Thursday 13 December 2018

Maguire strikes late to cap a miserable week for Mourinho

Leicester City 2 Manchester United 2

Harry Maguire squeezes the ball past David de Gea for Leicester City’s injury time equaliser. Photo: Getty Images
Harry Maguire squeezes the ball past David de Gea for Leicester City’s injury time equaliser. Photo: Getty Images

Ed Aarons

It was all looking so promising for José Mourinho. Having seen his Manchester United side come back from conceding the opening goal to lead 2-1 through two strikes from Juan Mata, a last-minute lapse of concentration in defence allowed Harry Maguire to snatch a point for Leicester with the final kick of the match.

United appeared to be coasting when substitute Daniel Amartey was sent off for a second booking 16 minutes from time, but rather than close the game out and head into the Christmas period with an 11-point gap to leaders Manchester City, Mourinho's side now face the chasm of a 13-point deficit with only half of the season played.

Jamie Vardy of Leicester City celebrates scoring the opening goal with his team. Photo: Getty Images
Jamie Vardy of Leicester City celebrates scoring the opening goal with his team. Photo: Getty Images

This ground has bad memories for José Mourinho after the 2-1 defeat to Claudio Ranieri's title-chasers two years ago proved to be the last act in his second spell as Chelsea manager.

There have been shades of the manager who lost control so quickly at Stamford Bridge about the Portuguese's demeanour this season and his reaction to the League Cup defeat to Championship side Bristol City in midweek was an indication of the strain he is under.

The return of Paul Pogba to Premier League action after his suspension at least gave Mourinho a reason to be cheerful, with the Frenchman captaining the side in the absence of Antonio Valencia - one of only three players to keep his place from the defeat at Ashton Gate.

After four straight victories under Claude Puel, Leicester's bubble was burst by the surprise home defeat to Crystal Palace last week and the penalty shootout loss to City .

Manchester United's Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho gestures. Photo: Getty Images
Manchester United's Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho gestures. Photo: Getty Images

Puel was criticised for starting that game with Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez on the bench when the competition perhaps represented their best chance of silverware, and he reverted to his first-choice side for this meeting, with the £30m (€34m) striker Islam Slimani named in the matchday squad for the first time since the start of November. It was United who showed their intention to take the game to their opponents in the opening exchanges.

Chris Smalling should have done better with a headed chance from Juan Mata's centre in only the third minute, while Jesse Lingard and Pogba tested Kasper Schmeichel with early efforts. But after the initial burst, the visitors began to look laboured going forward, with Romelu Lukaku again struggling to make an impact.

Having created virtually nothing beforehand, however, it was a classic piece of counter-attacking that helped Leicester go ahead. Lingering around the edge of his own penalty area, Vardy pounced on a clearance and laid the ball into the path of Wilfred Ndidi, whose first-time pass sailed over the United defence and into the path of the onrushing Mahrez.

The Algerian was forced to check his run slightly but showed great awareness to pause briefly before laying the ball to Vardy on a plate. Leicester's joy was short-lived, though, as a canny left-footed finish from just inside the area from Mata after a clever layoff from Jesse Lingard saw United head in at the break on level terms.

Despite that setback, Leicester persisted with the tactic of sitting deep and attempting to strike out on the break. It almost paid dividends seven minutes into the second half when more brilliance from Mahrez saw him reach the byline, only for Demarai Gray to miss the ball completely when it was played across the face of goal, with David De Gea saving the follow-up from Christian Fuchs. United hit back immediately as Lukaku turned provider for Martial but the Frenchman's finish was woeful - much to the annoyance of Mourinho.

Martial partially redeemed himself minutes later when he won a free-kick on the edge of the box and Mata stepped up to curl home his second goal, although Schmeichel will feel he could have done more to prevent the ball from finding the net having presented his opponent with a yawning gap to aim at.

Puel threw on Shinji Okazaki in an attempt to find a way back into the game but it was United who continued to carry the grater threat.

Lingard struck the post after a brilliant through ball from Lukaku allowed him to round Schmeichel, but it was the sending off of Amartey for a second yellow card following a reckless bodycheck on Marcus Rashford less than 20 minutes after he had replaced Danny Simpson that appeared to have ended the game as a contest.

But in the final minute of injury time, everything fell apart for United. Marc Albrighton's excellent deep cross picked out the unmarked Maguire at the back post and, having fluffed a great chance on the stroke of half-time, this time the England defender made no mistake to send United into the second half of the campaign knowing their hopes of a 21st title are virtually over already.

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