Better, much better. United were beaten by the Premier League Champions to be by a narrow margin in a game neither side deserved to win, nor lose. That United lost a game they shouldn’t have and Leicester winning the same – the comparative fortunes of each club were laid bare. Make no mistake though, the changes our new manager made have already had a huge effect.
Predictably leaving Northumberland 40 minutes late we set off in decent spirits with a variety of songs being adapted to fit our new manager’s name. No one was expecting a win or even a point. After suffering the McClaren era, just being competitive was the aim – to make a game of it in ways that we certainly didn’t at Everton and Chelsea. This time United and Benitez faced the hardest game in the league and there was always the possibility that this shell of a side could be done four or five in front of the watching nation.
The team started with the same League One central defensive partnership due to injuries and Colback at left back. Not the best. The rest of the team picked itself with De Jong and Townsend adding a bit of positivity on the bench. No Goufrann either which is proof that Benitez knows exactly what he’s doing. When the game began it was clear that Sissoko was to partner Colback on the left and Perez on the right. The only change I would have made from the starting eleven would have been Saviet for Anita. The Senegelese played OK at Everton in a dreadful side and has yet to really feature since. Strange.
The game started well for us and I looked up 10 minutes in and thought ‘nothing really to fear here’. Leicester are good though not great and they got the rub of the green a few times with their attaching play and United’s bright forays forwards led to little. Overall though, it was a performance that screamed organisation. The players all seemed to know their roles. Partnerships were evident all over the pitch and there was the graft that had been so criminally missing against Bournemouth.
A word on Leicester. Great story. Great manager. Average place and club. I’ve no beef with any Leicester fans but I’d rather they didn’t win the league. The drum. The goal music. The ‘clappers’. The flat pack stadium. The Nandos and Odeon being the closest place for a pint. Keeping the ball in the corner for the last 5 minutes against the second worst side in the league (try and think of any previous Champions doing that). The song book. Every club in League One sings the same songs with the team name changed. Not for me, thanks.
Still it’s around 20 minutes and United are playing well. Competing. Making it hard for once. Jack Colback doesn’t need to give the free kick away. Mahrez is going nowhere (as he did all night) and Colback doesn’t need to commit to anything. Don’t give the referee a decision to make. 40 seconds later United are 1-0 down and the game is up.
We tried. Really tried but never looked like we had a goal in us. What impressed me was the amount of times we managed to win the ball back from Leicester in midfield. Under the previous manager we relied on teams literally passing the ball to us by accident. 48 hours.
The rest of the game was played on the counter attack – by both sides. Benitez’s subs were well timed and all made an impact bar the one made so late. A constant presence on the side lines, the new manager is a man who knows how he wants his sides to play. Better, most likely.
Like we have most of the season, we didn’t really look like scoring. Plenty of endeavour, little quality. Rob Elliot hasn’t made a save and Leicester are five points clear. 5 players playing tonight who wouldn’t start if everyone’s fit. Rob Elliot hasn’t made a save.
Better, much better.
ALEX HURST – Follow Alex on @tfalex1892
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