Sunday 5th February 16.00
In our midweek preview of the Manchester United v Hull game, with thought it likely that the home side would win but included the prices for the draw and a Hull win as weren’t entirely sure that Utd could pull it off. Lo and behold, they went and drew the match 0-0, a result which led Jose Mourinho further down the rabbit hole of his increasing paranoia.
Ask Dante for a 10th circle
He hasn’t yet come out and said it but there can be little doubt that the Portuguese manager thinks himself the greatest martyr the world has seen since the Galilean carpenter last set foot on the earth a couple of thousand years ago. There are enemies everywhere; those in plain sight but crucially, those in the long grass who have been biding their time, frozen in vindictive rigour until they could fall upon him with unabashed relish and vanquish him with a thousand cuts. Et tu, F.A.?
Take it back, that wine tastes like steak
Yes, the crown weighs heavy on the head of the virtuous man but he is not the only neo-messiah to be suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Claudio Ranieri pulled off a trick even more miraculous than upping the amount of fish and loaves available when he led 5000-1 long shots, Leicester, to the BPL title last season. He turned Jamie Vardy from an unspectacular striker into a player shortlisted for the Ballon d’Or, N’Golo Kante from a little known French midfielder into a turbo-charged version of Claude Makelele and Riyad Mahrez from a £400,000 winger into a £30 million plus playmaker who reportedly caught the eye of Barcelona.
Some seasons you eat the bar, other times it’s the bar’s turn
But what a difference half a season makes. Rumours abound that all is not well behind the scenes at Leicester, that Ranieri isn’t quite the lovely man that we all think he is. For what it’s worth, this column is inclined to disregard those stories in lieu of actual facts but whatever the case may be, this season is very much black to last season’s white, chalk to its cheese, despondency to its joy. Things are going so badly at Leicester, that the threat of relegation is very real and no amount of Buddhist blessings from the owners seem to be changing that.
Going back to the well
The hope that they do have rests not with the supernatural but something rather mundane – actual people. The loss of Kante, though massive, is no excuse for their performances this season and it is within these players to right those wrongs, for professional pride if nothing else. An exhilarating performance here could set them up for the rest of the season and don’t forget, they still have the knock-out stages of the Champions League to look forward to.
Shades of the latter days of Rome
Hell, even a good performance might be enough to get a win against a Utd side who are laboring beneath the yoke of an increasingly erratic autocrat. It’s often said that a leader’s confidence can be transmitted to their charges. If that is correct, then the opposite is also likely to be the case. Utd’s players, on a bad run as it is, will not be imbued with a sense of hope in their quest to win. Following their draw to Hull, they are now four points off their Manchester rivals in 5th and 14 off league leaders, Chelsea. It’s probably safe to say that spirits aren’t high in the camp coming into this fixture.
The market has Utd as strong favourites and looking at the form of Leicester, it’s not hard to see why. However, given their supreme leader’s current frame of mind, this column wouldn’t be surprised to see another muddled and unsure performance from the most expensive team in the world. Leicester, by contrast, might find within themselves that special spark which guided them so splendidly last year. It is for that most esoteric of reasons, that this column will back the reigning champions to win. It also helps that BetFair are offering a very tasty price of 24/5 for just that outcome.