A sluggish Manchester United were made to work incredibly hard to seal a 1-1 draw with Leicester City on Saturday.
The first chance fell to Leicester and Harvey Barnes, whose glancing header from a free-kick looped over the bar and nestled onto the roof of the net after just two minutes. Barnes then twice fired wide from range ten minutes later, with David de Gea not tested but clearly aware of the potential threat in front of him.
United, who were without the unwell Cristiano Ronaldo, gave up a lot of possession early on but still enjoyed some really nice moments on the ball. Their quick passing was a problem for Leicester, but the lack of forward presence seemed to be stunting any progress.
Paul Pogba, who was up top in Ronaldo’s absence, sent an arching header comfortably into the gloves of Kasper Schmeichel with his side’s first real attempt on goal 20 minutes in.
Schmeichel did then have to make a proper save when Bruno Fernandes found himself through on goal. The Dane made himself big and got a foot to the strike, stopping the best chance of the game so far.
On the half-hour mark, Kelechi Iheanacho missed his own excellent chance. He curled wide from the edge of the area and again failed to test De Gea, which summed up the first 45 pretty well; both teams threatened to be good but lacked any real quality going forwards.
That trend continued into the second half. It was United who looked most threatening, but efforts on Schmeichel’s goal were few and far between even after the introduction of Marcus Rashford.
Against the run of play, it was Leicester who took the lead. The Foxes countered a counter and James Maddison’s gorgeous cross was perfectly headed home by Kelechi Iheanacho shortly after the hour mark.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Fred fired into the back of the net after Schmeichel spilled a shot down to his feet with 24 minutes to go.
Leicester were the better side as the clock ticked on and they were nearly back ahead soon after courtesy of a header from Wesley Fofana, but David de Gea pulled off an excellent save to deny the young Frenchman.
With ten minutes to go, Leicester thought they had their goal when James Maddison fired home, but VAR intervened and spotted a foul by Iheanacho in the build-up, although it looked soft.
United took control in stoppage time and both Rashford and Jadon Sancho had chances to snatch a late winner for United. Neither did enough from a late cross and the latter ultimately dragged his strike wide with the last real opportunity of the match.
Man Utd player ratings
1. Goalkeeper & defenders
David de Gea (GK) – 6/10 – Didn’t need to do much at all but his save to deny Fofana was superb.
Diogo Dalot (RB) – 5/10 – Too negative with his attacking. United avoided his wing for the most part and he wasted most of the chances he got to make something happen.
Harry Maguire (CB) – 6/10 – Switched onto the other side of the defence and, with the whole crowd behind him, had a nice game.
Raphael Varane (CB) – 6/10 – Defended well and had a lot of chances to make something happen going forwards, but the lack of a target in attack was an obvious issue.
Luke Shaw (LB) – 6/10 – Involved in a lot down the left but didn’t really do a lot. Battled through a foot injury he picked up in the first half but was forced off at the break.
Scott McTominay (CM) – 3/10 – Lacked any form of urgency. Really struggled to make anything happen before being hauled off. Should probably have seen red.
Fred (CM) – 7/10 – Put in an absolute shift and looked as likely as anyone to make something happen. Took his goal well.
Anthony Elanga (AM) – 4/10 – Not really involved on the right side. Felt a little isolated at times.
Jadon Sancho (AM) – 5/10 – A little too slow with his movement but got into a few nice positions.
Paul Pogba (ST) – 5/10 – Clearly not whatever this weird system expects him to be. Did a little better after the break when he dropped deeper.
Bruno Fernandes (ST) – 4/10 – Another awkward fit.
Alex Telles (LB, 46′ for Shaw) – 5/10 – Didn’t cover himself in glory in his 45 minutes on the pitch.
Marcus Rashford (ST, 55′ for McTominay) – 5/10 – Needed a big performance here but didn’t produce it.
Nemanja Matic (CM, 75′ for Pogba) – 5/10 – Came on to try and keep Leicester at bay but found the pace hard to deal with.
Leicester player ratings
5. Goalkeeper & defenders
Wesley Fofana (CB) – 6/10 – Looked a little rusty at times but hard to really complain. Nearly netted a superb header.
Timothy Castagne (LB) – 6/10 – Not really tested by Elanga and Dalot.
Nampalys Mendy (DM) – 7/10 – Didn’t have too many struggles at the base of Leicester’s midfield.
James Maddison (RM) – 6/10 – Feels a bit wasted out wide but his cross for Iheanacho’s goal was superb. Unlucky not to get a goal late on.
Youri Tielemans (CM) – 5/10 – Lacked the creativity needed to take control of this game.
Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall (CM) – 7/10 – A nice engine in midfield. Did his best to bring the spark this match desperately needed.
Harvey Barnes (LM) – 7/10 – Got into some really nice positions but lacked composure in front of goal. Leicester’s main threat.
Daniel Amartey (CB, 64′ for Evans) – 5/10 – Definitely not good enough to be a starter.
Patson Daka (ST, 90′ for Daka) – N/A
Hamza Choudhury (DM, 90′ for Mendy) – N/A
Daniel Buck is a teacher and a senior visiting fellow at the Fordham Institute. His writing can be found at Time Plus News, City Journal, and Quillette.