King Power draw shows Manchester United have the depth to stage a title challenge… but Paul Pogba and Edinson Cavani must be the men to turn results for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
- Manchester United and Leicester City played out a 2-2 draw on Boxing Day
- The match had big billing with both sides sitting second and third in the league
- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had depth, Paul Pogba and Edinson Cavani benched
- Both stars made promising cameos but need to turn matches in United’s favour
- Leicester showed why they started so well, but January is set to be a quiet one
Any manager who can afford to leave Paul Pogba and Edinson Cavani out of his starting XI for a match with a leading rival should always have a team capable of winning major trophies.
When that manager is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the club in question Manchester United, every decision is subject to the utmost scrutiny.
Even with this draw, United are in the title race and if Solskjaer can deliver their first since 2013, every controversial selection will have been justified.
Edinson Cavani was influential after coming on at Leicester, and created a Man United goal
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer brought Paul Pogba on in the late stages as United chased three points
More words have been written and spoken about Pogba’s status at United than almost any other topic in English football, yet the fact remains that this is a player of global standing who produced a decisive performance to help France beat Croatia in the last World Cup Final.
Cavani, meanwhile, has been one of the best centre-forwards on the planet for a decade. Here they were given 51 minutes between them as Pogba replaced the disappointing Daniel James soon after the break, and Cavani was sent on for the equally ineffective Anthony Martial with 15 minutes left.
Despite twice going ahead United settled for a draw, though made the better chances
Within five minutes of his arrival, Cavani had created United’s second goal for Bruno Fernandes with a brilliant piece of movement and an even better pass.
To bring some perspective, Leicester’s back-up centre-forward here was Kelechi Iheanacho, a useful player but one who, at 24, is still trying to establish himself as a Premier League regular.
Whereas Solskjaer could call on Pogba, Brendan Rodgers’ reserve midfielders were Nampalys Mendy and Hamza Choudhury. Neither has been capped at senior international level.
As he did in the 6-2 thrashing of Leeds last weekend, Solskjaer opted for Fred and Scott McTominay in the middle and certainly in the first half, both did an impressive job of shackling James Maddison, who was operating in the No10 role for Leicester.
United were seeking their 11th consecutive away win in the Premier League, level with the record jointly held by Manchester City and Chelsea, and they created the better chances of an absorbing game.
Either side of giving United the lead, Marcus Rashford put a free header over the bar and was denied by Kasper Schmeichel when clean through. Fernandes and Harry Maguire also missed excellent headed opportunities after Harvey Barnes had equalised for Leicester on the half-hour mark.
United’s excellent results away from home are easy to understand. With teams encouraged to attack them, the pace of Rashford, Martial and James, allied to the creativity of Fernandes, make them devastating on the counter-attack.
At Old Trafford, though, it is a different matter: when expected to make the running, Solskjaer’s side frequently fall short, with too great a burden placed on Fernandes to find the answers.
Leicester’s grit and determination was testament to the start made under Brendan Rodgers
In these matches, surely Pogba and Cavani have a greater role to play, with their experience of the grandest stages and understanding of how to deliver under pressure.
If Solskjaer cannot find more space for Pogba and Cavani, then Rodgers would surely welcome them. In the real world, both are far out of reach for the Foxes, who will have little room for manoeuvre in the January transfer window to build on another strong start to the season.
Yet though they lack United’s squad depth and financial power, they have key men who stand up when it matters. Schmeichel stood up brilliantly to save from Rashford with the score at 1-1, while Vardy’s clever movement in the box gave him the space to turn in substitute Ayoze Perez’s cross via a deflection of another sub, Axel Tuanzebe.
To keep pace with Liverpool, Solskjaer may need to give his two most celebrated players greater opportunity to shine.
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