Inept Manchester United Crash Out Of FA Cup
An abject performance from Manchester United has seen them crash out of the FA Cup at the quarter-final stage, losing 3-1 away to a rampant Leicester City side who took full advantage of several calamitous moments from the Red Devils.
In a week that saw United defeat AC Milan away to book a spot in the Europa League quarter-finals, confidence was high heading to the King Power Stadium.
Possession Game Fails Again
Not for the first time this season, Manchester United were caught trying to play out from the back, and once again, it would prove costly.
For reasons only he can explain, £80 million centre-back Harry Maguire played the ball out from the back to Fred, who was being closely marked by Youri Tielemans at the edge of the area.
Under pressure from Tielemans, Fred inexplicably passed the ball back toward goal, and straight to the feet of Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanachoi, a mere seven yards out.
The in-form striker stepped around goalkeeper Dean Henderson, and fired the ball into an empty net to open the scoring.
Such comical defending wouldn’t be out of place in a pub team, and sadly this isn’t the only instance this year where both Maguire and Fred have seemed better suited to Sunday league football than the upper echelons of life at Manchester United.
Leicester City Showed More Desire
After the opening goal gut-punch, Manchester United responded well, and had their equaliser 14 minutes later.
A well-worked pass from Pogba, flicked on by Donny van de Beek, was finished with aplomb by Mason Greenwood, and it was game on.
Unfortunately for United fans, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had stuck with Fred, and the midfielder was responsible for the second goal too.
Iheanachoi, scorer of the first goal, played in Youri Tielemans who was given the freedom of Leicester by United’s midfield, with Fred allowing his opposition number to waltz into the box and fire home unchallenged.
The rout was complete when in the 78th minute Scott McTominay somehow contrived to not head the ball away, allowing Iheanacho to head home from close range, booking Leicester’s place in a semi-final showdown with Southampton.
Squad Changes Lead To Instability?
Manchester United made five changes to the team who beat AC Milan with Paul Pogba back, and a rare start for Donny van de Beek.
Despite having a two-week international break after the FA Cup quarter-final, Solskjaer left his most influential player, Bruno Fernandes on the bench, for the crunch tie.
“Every team selection has reasons behind it. Bruno has played very, very much football. He broke all his records on Thursday night [at the San Siro] physically statistically, and the boy is not inhuman,” explained Solskjaer.
“He’s also a human being, he’s played a game every three or four days really. It was a chance to start to both Donny [van de Beek] and Paul [Pogba]. The accumulation of games maybe caught up with us.”
“I know Bruno wants to play but sometimes you make decisions for the benefit of both the team and him.”
Although Fernandes was introduced in the 64th minute, along with McTominay, Luke Shaw, and Edinson Cavani, it wasn’t enough to pull United level.
Manager Left Disappointed
For all the talk of progress made over the past twelve months, United have once again been found wanting as the season reaches the pointy end.
Having made the semi-finals of the FA Cup last season, this is a step back for Solkjaer’s men, as the squad shows signs of fatigue from their high-octane running game.
“Of course, we’re disappointed we’re out but probably it’s just the sum of all the factors and all the games we’ve played lately, all the injuries. I don’t want to make excuses but I try to find an explanation and an explanation is we had a few players coming back who have not really trained a lot. They’ve not played for a while and there are others who have played a lot but lacked a little zip and energy that we normally see. We conceded easy goals we don’t normally concede and it’s difficult against a good team like Leicester.”
“That’s, as I say, all the games we’ve got. Normally we don’t get one-two’d. We get back and get a tackle in normally but we don’t have that zip. Without making excuses for the boys, that’s the explanation. We found our levels, not our sharpness tonight. Sometimes the Thursday nights in Europe, they catch up with you.”
“We picked a team that we felt would win the game or give us a foundation to win the game. We knew players like Donny and Paul wouldn’t last more than an hour-ish and we knew we had subs who could come on and make a difference if we needed them to. That was the hope when we made the subs – that they could come on and give us that extra energy and brightness. We weren’t really as sharp as we have been lately. The accumulation of games, as I said, is a factor maybe and the freshness of Leicester, of course, has made them sharper than us today.”
Injuries Catching Up With United
With games every three days in recent months, injuries have caught up with Manchester United, and the squad is starting to look thin in quality.
It is a situation that will need to be rectified in the coming transfer window if United are to challenge the likes of Manchester City for top honours next season.
“I think we’re building a squad that can cope with it, but we’ve had six or seven injuries at the same point, in the same positions to be fair, and that’s made some players play a lot. That’s something we have to get used to. If and when we are to be successful, we have to handle this and of course hit a higher level than what we did today. That’s what we’re striving towards. I’ve been impressed, under these circumstances, which are unprecedented. I don’t think anyone in the world, or in England, has experienced these times before and I’ve been impressed by my boys. They’ve been excellent and the run we’ve been on has been excellent. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t find our normal selves tonight and sometimes that happens,” added Solskjaer.
International Break Is Much Needed
With the international break now here, several of United’s players can get some much-needed rest.
Unfortunately for United, Bruno Fernandes has been called up by Portugal, who face Azerbaijan on Wednesday, Serbia on Saturday and Luxembourg next Tuesday.
“A change of scenery. Some go away with the national team-mates and some stay here and train. They’ve been at Carrington every single day, working together and training together every single day. So a change of scenery will do some of them good. They’ll come back for Easter Sunday [at home to Brighton & Hove Albion] and be ready to go again,” concluded Solskjaer.
After the international break United take on relegation-threatened Brighton & Hove Albion where they will look to consolidate their grip on second place in the Premier League, before turning attention to their last chance of silverware this season – their Europa League quarter-final with Granada.