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Man Utd are starting to find some consistency in performances and selection as they enter a crunch period of the season. They demonstrated their attacking power once again against Leicester City in a 2-2 draw but fell just short of a statement win.

One of the main criticisms leveled at United during Solskjaer’s reign has been their inconsistency in results. Aside from a couple of setbacks in the Champions League,  which saw them dumped out of the competition, the Red Devils have been pretty consistent domestically over the past couple of months. Since their 1-0 loss at Old Trafford on November 1, the Red Devils have beaten Everton, West Brom, Southampton, West Ham, Sheffield United and Leeds on their way to eight Premier League matches unbeaten.

However, it has been the ‘Big Six’ sides and teams around the top of the table who Man Utd have struggled to get the wins against this term. United haven’t managed to get that statement victory over one of the Premier League’s bigger clubs, with United failing to impress in losses to Tottenham and Arsenal and goalless draws with Chelsea and Manchester City. Leicester may not be part of the so-called ‘Big Six ‘ but they are second in the Premier League table and a draw for Man Utd should be seen as a good result for Solskjaer’s side despite the story of the fixture.

Speaking ahead of the game, Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson claimed: “If United go and win at Leicester, this would be a bigger statement than beating Leeds 6-2. If they can come away with a win, I would think ‘wow’. It would turn my head and if they win they would be Liverpool’s main rivals.”

As good as that victory over Leeds was, there would have been an extra satisfaction about a win over the Foxes. A draw is a long way from disaster for the Red Devils, with United now four points behind leaders Liverpool, having played the same amount of matches. In truth, Jurgen Klopp’s men look a cut above the rest this season ahead of their match against second-bottom West Brom over the weekend. A win today for United would’ve been a statement of sorts, making them the Reds’ main rivals for the title – but even then there would’ve been huge doubts over a title challenge for a team that wasn’t expected to be in such a good situation at Christmas.

Leicester had lost 19 Premier League matches against Man Utd coming into the fixture, more than against any other side. While Brendan Rodger’s side have already lost four times at home this season, with all the omens pointing to a positive results for the Red Devils. United could’ve easily won the game with the chances they had as Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes both missed first-half headers, when they were unmarked in the box. Rashford’s chance in particular looked easier to score than miss but that passage of play after only a few minutes, set the tone for the match. It was end-to-end stuff and Man Utd went into the break drawing 1-1 with Harvey Barnes’ superb 20-yard strike cancelling out Rashford’s cool finish to open the scoring.

United took the lead again late on through Fernandes, who also got the assist for the opening goal, but it was their fragility at the back that cost them again as Jamie Vardy’s strike took a deflection off Axel Tuanzebe and trickled past David de Gea. It is still only three clean sheets in 14 Premier League matches this season for United and Merson’s pre-match prediction that they need to improve their defence before they can be considered serious challengers looks to be correct. Merson said: “With United, I don’t feel like they’ve got the cover required at centre-half to win the Premier League at present. You would probably say United are Liverpool’s nearest threat, and I wouldn’t have said that three weeks ago.”

Fernandes’ contribution was spot on again, providing a goal and assist after already starting matches against Leeds and Everton in the past six days. His energy with and without the ball was outstanding and his quality on the ball was great too, aside from losing possession for Leicester’s opener. Solskjaer employed a 4-2-3-1 formation again at the King Power, which has worked so well for them in recent weeks, and that stability in approach is producing consistent performances and results. The Red Devils probably won’t win the Premier League this season but they certainly look set to have a better campaign overall. Two home fixtures against Wolves and Aston Villa follow as they prepare to face Liverpool at Anfield on January 17.

Joe Williams

 



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