- FA Cup semi-final draw: Leicester vs Southampton, Chelsea vs Manchester City.
Memo to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: Manchester United are not good enough to rest players against one of the Premier League’s best teams. Leicester City were quicker, slicker and are deservedly in the FA Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1982 where they will face Southampton.
For United it is the Europa League or bust if they are going to win a first trophy under Solskjaer whose gamble in shuffling his team, making five changes, spectacularly failed to pay off. He looked grim-faced on the touchline as well he might. United were well-beaten.
For that there should be a reckoning with United also badly at fault for all the goals they conceded and fringe players such as Donny van de Beek – despite being involved in their goal – failing to take their chance. It means that their run of 29 domestic away games without defeats, stretching back 14 months, has abruptly come to an end.
Solskjaer made a little bit of history on 64 minutes with no fewer than four substitutions at the same time – with five permitted in this competition – as United chased the game. Once Bruno Fernandes, Scott McTominay, Luke Shaw and Edinson Cavani came on they looked more threatening but it was Leicester, through the outstanding Kelechi Iheanacho, who struck again. The striker now has five goals in his last two games.
United could not turn to Marcus Rashford who was ruled out through injury and maybe something has to give in this taxing season but their fans will be infuriated by players being rested from the start before an international break. Is the FA Cup so inconsequential to Solskjaer?
Before the semi-final against Southampton there will be plenty of talk of the 9-0 defeat Leicester inflicted on them last season. It is a different campaign, a different competition but Leicester – who have never won the FA Cup – will go into it as favourites.
United’s woes were summed up by the opening goal. Wrong said Fred – and Leicester were in front. The United midfielder was not the only one to blame, although it was largely down to him, when he collected Harry Maguire’s pass just outside his own penalty area after the ball was rolled to the defender by Dean Henderson. It was a mistake by Maguire given Fred was under pressure from Youri Tielemans but it was an even worse error by Fred to under-hit his pass back to Henderson with Iheanacho intercepting, rounding the stranded goalkeeper and tapping the ball into the net.
Fred had already messed up, losing the ball close to his own goal only to be saved when Jamie Vardy elected to shoot – with Maguire blocking – instead of passing to Iheanacho or Ayoze Perez who were either side of him. Before that and Maguire had inadvertently sent a low cross from Vardy back to the striker who drew a smart parry from Henderson with a first-time low shot.
Out of nothing, United equalised. Paul Pogba did well to turn Wesley Fofana down the left, Van de Beek also did well to cleverly dummy his cut-back and Mason Greenwood did even better to sweep a powerful low shot past Kasper Schmeichel to claim his first goal in 16 appearances.
Suddenly, after a cagey opening quarter, the game opened up with Perez’s quick feet creating the chance to shoot from the area’s edge. Henderson was rooted as the ball cleared the post. Leicester certainly tried to profit from playing the ball in early behind the United defence while, for the visitors, Pogba’s influence was clear even if he is working his way back to fitness. Even so they were fortunate to go in level at half-time with Anthony Martial isolated as the central striker.
It was Leicester who continued to push with United nervous, uncertain at the back and when Tielemans exchanged passes with Iheanacho he ran from 40 yards out with Fred – again – at fault as he failed to make a challenge with Nemanja Matic labouring. Victor Lindelof stood off and then turned his back and Tielemans had time to pick his spot and beat Henderson’s dive to find the corner of the net.
Again United needed a response and Alex Telles almost provided it as he intercepted Marc Albrighton’s clearance before driving the ball across goal and narrowly wide. Within seconds Leicester broke with Iheanacho releasing Vardy who slipped the ball past Maguire. It left Vardy clear on goal and on the touchline manager Brendan Rodgers raised his arms in celebration – only for the striker to pull his shot into the advertising hoardings.
Solskjaer had seen enough and made his wholesale changes with the momentum switching. United were on top but they conceded again when McTominay simply failed to mark Iheanacho at a free-kick, taken by Albrighton with the striker simply heading the ball high into the roof of the net from close-range.
It was not until the 88th minute that United threatened with Schmeichel superbly tipping over Fernandes’ fierce free-kick that was set to dip under the cross-bar. Into injury-time the Leicester captain easily held Martial’s header and United’s last chance had gone.