Manchester United and Leicester City played out an enthralling 1-1 draw that was punctuated with entertainment, passion and drama, yet the result was not truly desired by either club.
Anthony Martial and Wes Morgan scored first-half goals in the stalemate that mirrors November’s meeting at the King Power Stadium, providing a blow to the Reds’ hopes of finishing in the Barclays Premier League top four with just three matches left to play. The Foxes could also have won the title at Old Trafford had they secured a victory, although their champagne remains on ice for the time being.
The magnitude of this fixture given Leicester’s potential title triumph was reflected inside the stadium, with dozens of media crews from around the world in attendance to report on what is arguably the biggest story in sport. Former England manager Fabio Capello was among the onlookers, working for Italian television, while the director’s box also accommodated a heavily-bearded club legend in Eric Cantona. There was even a rock star, with Kasabian guitarist and Foxes fan Sergio Pizzorno sitting among the fans for this much-discussed game.
Louis van Gaal had told his players prior to kick-off that they “cannot allow” Leicester to win the title at Old Trafford and the Reds were clearly in no mood to host a coronation, judging by the bright start that led to the deadlock being broken on eight minutes. The goal came from Anthony Martial, who met Antonio Valencia’s cross to execute a low near-post finish past Kasper Schmeichel. It was the 20-year-old’s 15th strike of the season and that means he is now United’s top scorer this season.
Leicester displayed their famed team sprit by bouncing back quickly, as captain Wes Morgan lost his marker Marcos Rojo to head Danny Drinkwater’s lofted free-kick past David De Gea from close range on 17 minutes, much to the delight and thrill of the 3,000 travelling supporters in the away end.
There were further chances for both teams before half-time, with Jesse Lingard and Marouane Fellaini both forcing saves from Schmeichel, and Jeffrey Schlupp hitting a deflected effort wide of goal following a neat pass from Riyad Mahrez. The recently anointed PFA Player of the Year could and perhaps should have won a penalty, too, when he was upended by Marcos Rojo on 39 minutes.
The second half began with the physically-imposing Morgan beating Rojo in the air once more to head straight at De Gea, before Martial arched a right-footed effort over the bar moments later. Ex-Reds defender Danny Simpson then watched his deflected cross roll across the six-yard area on 51 minutes, with his Japanese team-team Shinji Okazaki unable to divert it into the net.
A flurry of yellow cards were then distributed to Lingard, Michael Carrick and the industrious Danny Drinkwater, another former United man, as the match became a scrappy affair with both sides jostling for dominance. A spark of creativity was required and, perhaps with that in mind, van Gaal sent substitute Juan Mata onto the field on 61 minutes to register his 100th Reds appearance.
United pushed forward and Fellaini soon saw a header bounce wide of goal from Blind’s corner, before the undeniably gifted Mahrez stung the palms of De Gea with a rasping effort from 20 yards. With 78 minutes on the clock and the match approaching its final act, Chris Smalling then rose to meet Wayne Rooney’s cross from midfield to head onto the outside of Schmeichel’s left-hand post.
Drinkwater was sent off for a second bookable offence on 87 minutes, after dragging back substitute Memphis on the edge of the penalty area, and Schmeichel was forced to make a fine save to deny Rooney from the resulting free-kick. Seconds later, the son of Peter Schmeichel frustrated the United captain again by catching his curling strike from around 25 yards, wrapping up a lively encounter at Old Trafford.