Leicester's energy a threat to United

LONDON • Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may yet rue being unable to beef up his defence, should Manchester United fail in their bid to make the Premier League's top four.

Today, at Leicester, they will face Harry Maguire, a centre-back Jose Mourinho wanted to sign before the start of this season. The board's refusal to sanction a move deepened divisions and the fallout ended with the manager's December sacking as the team struggled.

Caretaker manager Solskjaer, publicly at least, appears less concerned about the lack of defensive signings but a shortage of quality in that area remains an issue. Leicester's pace in attack may well cause problems and he knows it.

"They've beaten Manchester City and Chelsea over the past couple of months, so it will be a tough game," said the Norwegian. "They are a team full of energy and pace in attack, with Jamie Vardy, Demarai Gray and James Maddison.

"And they defend well when they drop back. It's hard to break them down. It will be a challenge."

Last Tuesday, in the 2-2 home league draw with Burnley, their defensive problems were exposed and they needed a late fightback.

Mourinho was again proven right about his assessment that his four senior centre-backs, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof, were not up to standard. They have kept just four clean sheets in 24 league matches.

Solskjaer preferred Jones and Lindelof as his central pairing, with Bailly as a stand-in.

The 45-year-old has proven in the past that he can solve defensive issues given time.

In his two spells as manager of Norwegian club Molde, their goals-against record improved after his first season, helped by wise investment in the transfer market.

But despite becoming the first Red Devils boss to start with eight wins, six in the league and two in the FA Cup, he may not be kept on beyond this season.

One man who should be around is Anthony Martial, who has just signed a deal that commits him to the club until at least June 2024, with the option for a further year.

Solskjaer has challenged him to follow in the footsteps of Cristiano Ronaldo. He said: "You can't just rely on what you do now.

"I speak about my experience at this club with Cristiano and what Anthony can achieve. I talk about Cristiano's career, what he's made, how he's got there."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LEICESTER V MAN UNITED

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 03, 2019, with the headline 'Leicester's energy a threat to United'. Print Edition | Subscribe