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Tactical analysis: Manchester United’s defensive frailties brutally exposed by Leicester City

Peter Minj
Modified 23 Sep 2014, 21:10 IST
Manchester United’s defensive frailties were brutally exposed by Leicester City

As per an old adage in football: “Strikers win you matches and defenders win you championships”. Manchester United got the first part right in the recently concluded summer transfer window but it’s the latter part where they have struggled since the last season of Sir Alex Ferguson.

With the present state of affairs it looks like United will go another year without any silverware. Leading 3-1 lead against a Leicester city team who had only scored 4 goals in their first 4 matches, United somehow managed to concede 5 goals in total, with 4 of them being scored in 21 minutes of a humdinger of a second half.

How Mark Clattenburg did not show former Red, Richie De Laet a second yellow card and how Jamie Vardy’s supposedly legitimate shoulder barge against Rafael was not penalized, will remain a mystery. Even then; a team of Manchester United’s pedigree with Louis van Gaal at the helm should be doing enough to defend a two goal lead in the last 25 minutes of the game.

Let’s dissect each of the 5 goals that United conceded:

Goal 1  

With United’s attacking players in the groove in the first half, the goal would have seemed to be a consolation but it merely turned out to be an ill omen for United. United should have beem more attentive, but from the ensuing kick-off, Leicester City punted a long ball down the right-wing.

Marcos Rojo was far too easily brushed aside by Jamie Vardy on the left-flank who managed to whip in a great cross, but again Ulloa was given far too much space for a powerful header in the penalty area with the center-backs going AWOL. David De Gea was pretty much helpless, but there was a glaring lack of communication and bad positioning in the defense.

Rojo being outmuscled by Vardy on the left wing
Rojo gets outmuscled by Vardy on the left flank

Goal 2


This goal was primarily created by the referee with Vardy being pardoned for a rugby styled shoulder barge on Rafael and then a house-of-cards like collapse from the pardoned man was enough to win a penalty. It was bad refereeing.

But Rafael Da Silva needs to learn from his past mistakes as his naivety and over zealousness again cost United dear. The lad is young but has enough games under his belt to know better. If he had carried on instead of placing his trust on the referee, Vardy would have not got that extra yard inside the penalty box.

Also, to note here was that there was no cover from the right centre back,Smalling who should have anticipated the danger of Vardy bypassing Rafael and positioned himself better.

Vardy bypassed Rafael and Smalling was out of position

Goal 3


By this point of time, Leicester City were in full flow with momentum on their side. Again, United should have tried to keep possession and get back the control of the game. But a few unsuccessful clearances and the lack of a ball-winner in the middle of the park saw the ball drop kindly for Esteban Cambiasso who slammed the ball past De Gea. Though Blackett and Blind were in position to may be put in a  better block or rob Cambiasso of possession, what did them in was the lack of communication and inability to take charge.

Blackett and Blind allow Cambiasso a shot on goal

Goal 4

United were looking for a winner and Marcos Rojo was high-up the field, almost like a left winger, with a huge gap behind him. Daley Blind wasn’t withdrawn enough to offer any sort of protection. Rojo gave a poor pass to Mata and De Laet easily brushed him aside, winning the ball with consummate ease. The center-backs Smalling and Blackett were too far apart and Vardy was put in the clear by a very good pass from De Laet. Leicester were in dream land as they left Manchester United staring into the abyss of despair.

Rojo pushed up too high and Blind gets caught up forward

Goal 5


This was an icing on the cake for Leicester. A straight long ball unsettled Blackett who was fouled by Vardy but the Leicester city forward was not penalized and managed to win a second penalty for Leicester with young Tyler Blackett being sent-off for a professional foul. United were demolished in a fashion never witnessed before by a promoted side. What is important is that Rojo, who should have been there covering, was nowhere to be seen.

Blackett gets shrugged of by Vardy who races clear

The third goal epitomized how United lack defensive mindset and balance in the side. Also, the absence of Michael Carrick is hurting the side, as his calmness and composure enables the team to keep hold of the ball at the right times in the right areas. The team lacks any defensive minded players in the team apart from the defenders and may be Daley Blind.

Ander Herrera, no matter how good on the ball, loves to go forward and is not a player who will try to cover the ground on the counter or organize the players in front of him to fall in shape when facing a counter. Daley Blind needs time and has to toughen up to handle the physical onslaught of robust Premier League players.


The defence’s relative lack of experience is something which will not go away overnight but conceding 5 goals is not excusable. One can’t expect Rooney, Mata, Di Maria, Falcao or Van Persie to do much on the defensive side as they are designated to create and score goals.

In a nutshell Daley Blind remains the only player with the job to curtail opposition attacks and with a very jittery and inexperienced backline, his job becomes exponentially harder. It’s not a coincidence United look so great going forward and much more vulnerable when attacked. A senior center-back with commanding leadership skills and a hard-tackling, ball-winning central midfielder perhaps in the mold of Roy Keane are a must in the next transfer-window.

“Attack, attack, attack!” might be the Manchester United way but somebody needs to protect the lead as well. You can’t spend more than you earn, can you?

Published 23 Sep 2014, 21:06 IST
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