Football Features

Outscored only by Salah: Man Utd’s ‘Atlas’ cements elite tier status in 2-2 Leicester City draw

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 14:48, 26 December 2020 | Updated: 14:28, 21 September 2022

In an open afternoon of football, Manchester United and Leicester played out a 2-2 draw on Boxing Day.

The result was the first time United had failed to win an away game and also represented the Foxes first draw of the league campaign. It was an open and even contest, but what did we learn?

1. Bruno Fernandes’ travelling salvation show

How good is Bruno Fernandes? The answer is very good. Very, very good. Frankly the degree to which Bruno Fernandes is good cannot really be overstated. In the 28 Premier League games he has played since signing for Manchester United, the Portuguese has a massive 31 direct goal involvements (18 goals, 13 assists). That is absolutely ludicrous, and yet again today he was the difference.

His first involvement, an assist for Marcus Rashford, kind of summed up just how good he is because he was just reaching to try and grab a poor Dan James pass and somehow managed to redirect the ball into the path of Rashford.

His second involvement, what looked like the game-winner when it happened, was a delicious run off the shoulder of the last defender and a very sharp finish against an imposing Kasper Schmeichel.

Yes United couldn’t hold out for the victory, but Bruno Fernandes’ travelling salvation show continues its tour all around the Premier League. When he plays, so do United. He carries the team on his shoulders like an Iberian Atlas; a true titan. Others have greater reputations and have won more silverware, but Fernandes is unquestionably the league’s most dominant playmaker.

2. Youri Tielemans is magic 

It’s rare for an elite midfielder to be able to play and thrive for a non-elite side across multiple seasons, yet that is exactly what Youri Tielemans appears to be doing at Leicester. The Belgian was sensational at the King Power as he matched wits with the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba.

In truth he more than held his own against the superstars and dominated Scott McTominay and Fred to such a degree that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer brought Paul Pogba off the bench to reinforce midfield and when he made his game-changing substitution late, he didn’t reduce the number of men he had in midfield such was his desire to contain Tielemans.

The Belgian had 107 touches (a game-high), 6/6 take-ons (a game-high), 79 passes (a game-high) with 68 completed (a game-high). Even though the result didn’t fully go Leicester’s way, he put in the kind of performance that screamed Champions League. If Leicester can’t qualify for Europe’s top competition next season then surely a club that does make it will sign him.

Youri Tielemans needs to play on the biggest stages possible, he has the talent to do so.

3. United’s squad depth is imposing 

Manchester United began the match with Edinson Cavani, Mason Greenwood, Paul Pogba, Donny van de Beek and Alex Telles on the bench. The Red Devils have had huge issues since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, and the lack of genuine and functional squad depth is one of them.

Yes Louis van Gaal could and often did have the likes of Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao on the bench, but at that stage those guys were just names. Now United’s depth carries name recognition and the ability to influence games.

United put out a functional side to start the game but when they began struggling in midfield, they brought Paul Pogba on to help reassert control and he did. And then when they needed some oomph in attack, on came Edinson Cavani. Edinson Cavani!

And of course Cavani got the assist for United’s second goal, proving how real and impactful their squad depth is.

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4. Little mistakes continue to cost United

Manchester United didn’t dominate the game, per se, but they did have the lion’s share of the good chances and really should have scored more than the two goals that they did. Three headed sitters were particularly poor misses.

But scoring twice should have been enough for United to contain Leicester, which they mostly managed to do. Except those little mistakes that have bugged them all season cropped up yet again. For Leicester’s first goal Bruno Fernandes gives the ball away poorly, then Scott McTominay doesn’t close out Harvey Barnes and David de Gea is slow to get across. Then for the second goal Luke Shaw is so sloppy to allow Ayoze Perez to get the cross off.

5. Jamie Vardy is inevitable

There’s only a few minutes left to go and Leicester City need a big goal against a big side. Jamie Vardy has been kept quiet all game long, denied of good service and not looking at his most lively. What do you think is going to happen?

Jamie Vardy is going to score.

Of course he’s going to score.

Jamie Vardy always scores.

When Leicester face-down big sides, Vardy is a footballing Thanos. Utterly inevitable. His movement to dart away from the centre-backs was miraculous and his scuffed finish deflected in off Axel Tuanzebe so severely that it might even go down as an own goal rather than Vardy’s strike. But it was his goal, the creation of his will and determination.

He will always have a say.