reason, Smalling was sent back on. When Albrighton (again not closed down) swung in another brilliant cross to the far post, Smalling – essentially invalided – was the player trying to pick up the primary Leicester set-piece target.

It was little surprise when he struggled to get close and the opposing centre-back tucked the ball to the far corner.

Leicester City v Manchester United - Premier League - King Power Stadium The injured Chris Smalling grimaces as he tries to turn and close down Harry Maguire. Source: Nigel French

Why was Smalling sent back on? Why didn’t United just play 10 v 10? At that stage it was attack versus defence with the blue and red shirts all gathered in the same tight space. Numerical advantage didn’t really translate to much. What could Smalling contribute? Possibly win a header? But could he even get air-born? Was he genuinely able to jump off the ground? Even without Smalling, United could rely on some tall players to make their presence felt. Matic is 6’4″, both Pogba and Lukaku are 6’3″, Lindelof is 6’1″ and Jones is 6’0″. They had more than enough to deal with the threat of Maguire and Morgan.

But, when United needed clear heads and a little bit of leadership, they didn’t have it. There was just confusion and chaos. And ultimately they were made pay.

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