Manchester United were “bullied” by Leicester City in the shock 5-3 defeat in the Premier League on Sunday and showed a dangerously soft centre – that is according to Old Trafford legend Gary Neville.
Not only did the former right-back offer a withering assessment of the performance from Louis van Gaal’s side, but he also predicted that they would get exposed “week in and week out” if they do not toughen up.
It was an afternoon to forget for the Red Devils, who looked in good form going forward and took an early 2-0 lead through Robin van Persie and a magnificent chipped finish by Angel di Maria.
Leonardo Ulloa pulled one back for the home side soon after in what was an exciting start to the match, but Ander Herrera’s cute back heel flick to redirect Di Maria’s shot past Kasper Schmeichel and make it 3-1 seemed as though it would settle matters.
However, a poor decision by referee Mark Clattenburg saw him penalise right-back Rafael for a foul on Jamie Vardy in the penalty area – David Nugent scored to reduce the deficit once again.
Two minutes later Leicester were level after new signing Esteban Cambiasso drove home low from the edge of the area. Foxes supporters then went delirious with excitement in response to Vardy putting them in the lead following a breakaway before Ulloa scored a penalty to make it 5-3.
The last goal was another poor decision from Clattenburg, failing to see a push from Vardy in the back of Tyler Blackett, who was then sent off for the subsequent foul in the area.
Neville wasn’t concentrating on any poor officiating and instead decided to focus on the lack of heart and fight shown by Manchester United in the face of such pressure.
“In the second half, a decision goes against them but make no mistake about it; they’re soft-centred,” he said in his capacity as a pundit for Sky Sports.
“There’s no doubt Manchester United are soft-centred. They’re not tough enough. I thought the midfield three for United and the back four got bullied.”
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Manchester United fans will find it hard to argue with the Old Trafford club’s former captain in his assessment. Such shortcomings are even more frustrating because of the £150million they spent on new players in the summer, yet appear to have become worse in defence.
Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo were the two defenders recruited but the feeling is that Van Gaal does not fancy the young Englishman and Rojo looked less than composed against Leicester.
Di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Ander Herrera have shown quality in the attacking department, but there is a definite lop-sided feel to the team.
Neville has warned this imbalance needs to be addressed, along with the lack of resilience in the side, if they are not going to get found out every week in the Premier League.
“Credit to Leicester and Vardy and Ulloa, they really ran them ragged. It wasn’t intricate play or world-class football, it was just hard work,” added the England coach.
“Grit, hard work, with a bit of quality mixed in with it and United couldn’t deal with the physicality of that team.
“Defensive organisation is one thing, but they’ve got to be more competitive than that and win battles and one-on-one duels, because they were soft-centred in that game.
Got to be physical
“You’ve got to be physical, you’ve got to stand up to your man and you’ve got to win headers, win your tackles and give them no encouragement. They didn’t do that. Leicester got encouragement, I thought, in the first half not just the second half.
“United’s three goals were brilliant, they were absolutely fantastic goals but, they’re going to get done week in week out. That was a proper test for them against Leicester."