Juan Mata stars but Man United punished late for wastefulness vs. Leicester
LEICESTER, England -- Three points from the King Power Stadium on Manchester United's 2-2 draw with Leicester City in the Premier League.
1. Man United punished late for their wastefulness
Being a Manchester United fan must be a frustrating business at the moment. Four days after their defeat to Bristol City in the Carabao Cup, Jose Mourinho's side contrived to throw away two points in a 2-2 draw with 10-man Leicester City, and allow Manchester City to stretch their lead at the top of the Premier League to 13 points.
United should have cruised to three points, after a Juan Mata brace had put them 2-1 ahead going into the final seconds of injury time, after substitute Daniel Amartey had been sent off for Leicester and they missed several glaring chances to make the game safe. But Harry Maguire arrived late in the box in the 95th minute to slide home the equaliser and claim Leicester a point, after Jamie Vardy had given them a first-half lead.
The opening 25 minutes or so didn't offer anything particularly special, bar a couple of smart runs down the left from Anthony Martial and a Romelu Lukaku overhead kick that skewed well over.
But then after 26 minutes, Leicester took the lead. A United attack broke down, they were left with little cover at the back and Wilfried Ndidi boomed a long pass for Riyad Mahrez. A favourable bounce allowed him to check back, calmly assess his options and then play a perfectly-weighted pass for Vardy, steaming in from deep to slot a straightforward finish into the corner for his 50th Premier League goal. The amount of ground Vardy made up was remarkable: it was he who laid the ball off for Ndidi to start the move, about 30 yards from his own goal.
This was a rare occasion when you might question David De Gea. He was oddly passive in coming off his line, allowing Mahrez time to pick his pass and Vardy to shoot. Not that United fans will appreciate any other way in which they're inferior to Manchester City, but one wonders whether Ederson would have been so reticent about advancing.
But, a few minutes before half-time, United were level. Martial's cross from the left was deflected to Jesse Lingard, he neatly laid a pass back to Mata who guided his shot through a thicket of Leicester legs and into the net.
United's attack often looked slightly stilted, and Martial missed a sitter not long after the break. Indeed, for long spells Leicester very much seemed like the better team, Mahrez in particular causing whichever United full-back he chose to run at plenty of problems.
But United took the lead just before the hour mark. They won a free kick on the right side of the box, Mata stepped up and fizzed a shot over the wall and into the net. It was a fine strike, but it wasn't especially near the corner and Kasper Schmeichel appeared to react very slowly as it flew past his despairing dive.
Leicester's task was made even harder 10 minutes later, when substitute Daniel Amartey managed to get himself sent off just 16 minutes after he came on for the injured Danny Simpson. Even more impressively/infuriatingly, it was for two yellow cards, a couple of cynical and brainless trips on Ashley Young and Marcus Rashford, when neither looked like they were doing anything especially threatening.
Rashford and Lingard missed chances to make the game safe, both put through on goal by brilliant passes from Paul Pogba and Lukaku respectively, and eventually they paid for that. As the seconds on the clock disappeared and the fury from the home crowd grew after a number of questionable refereeing decisions, Maguire found himself unmarked in the six-yard box to claim that remarkable equaliser.
2. Mata taking second chance under Mourinho
Earlier this month Mata admitted that, in a Mourinho team, his days as a No. 10 are probably over. Indeed, his Manchester United career might have looked in some peril when Mourinho arrived at the club, partly because of their history at Chelsea but also because Mata really isn't a very "Mourinho" player.
But he's getting plenty of chances in this United team: not in his favoured position, but largely from the right wing, and he's making the most of them.
He offers something that there isn't a massive amount of elsewhere in the United team, namely craft and subtlety in the final third. Only really Paul Pogba offers that, and at the moment he has duties a little deeper on the pitch.
Mata's two goals here were superb in different ways, the first a slotted, eye-of-a-needle finish in a crowded penalty area, the second an expertly-struck free kick that, while Schmeichel might have done a better job at saving, was still a terrific strike in its own right.
Often Mata can be a frustrating player, in that he can slow play down, and it's tempting to think that a United side with both Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, rather than just one or the other, is a much more attacking and thrilling proposition.
But for the moment Mata is more than justifying his place in the team, whether that's in his preferred role or not.
3. Vardy bullies the 'big boys' again
Gareth Southgate's England side have plenty of problems, but in theory he should be pretty relaxed about where their goals are going to come from in the summer.
Shortly after Harry Kane bagged a hat trick for Tottenham against Burnley, his ostensible back-up Vardy was up to his usual tricks for Leicester. And those tricks are scoring goals against big teams: in 40 Premier League games against the "big six", Vardy now has 21 goals. That's getting on to half of all his strikes in the English top flight. Against the rest he has a record of roughly one-in-eight.
Whatever the opposite of a flat-track bully is, that's Vardy. It almost seems churlish to point this out, and the comparison is slightly flawed, but Lukaku's record since Vardy arrived in the Premier League is five in 41 against the big boys.
This iteration of Leicester, no longer competing at the top end of the table, could actually probably do with him scoring a few more times against the weaker sides, but they will nonetheless be pretty happy with their main man's performances in these type of games.
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.