Manchester United moved back up to third in the Barclays Premier League Table with a comfortable 3-1 victory over basement club Leicester City, leaving the Foxes three points from safety at the foot of the table. The result ensured that United’s excellent home record this campaign continued, meaning the Reds have now been victorious in nine of their twelve home league games this season under Louis Van Gaal – in stark contrast to the previous campaign.
Van Gaal opted for a 4-1-3-2 formation, with Dutchman Daley Blind playing as a holding midfielder, captain Wayne Rooney once again in midfield alongside Di Maria and Adnan Januzaj, with the 19-year-old starting his first league match since the November 8 win over Crystal Palace; and Radamel Falcao partnering Robin Van Persie up front for the home side. LVG once again, much to the dismay of many, took the decision to omit £29 million Spanish playmaker Ander Herrera from the starting 11.
United appeared to make a relatively slow start to the game, with Luke Shaw picking out Van Persie in the penalty area early on, however United’s number 20 failed to connect properly with the cross and saw his effort fly way off target. However, the former Arsenal man soon made amends when, on 27 minutes, he gave United the lead, steering the ball past keeper Mark Schwarzer on the half-volley following a brilliantly weighted pass from the impressive Daley Blind. This was RVP’s first United goal since the Boxing Day win over Newcastle United – however his manager later admitted that his goal should have actually been ruled offside.
The Reds doubled their advantage just 5 minutes later, when Angel Di Maria’s saved effort was scrambled in by Radamel Falcao, with the Columbian forward scoring his fourth United goal and second at Old Trafford.
United were 3-0 up and out of sight right before the interval, when Leicester defender Wes Morgan headed past his own keeper following Daley Blind’s flick-on from a Wayne Rooney corner, with Dutch international Blind bagging his second assist of the half.
The hosts were unable to add to their lead after the break, with Marcin Wasilewski grabbing a late consolation goal for the visiting side with a header from Marc Albrighton’s cross, with David de Gea clearly furious at losing his clean sheet. Fortunately though there was to be no dramatic comeback from the Foxes this time as there was in the reverse fixture in September, as the Reds ran out comfortable winners, and enjoying 71% of overall ball possession.
Although not a vintage United display – some might argue that we should have won by a bigger margin – the scoreline will no doubt have pleased the manager and the United faithful, and the win leaves the Reds only 5 points behind second-placed Manchester City, after their 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge. Van Gaal stated after the match: “I am very happy because of the positive result. We lost the last home match (Southampton) so we had to show to our fans that we are coming back again”. Up next for Van Gaal’s side is Cambridge United on Tuesday night in the FA Cup 4th round replay, followed by a tricky trip to Upton Park to face Sam Allardyce’s West Ham on Sunday, February 8.
United line-up (4-1-3-2): De Gea, Valencia (Mata 77′), Rojo, Shaw, Blind, Rooney (C), Januzaj, Di Maria, Falcao (Wilson 80′), Van Persie (McNair 68′). Subs not used: Smalling, Herrera, Fellaini, Valdes. Referee: Martin Atkinson Attendance: 75,329.
Man of the Match: Daley Blind – With two assists, the Dutchman impressed all afternoon, was effective in breaking up the opposition’s play, providing excellent cover for the back four, whilst also posing a considerable threat going forward.