Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal (second left) reacts on the substitutes bench after seeing his side concede their fifth goal of the game. Mike Egerton

Analysis: How THAT Leicester-United game was won and lost by wing play

We take an in-depth look at what’s gone wrong for Louis van Gaal’s side.

MANCHESTER UNITED WENT into their game with Leicester last week as strong favourites off the back of a 4-0 victory over QPR, following a disappointing start to their campaign. The Red Devils’ much-maligned inexperienced defence had conceded just three goals in four games, while they appeared to have boosted their attack considerably with the introduction of new signings such as Angel Di Maria and Daley Blind.

Leicester, meanwhile, had impressed amid what was a difficult start to their campaign. They had commendably earned draws at home to both Everton and Arsenal, in addition to beating Stoke 1-0 at the Britannia Stadium — meaning Mark Hughes’ men had lost consecutive games there for the first time since April 2013. Their sole defeat came against the Premier League favourites Chelsea, going down 2-0 at Stamford Bridge.

Following the Foxes’ recent win over Stoke, boss Nigel Pearson had cited the importance of summer signing Leanardo Ulloa, who hit the winner in the game.

“To do well in any division you have to score goals and for Ulloa to get three already is great for him,” he told reporters.

“He is very popular among the players and he has settled in very well and is delivering at the moment.”

Meanwhile, following their defeat of QPR, Louis van Gaal was in buoyant form.

“I want to win the Premier League title,” he said. “If it is not this year, then the second or third year. I want to give a championship to the fans.”

Nevertheless, he also emphasised the need to be cautious, saying: “When you have a result of 4-0, then you can be happy as a coach, but you always have points you can improve.

“We have always to analyse what we have done. The result is fantastic but we can get much better.”


Both teams started the game with a diamond formation, with United introducing Radamel Falcao for Juan Mata, who had started against QPR.

United had a flat-back-four with Daley Blind anchoring the midfield. Ander Herrera and Angel Di Maria were in front of him and were consequently expected to provide much of United’s dynamism, with Wayne Rooney in the hole behind Robin van Persie and Falcao.

Leicester, in an ostensible attempt to go man-for-man, set up with an identical shape. Esteban Cambiasso played in the holding role with Dean Hammond and Danny Drinkwater ahead of him, while David Nugent played in behind Jamie Vardy and Leonardo Ulloa.

Their intention first and foremost was to stifle United, pressing the Red Devils high and forcing them into mistakes.

For all the talk of United being defensively vulnerable though, they had only conceded three goals all season in the league, while Leicester had averaged just a goal a game. So despite United’s noticeably attacking lineup, few people would have anticipated their subsequent concession of five goals.

Combating Blind and United’s midfield


Daley Blind, so effective in starting attacks and sweeping up in defence against QPR, was altogether less influential at the King Power Stadium.

The Dutch international, who often tends to collect the ball from United’s defence, was restricted on this occasion. Leicester delegated former England international David Nugent with the task of man-marking Blind, meaning defenders such as Jonny Evans, Tyler Blackett and (when he came on) Chris Smalling, who look less than comfortable in possession at the best of times, had less options in front of them. The Leicester players consequently either pressurised them into giving it away or let them play the ball harmlessly across the back four, racking up United’s possession stats but failing, more often than not, to yield a positive result.

Blind everywhere

Midfield congestion/joy in the wide positions

Both sides’ decision to play a diamond meant that the midfield was significantly congested. There was seldom space for individuals such as Wayne Rooney and Angel Di Maria to work their magic, meaning chances tended to arise when players took a risk and ventured into the wide positions, where considerably more room existed.

The one exception, of course, was during United’s second goal, owing to exceptional play from Angel Di Maria. The Argentine international had a mixed afternoon. In addition to the goal and a somewhat fortuitous assist for the visitors’ third, he also gave the ball away and overhit crosses on a couple of occasions, culminating in his substitution at 3-3.

Yet his one moment of unequivocal brilliance occurred in the 16th minute, as he for once burst past his marker before playing a one-two with Wayne Rooney and sublimely chipping the goalkeeper.


(Via Soccer Blogger)

But that effort aside, all the goals occurred away from the scrappy battle in the centre of the pitch and out on the flanks, with both sides’ full-backs exposed regularly due to the lack of protection afforded to them by the diamond formation.

JoshM75 / YouTube

Ex-United man Ritchie De Laet was the full-back caught out for the first goal, as he dived in but failed to win the ball, allowing Falcao to escape and cross for Van Persie to head home. And following Di Maria’s moment of brilliance, another full-back error, this time from Marcos Rojo enabled Leicester to get a goal back. The Argentine player was all too lax, appearing to stop and anticipate the ball going out of play, yet the persistent Vardy managed to get his cross in for Ulloa to score with a bullet header.

United’s third goal all stemmed from a Rafael cross that eventually fell to Di Maria, whose shot was diverted in by Herrera, while the Brazilian was then culpable for the second Leicester goal, allowing the increasingly influential Vardy to bully him off the ball, before recklessly bringing the striker down in the box.

Leicester’s all-important equaliser also began down the wing, with Drinkwater’s speculative cross causing confusion in the United box. Blind and Smalling appeared to go for the same ball, with the English defender only able to clear it to the edge of the box, where Cambiasso eventually drove it home consummately.


The sudden shift in momentum obliged United to make changes, with Mata and Januzaj replacing Di Maria and Falcao. However, these alterations could not stem the Leicester tide. Indeed, for the fourth goal, it was Mata whose concession of possession proved so costly, yet it was primarily Rojo again who was at fault. The left-back’s ball to the Spaniard was never on, and it allowed De Laet, who was having an eventful afternoon, to intercept and subsequently play the ball through to Vardy, who finished calmly past De Gea. And to exacerbate his initial error, the Argentine player had naively chosen to dash forward after making the ill-advised pass, thereby recklessly leaving no cover behind him.


