Leicester City took on Manchester United at the King Power stadium on Saturday with neither manager overly enjoying life at the minute.
Brendan Rodgers’ side went into the game sitting in the bottom half of the table, while Ole Gunnar Solskear was under pressure given United had a draw and three defeats from their previous four games.
To add extra interest, bookmakers had installed the current Leicester manager as favourite to be the next manager in the hot seat should there be a change at Old Trafford.
It all made for an intriguing backdrop but how would the game go?
Rodgers made no less than five changes in personnel to his Leicester team. He also altered their shape as they went away from the 4-4-2 they had fielded in their previous game against Crystal Palace, and instead opted for a 5-3-2.
Solskjaer also rang the changes, making five of his own, but stuck with their usual 4-2-3-1 shape. This would see both teams match up 3 v 3 in the centre of the field with the battle between the two sides’ ‘box to box’ players, Youri Tielemans and Paul Pogba, likely to have a big impact on how the game would go.
This certainly proved to be the case.
Tielemans destroys Pogba
Rarely can there have been a more comprehensive victor in a battle between two players who would be perceived to be of a similar standard. On Saturday, Tielemans gave the sort of all-round display that United fans desperately wish they could see from Pogba on a regular basis.
And while there may have been a lot more going on on the field than just a battle between two players, Tielemans’ destruction of Pogba was the winning of the game and therefore deserves to be deconstructed.
So how did he do it?
The gap in the level of intelligence, and more importantly the desire, that these two players showed both in and out of possession was astounding and surely proved beyond all doubt that Pogba cannot be fielded in the centre of the field for Man United again in any of their ‘bigger’ games.
Below, we see the first example of this from early in the game. Pogba initially does a half decent job of getting close to Tielemans but then allows him to wander away, receive the ball a bit deeper and get turned.
By the time he tries to close him down Tielemans has already lifted his head and slides a ball in between Pogba and Matic to find James Maddison in a good position.
As Maddison spreads it wide to Kelechi Iheanacho, Pogba looks to have retreated into a position that will allow him to pick up the Leicester attacker, but he then fails to go with his run. Iheanacho returns the pass to Maddison, who is now goal side of Pogba but can’t quite dig it out from under his feet and find Jamie Vardy at the back post.
Later in the half, we see a similar situation. Again Pogba starts off in a decent position, but Tielemans’ movement takes him away from him and this allows him to open out and start an attack.
Three passes later and Tielemans is picking up the ball further forward in space and again slides it between Nemanja Matic and Pogba (who has managed to run into the referee!) to find Maddison, who turns and creates a chance that both Ricardo Pereira and Vardy just fail to finish.
Soon after his brilliant equalising goal, which we’ll come back to, Tielemans was causing the exact same problem again.
He pulls away from Pogba to receive the pass and then moves the ball on to Boubakary Soumare before the Frenchman can get close to him.
Pogba at this stage seems to give up on the idea of trying to close him down anymore and retreats back into his own half.
But even this is done too slowly and yet again Tielemans finds Maddison by firing a ball in between Matic and Pogba. A desperate lunging interception from Aaron Wan-Bissaka just about manages to stop Maddison from putting Vardy through on goal.
Next it was the turn of Tielemans and Maddison to swap roles as Matic again gets turned inside out while Pogba watches on from afar.
Maddison drops in and plays a one-two with Tielemans. The Belgian international then sees his opportunity to advance forward and now its Maddison’s turn to return the favour and find him with a through ball past Matic.
Tielemans carries the ball then passes to Iheanacho, whose shot goes just wide of the right-hand post.
More than just a passer
Having given an exhibition of what he could do with the ball in the first forty-five minutes, Tielemans proceeded to show that there was even more to his game in second half.
With the match hanging in the balance, he rolled up his sleeves and went to work defensively.
In the first minute of the half, Tielemans anticipates Luke Shaw’s pass to Jadon Sancho and moves in to close him down. Bundling Sancho to the ground, he streaks away with the ball before setting Iheanacho up with another shooting opportunity that David De Gea saves.
The high point in the Tielemans show almost arrived as the game ticked into the 75th minute. As Matic ran with the ball towards Soumare, Tielemans dropped back in to help his team-mate and intercepted an attempted pass.
As the ball broke loose, Pogba looked favourite to pick it up but the Belgian again showed more hunger and nicked it away from him. While Pogba complained to the referee, Tielemans raced away and struck his shot brilliantly only to see De Gea somehow manage to push it onto the post.
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Three minutes later, United wouldn’t be so lucky and you hardly need to be told who was instrumental yet again.
As Harry Maguire get his head to the ball, Tielemans is again closing down Pogba to ensure he can’t receive it in space.
But as the ball is helped on toward Cristiano Ronaldo, he spots the opportunity to drop back in, challenge him and flick the ball away to Jonny Evans.
Leicester launch an attack which ends with substitute Patson Daka’s shot forcing De Gea into another great save, but at the expense of a corner.
From said corner, Caglar Soyuncu turns the ball home to put Leicester ahead 2-1.
But Tielemans wasn’t finished yet. Just two minutes later, he again showed the energy and desire that continuously left United, and Pogba in particular, floundering.
As Timothy Castange releases Ayoze Perez down the left-hand side Pogba is almost ten yards goal side of the Belgian. Yet just seven seconds later, as Vardy lifts his head to pass, Pogba is playing catch up yet again.
That Tielemans then had the wherewithal to pick out a player that can’t even be seen in this picture was just further proof of the sort of day he was having.
Ricardo Pereira should have made the game safe but fired wide.
Pogba’s lack of interest in the defensive side of the game is hardly news to Man United fans, or their manager, but it’s not often that his direct opponent highlights those deficiencies as starkly as they were here.
Had Tielemans been wearing Pogba’s jersey in this game would Manchester United have still lost the game? I doubt it.
Other issues were plentiful and shouldn’t be ignored either. Matic was a non-event. The centre-back pairing couldn’t handle having to mark a front two. Ronaldo huffed and puffed but was ultimately fruitless.
And what about the manager? He now faces Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea inside his next five games.
Could we see new Manchester United manager Brendan Rodgers packing Pogba off to PSG and signing Youri Tielemans as his replacement in the January transfer window?
It’s going to be an interesting end to the year at Old Trafford, that’s for sure.Internet Explorer Channel Network