The temptation is to scream, to fling things at other, more robust, things, to swear, to weep, to indulge in an undignified hyperbolic expression of excess emotion. Well, you know, I did some of that on Sunday afternoon. If Sir Alex Ferguson’s legendary comment about football holds true, the King Power Stadium is a portal to a hell not just bloody but drenched in gore, scorching hot and staffed by demons whose principal delight lies in tormenting its denizens with a tantalising mirage of footballing competence, which swiftly evaporates to reveal the blasted wasteland of inadequacy, disorganization and miscommunication underneath. During the second half on Sunday, United didn’t so much lose the plot as stick it on a rocket and shoot it into the nearest black hole. Doing an analysis of this mess may well involve passing through an event horizon of madness, but I’ll give it a shot…
“That Di Maria chap’s a bit special, isn’t he?”
Oh, Lord, yes. He looks good value for his ludicrous price tag. The skill required to conceive and then execute United’s second goal is something we’ve not seen in United colours for a long while. He’s amazing and by far the most exciting of United’s summer acquisitions. His work rate is excellent and his ability to see and play balls whose angles suggest he has more than a passing familiarity with Lovecraftian (non-Euclidean) geometry makes him a stupidly exciting player to watch. United generally looked good going forward and it was nice to see van Persie’s name on the scoresheet, but Di Maria is something special. I actually felt a bit embarrassed for him given the way the match panned out. No one that skilful deserves to have even a tangential role in Sunday’s debacle.
“That Vardy chap’s a bit special, isn’t he?”
His role in that softest of penalties notwithstanding, Leicester’s £1 million buy from Fleetwood Town has pace to burn and a considerable amount of tenacity and skill. While our defence helped him out quite a bit (more of which in a moment), the relentless pressure he put our back line under during the second half was frightening. He had a hand in four of Leicester’s goals and scored the other one – a truly remarkable performance. His cross for Leicester’s first was, as much as I hate to admit it, a thing of beauty, as, for that matter, was Ulloa’s header.
“Clattenburg’s a… [INSERT EXPLETIVE HERE].”
Yeah, well, he is. Vardy fouled Rafael in the lead up to the penalty decision and the penalty itself was very soft. It’s also fair to say that that pair of poor decisions constituted the turning point of the game. That said, they didn’t have to. If Rafael hadn’t decided to take the law into his own hands, if the United defence hadn’t (presumably fuelled by a sense of aggrieved entitlement) fallen apart under the renewed Leicester pressure engendered by the penalty, if our players hadn’t suddenly forgotten how to pass to one another – then we might have had a chance to come out of the game with at least a point and some sense of dignity intact. Instead, we lost all sense of team cohesion and tactical awareness, culminating in Rojo selling Blackett short and the hapless youngster being rightly sent off for bringing down Vardy in the penalty area. When decisions went against them, the United teams of the past generally found a way to channel that sense of injustice into something positive. On Sunday, the team showed a startling mental fragility, something I hope is merely a by-product of so many new signings being embedded into the team. A key factor for me is the lack of leadership in the heart of the defence. Arguably, Evans’ injury really didn’t help in this regard and Jones’ longer term absence is really hurting us. Prior to the international break, he was probably our best player. It’s hard to believe he would make some of the mistakes made on Sunday.
All of the above should not take away from the incredible commitment of the Leicester players and, for that matter, the King Power crowd. They made it hard for United to play once the penalty went in and Leicester played with considerable pace and skill. United’s response to that second half setback was simply not up to scratch, though. According to recent reports, United players conducted an hour long inquest into the game with RVP admitting that the mistakes that led to the goals were not merely ones of defence. Well, good, but we’ve got West Ham tomorrow and no right-sided central defenders. To say I’m apprehensive would be something of an understatement…