Saturday, 25 July 2020

How Manchester United closed the gap on Leicester and the top four

Manchester United head into Sunday’s showdown with Leicester City at the King Power Stadium in third, a point clear of the Foxes, who sit fifth.
The Reds moved ahead of the Midlands outfit with a draw against West Ham at Old Trafford on Wednesday, and will complete a remarkable turnaround with a draw or a win over Brendan Rodgers’s side, who occupied second position in the table on New Year’s Day.
On January 1, when the Foxes beat Newcastle and United lost at Arsenal, Leicester were a full 14 points clear, with a goal difference 20 superior to that of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men.
In the space of 15 matches, the Reds gradually eroded that gap, before leapfrogging Sunday’s hosts during the week.
How did we do it? Let’s take a look…
Premier League standings on 1 January 2020 


JANUARY
Leicester’s 3-0 success at St James’ Park on the first day of 2020 moved them on to 45 points, but that was actually the last time the Foxes tasted victory on the road this season. After that disappointing reverse to the Gunners, United made up ground the following week by beating Norwich at home while Leicester were stung as a late Danny Ings goal ensured all three points for Southampton. Successive defeats to Liverpool and Burnley for United, however, coupled with a 4-1 win for the Foxes against struggling West Ham, ensured the points gap of 14 remained – although a stumbling Chelsea were a more realistic target for Solskjaer at the time, especially after the club clinched the signings of Bruno Fernandes and Odion Ighalo before the transfer window slammed shut.
Positions: Leicester 3rd, United 5thPoints gap: 14

Goal-difference gap: 21
FEBRUARY

The second month of the year began with similar results for both sides – Leicester were pegged back by top-four rivals Chelsea to draw 2-2, before Wolves held United to a goalless stalemate at Old Trafford later in the day, in the game where Fernandes made his debut. It was advantage to the two sides in blue as we went into the winter break, then, although a key 2-0 win for Solskjaer’s side at Stamford Bridge, followed by a comprehensive victory over Watford, helped lift us back into fifth. The Foxes, meanwhile, started to splutter, losing to Manchester City and Norwich City within the space of six days as the points difference between the clubs was narrowed down into single figures.

Positions: Leicester 3rd, United 5th
Points gap: 9
Goal-difference gap: 15

MARCH
Of course, the coronavirus-enforced suspension of football cut March short when the month was just two games old, but United’s point at Everton – the day after the Foxes suffered in East Anglia – as well as a Manchester derby to remember left fans desperate to get the season back underway as the hunt for the Champions League continued. Leicester thrashed relegation-threatened Aston Villa 4-0 in what would be the last Premier League game played for 100 days, as the country turned its attention to more important matters.
Positions: Leicester 3rd, United 5th
Points gap: 8
Goal-difference gap: 16


JUNE
As football resumed, United’s primary target was once again catching Chelsea, although the draw at Tottenham resulted in Frank Lampard’s men soon opening up a five-point gap over the Reds. Solskjaer’s side were then near-perfect in consecutive 3-0 drubbings of Sheffield United and Brighton & Hove Albion, while Leicester came out of the break cold, drawing with Watford and Brighton before their away day travails continued at Goodison Park on the first day of July. Unbelievably, United were now just a win behind Leicester, although the Foxes’ goal difference – boosted by October’s record win at Southampton – was still much healthier than our own.
Positions: Leicester 3rd, United 5th
Points gap: 3
Goal-difference gap: 9

JULY
May is usually the month in which titles are awarded, relegations suffered and European places sorted, but in this most unusual of seasons, it would be July where the Premier League would reach its conclusion. While United were comfortably seeing off Bournemouth at Old Trafford, Jamie Vardy was passing 100 Premier League goals to help Leicester to their first league win since lockdown, over Crystal Palace. The league’s top scorer struck again to rescue a point at Arsenal, guaranteeing that the Foxes would end matchweek 34 above United, regardless of our result against Aston Villa. Nevertheless, we got the job done in the Midlands, to keep the pressure on.
Then came the weekend that blew the top-four race wide open. Both Chelsea and Leicester were beaten, at Sheffield United and Bournemouth respectively, giving the Reds the chance to leapfrog both, if we could negotiate the tricky-looking visit of Southampton. We so nearly did, until Michael Obafemi’s 96th-minute equaliser ensured the two sides in blue were let off the hook. A further three points for all three contenders followed, before Jose Mourinho’s Spurs found joy on the counter to consign the Foxes to another away defeat. Our point at home to West Ham, coupled with Chelsea’s defeat to Liverpool, means we go into Sunday’s match in pole position – but who knows what could happen next in this rollercoaster of a year…

Positions: United 3rd, Leicester 5th*
Points gap: United lead by 1*
Goal-difference gap: Level*

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