Sunday 5th February 2017 – Sky Sports 1 HD – 16.00
The final game of this weekend’s Premier League fixtures takes place at the King Power Stadium as Leicester City take on Manchester United. This is a game that both teams really need to win and that should make for a very interesting game.
Leicester are in real trouble this season, currently residing in 16th place in the league just one point above the relegation zone. For Leicester, a home win is a must today especially with Hull City and Sunderland so impressive yesterday. Hull City in particular have had a miraculous turn around since manager Marco Silva took charge with much improved performances of late. Hull have far greater momentum than Leicester at the minute so the Foxes can ill afford to stay static.
The capitulation of Leicester this season puts the champions in a very sticky situation and only 2 wins in the last 14 leave games has mounted pressure on Claudio Ranieri’s side. In that run of games Leicester have conceded 23 goals and only scored 13.
Ranieri spoke of the pressure in his pre match press conference saying:
“They [the players] have to fight for Leicester, not for me. Everybody is fighting, we lost in the 87th minute [at Burnley] and you know how we lost but we fight until the end.”
“The pressure is split to everybody. All my players want to win. Then the pressure is on the manager, always, but it’s not my first year as a manager.”
Leicester’s tally of 21 points from 23 games is the lowest ever total by a reigning top-flight champion at this stage of a season. But to get a win against Man United, Leicester will need to start finding their scoring form once again. They have failed to score in their last 4 league games and are yet score a Premier League goal in 2017. This is a far cry from the dizzying heights of the Vardy and Mahrez partnership last season. Striker Islam Slimani is not available currently out with a groin problem, while fellow forward Leonardo Ulloa is still out with a thigh injury. This gives Leicester even fewer options from the bench if needed.
But Leicester’s record against Man United is not a good one. Their 5-3 victory against Man United in September 2014 is their only win in 17 league and cup games. They will need to turn in a performance similar to that when they beat Man City earlier in the season, as Man United look to capitalise on yet more dropped points from Arsenal and Liverpool yesterday
For Man United, they will be kicking themselves for dropping needless points recently, drawing their last 3 league games, all games they should have won having dominated. If you consider the 6 points dropped from the last 3 draws, it would have put United in 3rd place in the league with today’s game in hand.
This has been the story of the season for Man United, performances have improved on the whole, but all too often haven’t been clinical enough in front of goal. Whilst United are unbeaten in 14 leagues games which in fact is the longest current undefeated streak in the top five European leagues, they have drawn 7 of those games which is costing them dearly. They are level with Middlesbrough in term of games drawn this season, a league high of 9 matches.
For United to really impose themselves in the top 4 race they will need to go on another winning streak to make up for the amount of draws of late.
Much of this has been an over reliance on Zlatan Ibrahimovic to get goals, currently United’s lead goal scorer in the league with 14. Anthony Martial has been left out recently and Mourinho will be looking for him to step up and prove his worth. There is a feeling he needs to give more when given the chance. Marcus Rashford will also be required to contribute more in the way of goals this season.
Mourinho said: “When you see the number of goals we score, there is not a true relation between our attacking production and the number of players we put in attacking positions and the number of goals we score.”
The disadvantage however with not playing these two young strikers is the United line-up will seriously lack pace up top. This is a big part of the problem for United who struggle to break teams down as opposition defend deep. More pace up top will allow for swifter counter attacks, and no defenders like a player with pace running at them, just ask the Arsenal defence yesterday with Eden Hazard bearing down on them.
This lack of pace means United often strike late after wearing teams down. In fact the last 8 league goals have all been scored in the final 30 minutes of the match. 6 of those goal have come from the 82nd minute onwards. Whilst this shows that Mourinho’s men are willing to fight and do keep applying pressure until the very end of games, it does mean that they are making harder work for themselves than need be. You feel an early goal today though could open the flood gates.
This is a game that both teams need to win, for different reasons, but it seems hard to see how Leicester will take the 3 points. With that said Man United have continuously failed to exploit situations when the teams above them drop points, you wouldn’t be surprised if this ends as another draw.
By Michael Thatcher