After their toughest game in quite some time, Leicester held firm against Manchester United on Saturday to come away with a point. Jamie Vardy broke a goalscoring record, but the fact that Leicester aren’t crumbling under pressure from the big boys is surely the bigger story.
The Foxes may even have won that game were it not for a possible goalkeeping error from Kasper Schmeichel for Manchester United’s goal and some uncharacteristic toothlessness on the break from Jamie Vardy when he tried to play in a team mate instead of shooting.
I’m in no way slating Leicester, though. They weren’t big mistakes. I’m pointing them out only to show just how close Leicester came to actually winning the game.
Manchester United were their usual sterile selves, but they’re not still in touch with the leading pack for nothing. They’re a good side with good players who just need to find a spark from somewhere before they can do some serious damage. But it doesn’t look forthcoming.
Then there’s Leicester. You’d also have to say they’re second in the table for a reason. Manchester City and Arsenal have both lost three times this season, United twice. Leicester have only lost once; against Arsenal. And although they may have had a fairly favourable run of games, they’ve still had to win them. They are where they are because they’ve been better than most. And you can’t really argue that they lack that certain spark like United.
No, Leicester didn’t disappoint this weekend. They set up to stifle Manchester United, and stifle them they did. The goal came from a set piece, but those two banks of four were too solid for United to break down from open play – though it may be argued that a wet cardboard box is too structurally sound for United to break down these days. The two up top did their job linking up well in possession to facilitate the counter. And the counter is Leicester’s food and drink.
There will, at some point, come a slump. And not because Leicester aren’t as good as the other teams around them either. The form of Vardy and Mahrez surely mirrors Arsenal’s Sanchez and Ozil or City’s Silva and Aguero, without whom the big teams are understandably weakened. For all intents and purposes, Vardy and Mahrez are Leicester’s pair of world class players.
But the slump will arrive because it arrives for every team every year. Most teams rely on the form of one or two individuals to light up the side. It’s normal for a team to have a particular creative spark that they rely on, or a leader on the pitch who make the team better. That’s part of the normal team dynamic.
What is also normal is an injury scare. So every team has a slump because no team can go a whole season on super-human form. Especially Leicester, given they put so much effort into playing without the ball, staying solid and counter attacking with so much pace and precision. There’s only so many times you can come back from two goals down!
There are still some huge games for Leicester between now and the end of the year, and it would be no surprise to anyone if they slipped down the table quite a bit over the next few weeks.
But they didn’t disappoint this weekend. The game had the feel of a cagey top-of-the-table clash in some ways. It was a game of few clear cut chances, decided by breakaways and set-pieces. It remains to be seen if they can cope with the more all-action styles of Manchester City and Liverpool who may have enough to trouble Leicester more than Manchester United did.
Leicester’s display at the weekend was worthy of their top-of-the-table status, and even if they won’t win the league, surely they can now start dreaming of a top four finish.