Monday 11 December 2017

Wretched Foxes facing ferocious dog fight lies ahead for

Leicester City 0 Man United 3

Leicester City's Jamie Vardy feels the pain during yesterday’s defeat. Photo: Carl Recine/Reuters
Leicester City's Jamie Vardy feels the pain during yesterday’s defeat. Photo: Carl Recine/Reuters

Jason Burt

The 'Post Horn Gallop' is still played at Leicester City and it has now taken on new significance.

The Foxes are being hunted and, more immediately, their manager Claudio Ranieri is fighting for his job after this humiliating defeat to Manchester United.

Leicester do not want to sack their manager; they stuck with Nigel Pearson and he finally avoided relegation two seasons ago and the mood is to carry on if possible.

They are desperate to back Ranieri but the champions are in real danger of going down and unless they can quickly turn around their season after this, at times, shambolic display, the Italian will surely not see it out. He will go from World Coach of the Year to the sack within one campaign.

Manchester United's Juan Mata celebrates scoring his side's third goal of the game during the Premier League match against Leicester City. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA
Manchester United's Juan Mata celebrates scoring his side's third goal of the game during the Premier League match against Leicester City. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA

They are just a point above the relegation zone, but even more damning is the evidence presented here of a team who appear to have lost their way; who even appear not to be able to muster the effort; who cannot score a goal (almost nine hours in the league); and who seem dispirited, disorganised, disintegrating.

Turning

Sometimes there comes a game which has to be the turning point or the end.

This felt like that game and there was an irony, of course, that it was Jose Mourinho in the opposing dug-out.

The last time he was at the King Power Stadium, in December 2015, he was the Premier League champion fighting for his job. He lost and was sacked a few days later.

Leicester now have a decision to make as they prepare to play Derby County in an FA Cup replay on Wednesday and then Swansea City away next Sunday - before a 10-day gap and, irony of ironies, a Champions League last-16 tie away to Sevilla.

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford (right) and Leicester City's Danny Simpson battle for the ball during the Premier League match at the King Power Stadium. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA
Manchester United's Marcus Rashford (right) and Leicester City's Danny Simpson battle for the ball during the Premier League match at the King Power Stadium. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA

It is almost surreal for Leicester and that sequence of games sums it up.

As the montage from last season's Premier League glory was played on the big screens before kick-off, it jarred even more as to what then was about to unfold.

For United, without Wayne Rooney through illness, it was a result that kept them in their own hunt as they chase down the top four and attempt to remain in contention for a Champions League place.

There were goals from Henrik Mkhitaryan, who was sublime, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Juan Mata, who was possibly fortunate not to be sent off for an ugly tackle in the first-half when the encounter was still goalless.

Ranieri did not grab for an excuse when it was offered to him but his comment on Mata was telling.

"Last season everything was right for us. This season everything is wrong for us," he lamented and it was probably a line that was flashing through his mind as he stood watching this debacle unfold.

Mourinho spoke of "killing the emotion of the opponent" and United certainly did that. Stone dead.

Jose is also GI Jose, who has his short, 'going to war' haircut that he sometimes sports at the business end of the season. His team are on the shoulder - a point behind fifth-placed Liverpool and, more importantly, just two behind fourth-placed Arsenal.

They have extended their unbeaten league run to 15 matches. If only they had converted a couple of those seven drawn games, but they have momentum.

Finally they had a ruthless edge and Mkhitaryan, once he was moved into the middle and became more involved, was the key.

Two goals came inside 90 seconds, just before half-time.

For the first, the Armenian latched on to a header forward by Chris Smalling, his deft first touch taking Robert Huth out of the game. Suddenly, he was clear on goal, scampering away from the trailing Leicester defenders before steering in a right-footed shot which Kasper Schmeichel could only deflect high into the net.

The second soon followed, with Ibrahimovic pulling away to reach Antonio Valencia's low cross and fire a superb first-time shot past the helpless Schmeichel.

It was his 20th goal of the season - the 10th successive campaign he has reached that mark, at least - and he also became the oldest player, at 35 years and 125 days, to score 15 Premier League goals in a season.

If the Swede is ageing well, Leicester's defence is not. This was another horrific afternoon for Huth, Wes Morgan - in particular - and Christian Fuchs.

And it got worse. All had erred with Ibrahimovic's goal and then there was a chaotic culpability when Mata claimed the third.

Maybe Mata should have already been dismissed - he slid in recklessly on Jamie Vardy, painfully catching the striker - but referee Anthony Taylor only cautioned the United midfielder and, inevitably, Leicester suffered.

Mata played a sharp one-two with Mkhitaryan - who else - and ran on to coolly to slip the ball past Schmeichel. Fuchs was caught on his heels; Morgan was caught foolishly playing Mata onside.

The mood turned sour. And then rebellious as Mata collected a simple lofted pass - Fuchs again allowing him to run free - but he could only dink the ball into Schmeichel's arms. Even Mata appeared embarrassed by the time and space he was afforded.

The final whistle was a relief for Leicester and their beleaguered, haunted, hunted manager. © Daily Telegraph, London.

Telegraph.co.uk

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