In many ways it summed up Manchester United’s season so far. Stylish for short spells and looking in command for the most part but just not quite good enough when it came down to it. The 2-2 draw at Leicester City was their 2017-18 campaign in microcosm.
United have 42 points at the half-way mark and, in many another season, that would be enough to see them in contention for the Premier League title but not only is this a campaign like no other thanks to the exploits of Manchester City but they have also been their own worst enemy on occasion.
Having pegged Leicester back and then taken the lead thanks to Juan Mata’s double, United should have taken all three points against the 10-man home side after Daniel Amartey’s second-half red card. But, after awful misses by Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard, they just couldn’t close it out.
Jamie Vardy had given the home side the lead at a time when United were edging the game, with a quick break from a United attack leaving Chris Smalling to deal with Riyad Mahrez one-on-one. The Algerian did superbly to hold up the ball before feeding Vardy, who had somehow found acres of space ahead of Phil Jones and Victor Lindelof.
But Mata set about repairing the damage shortly before half-time, sliding the ball across Kasper Schmeichel after Lingard’s return pass from a low Martial cross. He then put them ahead when curling home a majestic free-kick over the Leicester wall on the hour mark, heading straight over to the extremely vocal away end with whom he remains a huge hero.
And there is little wonder given both his class and his character. The man who set up the initiative which sees footballers volunteer one per cent of their salary to charity is also United’s highest goalscorer currently on the wage bill. His brace at the King Power takes him to 39 goals for the club.
Juan Mata has the most #MUFC goals of anyone currently at the club. That's his 38th.— Kris Voakes (@krisvoakes) December 23, 2017
Either side of his second goal, United missed gilt-edged chances to put the result out of Leicester’s sight, with Martial blazing over with just Schmeichel to beat then Lingard somehow hitting the near post having already rounded the keeper.
Add in Amartey’s careless pair of yellow cards which left the home side short-handed and it should have been game over. Instead, they failed to kill it off and Harry Maguire emerged unmarked at the far post in the 94th minute to earn the 2015-16 champions a point.
After the last-gasp Carabao Cup exit to Bristol City in midweek, this was another result thrown away by United. Again, they had the possession, the chances and the conditions to get the job done. Again, they didn’t.
That’s the difference this season. City have just kept winning in every which way… They have been winning games late. United are not quite getting over the line and are now 13 points adrift. They might be the best of the rest, but that’s the most they can be now with the title long gone.