Leicester are just one point above the relegation zone after a 0-3 defeat at home by Manchester United left them still searching for a first league win in 2017. A dour opening half came to life just before the break when the visitors scored twice in two minutes.
First, Henrikh Mkhitaryan latched onto Chris Smalling’s flick-on and raced through on goal before beating Kasper Schmeichel with a clinical finish. Zlatan Ibrahimovic then took advantage of terrible marking by the Premier League champions to side-foot home his 15th Premier League goal of the season.
Juan Mata ensured there was no way back for the hosts when he finished off a one-two with Mkhitaryan early in the second half. Journalists report that Leicester never looked like scoring, with their only shot on target a tame Wilfred Ndidi strike just before half-time. Manchester United as a result remains in the hunt for a top-four finish as they are now sixth, one point behind Liverpool and two behind fourth-placed Arsenal.
Jose Mourinho was in charge of Chelsea the last time he visited the King Power Stadium. That was in December 2015 and he was sacked the day after a defeat that strengthened Leicester’s title charge. This time it is Foxes boss Claudio Ranieri who is under pressure. Far from defending their title, they are very much in a relegation dogfight and went into Sunday’s game looking to record their first league win since New Year’s Eve. A pacy attack of Ahmed Musa and Jamie Vardy promised much but ultimately offered little.
Vardy was in particular a shadow of the striker who scored in 11 consecutive Premier League games last season. The Foxes have now failed to score a league goal in five games this year, but of equal concern for Ranieri will have been his side’s defending. Ibrahimovic was left unmarked to poke home Manchester United’s second and then Wes Morgan played two players onside for the third.
Leicester has not won away all season in the league, so it is their home form that has kept them out of the drop zone so far. Eighteen of their 21 points have been collected at the King Power Stadium.
This defeat, though, was their third in six home games and Ranieri will need to get things back on track quickly. That is if the Foxes are to avoid being the first reigning top-flight champions to be relegated since Manchester City in 1938. On the other hand, Manchester United have been far too reliant on Ibrahimovic this season.
The evergreen Swedish striker is the club’s leading scorer with 10 more league goals than any other Manchester United player. In an effort to relieve the Swede’s burden, Mourinho started Marcus Rashford alongside him in a 4-4-2 formation. It quickly became evident that Ibrahimovic was far more effective in a central role and after 20 minutes Mourinho reverted to 4-2-3-1. This pushed Rashford, Mkhitaryan and Mata behind the former Paris St-Germain striker.
The change immediately improved the visitors’ attacking strength as the pace of Mkhitaryan and Rashford, coupled with Mata’s creativity, stretched Leicester’s defence.
It left gaps for Manchester United to exploit, which they did to full effect, and in the end Leicester could not cope. Though United will arguably face tougher defences this season, three different goalscorers and a convincing win will give Mourinho confidence his side can challenge for the top four. This is in the face of the fact that Liverpool and Arsenal’s own challenge is now faltering.