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Goals but no leaders: 5 things we’ve learnt from United vs Leicester

Leonardo UlloaIt was fun while it lasted, then it unravelled in catastrophic fashion but, bad as it was, there were some positives to be taken from United’s defeat on Sunday. Here’s five things we’ve learnt from Leicester away

1) Leaky at the back

They say in football there’s no other place to start than the defence and as far United are concerned that’s undeniably true. For all the incredible talent Louis Van Gaal has assembled in the final third pitch, United’s rearguard is arguably the weakest to have graced the Old Trafford turf in recent years.

It is, of course, hardly surprising, for United’s back four is made up of a combination of players who are either too raw – Tyler Blackett – perennially injured – Jonny Evans and Phil Jones – or, whisper it, not good enough and whichever way one might want to look at it, that’s hardly the perfect recipe for success.


That United would struggle defensively this year was known, that they would keep losing defenders to injury as eagerly as a tree sheds its leaves in autumn was perhaps less expected, but Van Gaal will have to make do until January, when the club will almost certainly try to bolster its options at the back.

Until the second half collapse, Blackett, playing only his fifth senior game for the club, had been by far the most assured of the back four, which says more about his teammates than it does about him. Smalling looked his usual uncertain self, Marcos Rojo has still a long way to go before matching the standards required in the Premier League and Rafael drowned after giving away the penalty – albeit one that should have never been awarded.

2) United have to fail

It’ll come as no surprise to anyone but, after spending a season mocking the utter ineptitude of the squad with something close to condescendence, the media are aware that, if it were to click, Van Gaal’s team could actually ruffle a feather or two.

Hence the plethora of post-mortems on today’s back pages, in which United are depicted like a slightly improved version of last season’s vintage. One which, however, shall not be granted the benefit of the doubt because of the money the club has spent over the summer – how dare Van Gaal spend money on players, despite not being bankrolled by a foreign billionaire? – nor the time to gel that it’d normally be afforded to other sides.

Leicester vs Manchester United

United have ruined the game for the masses by spending £150m in the transfer window and their defeat should be cherished and celebrated by fans, pundits and journalists alike, all of whom had obviously predicted this would unfold.

Of course, that is not why United conceded five goals yesterday, but we’ve been hammered before, even by smaller than teams than Leicester. Last season the team stumbled from setback to setback, here’s hoping this season’s tumbles – of which there are likely to be a few – will be taken as an inspiration, rather than a sentence.

3) Leadership?

For that to happen, however, United need something that not even £150m can buy: a leader.

Depending on which side of the fence one stands Wayne Rooney is either a thief who’s held the contract to ransom or a world class player who is criminally under-appreciated by his fans. While both opinions are justifiable – the former more than the latter, perhaps – for all his qualities and flaws, Rooney is certainly not a leader, never has been and probably never will be.Leicester-City-v-Manchester-United-Premier-League


We have seen United captains unleash verbal volleys towards referees and teammates before, but the likes of Roy Keane, Bryan Robson and Gary Neville exuded an aura of authority Rooney has not even come close to since he was awarded the armband. Of course, he had every right to be incensed by Mark Clattenburg’s decision to reward James Vardy’s disgraceful dive with a penalty but running around like a man possessed to vent fury at the referee is hardly what his team needed in the circumstances.

Likewise, targeting Blackett with yet another bollocking after Leicester’s equaliser wasn’t a sign of leadership, rather the sign of a man who tries to be a leader but he’s incapable of doing so and leadership was what United were crying out for at 3-3 yesterday.

4) Di Maria will be a star

Rarely has a United’s record signing taken so little time to settle into his new role as Angel Di Maria has done in his first three games for the club, during which he’s already shown why Van Gaal was keen to part with almost £60m to sign him.

The Argentine is, quite simply, the hub of every United move in the final third of the pitch, providing the change of pace and momentum the side had sorely lacked under David Moyes and, to a lesser extent, towards the end of Fergie’s reign.

Whether deployed wide on the left or through the middle, Di Maria always look to be wanting the ball and exudes the sort of confidence not seen in a United player for years, perhaps not since his now former teammate took the opposite route to the one Di Maria took in the summer.

This team will need time to gel but when it will you can bet your house that Angel Di Maria will be the man it will be built around.

5) The United way is back. Well, sort of

Yes, losing 5-3 isn’t ideal, particularly after twice squandering a two-goal lead but, at least, it’s entertaining.

The one according to which Rome wasn’t built in a day might be the most overused and pedestrians of cliches, but it also contains a great deal of truth in it and is likely to be wheeled out a few more times this season.

Disappointing as yesterday’s result was, however, one can’t dispel the feeling that Van Gaal is working towards implementing his plan and get the team to play to his vision, a world away from the disheartening, lukewarm defeats we became accustomed to last season, as Moyes’ men trudged on from shambolic performance onto shambolic performance.

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This team has flair and quality going forward. Of course, it can’t defend. But if the choice is between losing 1-0 without having a shot on goal and scoring three goals, then there’s only one choice.

Consider it the first step on the road to returning to the United way.


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