The fifth goal, for once, was not created by intelligent wing play. Instead, it was almost solely due to the sly intelligence of the magnificent Vardy. It began, though, when an all-too-eager Blackett over-committed himself after a Leicester defender had produced a hopeful punt upfield. The striker nudged the young defender out of the way, impeding his attempt to head the ball in the process, before bursting through on goal and being taken down for a clear penalty.

Luck and physicality yield rewards for Leicester

While it may sound simplistic, Leicester comfortably won the physical battle between these sides, though they were aided considerably by the referee.

Premier League newcomers Falcao, Di Maria and Rojo in particular looked susceptible to the Foxes’ combative approach, and so perhaps it’s hardly a complete coincidence that as the game progressed, their influence lessened.

In one particularly memorable moment, Ritchie De Laet essentially shoved Di Maria off the pitch and onto the tarmac, with the Argentine man needing medical treatment as a result. The defender was already on a booking and could easily have been sent off on another day, yet he got away with it and Leicester continued to play on the edge of the law without being severely reprimanded for the duration of the contest.



It must be said that Nigel Pearson’s men were also helped in no small part by some favourable decisions by the officials. De Laet, who laid on the assist for the fourth goal, committed two clear bookable offences (a cynical foul and the aforementioned deliberate shoving of Di Maria onto the tarmac) having already received a yellow card. Moreover, it could be argued that three of Leicester’s five goals should not have stood. While for Ulloa’s opening goal, whether or not the ball was out of play was borderline, there was nothing ambiguous about the clear foul on Rafael that preceded the penalty for their second goal (see above). Furthermore, for the fifth goal, which killed off any hope of a United comeback, Vardy again quite obviously nudged Blackett out of the way before sprinting forward on goal and winning the penalty (see below).

Yet such incidents were no excuse for the poor defending that also contributed substantially to Leicester’s win. Moreover, in pretty much every area of the field, United were bullied, and failed to respond appropriately. It’s difficult to imagine an Alex Ferguson team showing such a lack of fight and perhaps that partially explains why on Sunday, the Red Devils let a two-goal lead slip for the first time since Ron Atkinson’s tenure in 1984.

United’s issues in attack

It may seem harsh to lay any blame on the forwards of a team who managed three goals, one of which was particularly spectacular, yet United were far from perfect in attack last weekend.

No options

(The United defenders frequently looked short of options to pass to)

Despite a promising opening, Van Persie, Falcao and Di Maria all faded badly as the game wore on. They weren’t helped of course, by the lack of space in the centre, while United’s main attacking outlet was invariably Rojo, who all too often looked thoroughly uncomfortable on the ball.

FootballPower11 / YouTube

Most disappointing of all, however, was Rooney. Aside from a fairly routine ball to set up Di Maria’s goal, he offered little. His passing and crossing was wayward on a regular basis, and when he was caught on camera screaming at those around him once United conceded the third goal, you couldn’t help but suspect that deep down, such anger extended to frustration with his own performance.

Leicester’s pragmatism pays off

The Red Devils are unquestionably more talented and technically superior to Leicester player-for-player, and the possession stats backed this assertion up — with United having 57% compared to Leicester’s 43 overall.

However, Nigel Pearson’s side’s more direct approach helped the hosts to secure a deserved victory. The more acclaimed Van Gaal was therefore tactically outwitted by his counterpart, as Leicester mirrored United’s formation and largely stopped them from playing.

Though United scored three goals, these moments of ingenuity were anomalies rather than the norm. Louis van Gaal’s side struggled to get any rhythm into their game, dominating possession but not territory. Although they had more of the ball, Leicester’s approach was significantly more risk-free.

Aside from stopping United from playing, the Foxes’ main tactic was to hoof it into the channels and encourage Ulloa and in particular, Vardy, to feed off scraps, which they did superbly.

With the United back four not accustomed to playing together and still getting used to Van Gaal’s system, they looked conspicuously nervous right from the off, when Tyler Blackett excitedly dived in to try to win the ball, giving away a free kick in a dangerous area in the opening moments of the game as a result.

With few out balls, players such as Rojo looked increasingly unsure of themselves, so it was consequently no surprise that they ultimately seemed to collapse mentally, with all five of Leicester’s goals stemming from at least one of United’s defenders committing an unforced error.


Though there are several reasons behind this improbable result, the game can be summed up by the difference in the two teams as a whole — Leicester had a gameplan and implemented it highly effectively as a unit despite lacking United’s wealth of individual talent, whereas their opponents were a team that looked confused and patched together.

Van Gaal recently admitted that the players were struggling to understand his ideas, and this was reflected by the sense of hesitance that characterised their performance at the King Power Stadium.

The visitors’ star men only performed sporadically, and at times appeared affected by Leicester’s attempts at intimidation.

The officials will surely be far from satisfied with their performances, which undoubtedly suited the hosts’ aggressive style, yet United, more than anything else, contributed to their own downfall, and cannot afford to use a few dubious decisions as a crutch if they are to have any aspirations towards improvement in the future, starting later today when they face West Ham.

Moreover, with both teams opting to employ diamond formations, there was seldom room for creative play in the central areas of the pitch. Conversely, with neither side picking wingers, the full-backs were often susceptible, and it was in these areas out wide where the game was ultimately won and lost, with positive play by De Laet rewarded and errors by Rafael and Rojo proving costly.

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