Naive Man United missed the possibility to make a title assertion
LEICESTER, England – Manchester United's Premier League title ambitions weren't significantly affected by a 2-2 draw with Leicester but there was evidence at King Power Stadium that they are still becoming their real rivals.
The result maintains momentum during a hectic course of play, but this seemed like a missed opportunity as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team went through Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes twice to lead the game by just 14 minutes in total.
Defensive rounds, combined with Rashford, who missed two golden chances, and Anthony Martial, who did not allow a goal, indicated that while United have the individual quality and depth to keep champions Liverpool close, they do not have the maturity of a team that knows how to get results has key moments.
The win for both sides would have put Liverpool at the top under pressure, but it turned out that Jurgen Klopp was Boxing Day's biggest winner, whose side faced West Brom on Sunday at Anfield and had a chance to take a six point lead open up on Leicester. United are one point down – albeit with a game in hand – visiting Anfield on January 17th. Your job is to make sure they are still within range until then.
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"We feel disappointed," said Solskjaer afterwards. "The boys are flat in the locker room. We created enough chances to score more goals. We defended well, but they had a moment at the end. We created great opportunities. It was a good football game, end to end." "
Despite the disappointment, it is a sign of progress that United came into the team second in the table and were under-challenged with one point.
Solskjaer's side have not lost a league game since January and in Bruno Fernandes has a player who has increased the entire squad since arriving from Sporting Lisbon almost a year ago.
During this time he has played 28 league games and was directly involved in 31 goals (18 goals, 13 assists). He added two to that record against Leicester, first stabbing a difficult pass for Rashford to score the first and then racing on Edinson Cavani's pass to make it 2-1 with 11 minutes remaining.
"(Fernandes) is definitely a player that influences the results," said Solskjaer. "He scores, creates opportunities and takes risks that every Man United player should be brave enough to take. He is a brave boy. Sometimes there is an easier pass, but you can't take that from Bruno, you want him to be the one is. " X factor. "
ESPN FC's Shaka Hislop reflects on Marcus Rashford's indifferent day for Man United against Leicester.
Solskjaer, however, will have the right to feel hurt by his side by slipping a lead twice by conceding two bad goals. The first was eight minutes after Rashford's goal and the second just six minutes after Fernandes appeared to have won it.
Both Leicester goals – the first by Harvey Barnes and the second as an own goal by Axel Tuanzebe after deflecting Jamie Vardy's shot – were allowed to score despite red jerseys for the ball.
"The pressure on the ball for the first wasn't good enough," said Solskjaer. "The second, we could have stopped the cross and maybe it's a little unhappy about the distraction.
"When you score as often as we do, you have to accept that you are open sometimes. We felt we deserved more from the game. We should have scored the first goal against Harvey Barnes and blocked faster."
Slick in some moments and sloppy in others sums up where United is on the way into the new year. How close they get to a first title since 2013 depends on whether they are more clinical in front of the opposition target and less accommodating in defending their own.
United are unbeaten in eight league games, have played well with their key man Fernandes and a squad that can handle a busy season. Solskjaer has many reasons to believe they can challenge, but has also been reminded of why it will be difficult to stay with a Liverpool team that seem to have rediscovered relentless consistency.
Six points from two home games against Wolves and Aston Villa next week would rekindle the title talks and give United another opportunity to raise the qualification noise when they visit Anfield in mid-January.
Just giving yourself this chance is progress for Solskjaer and his team. To take the next step forward, they need to seize the opportunity.