WELL, there will be no ego boost for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the FA
Cup after this.
Kelechi Iheanacho terrorised United all game and finished with two goalsCredit: Getty
It was a real head-in-hands game for United boss Ole Gunnar SolskjaerCredit: Paul Marriott
And the result was a comprehensive defeat by an outstanding Leicester
side, who booked their first FA Cup semi-final for 39 years thanks to
a double from their in-form striker Kelechi Iheanacho.
It was United’s first domestic away defeat for 14 months and it was a
horror show for midfield man Fred, as well as skipper Harry Maguire,
who produced a car-crash showing on his return to the King Power.
Solskjaer had claimed that league form is the true measure of progress
and that winning Cups can often be used to boost managerial egoes –
and we all wondered which Portuguese predecessor of his he could have
been referring to.
But, really, after four semi-final defeats in the past two seasons,
who was he trying to kid?
When the winners of this quarter-final were paired with Southampton
during the half-time draw for the semis, both would have come out
smiling, knowing they have thrashed the Saints 9-0 in the recent past.
Yet Leicester dominated for the opening hour, Iheanacho benefitting
from a horrible mix-up between Maguire and Fred, then Youri Tielemans
netting a classy second after Mason Greenwood’s equaliser.
The Foxes weathered a brief storm after the introduction of Fernandes,
before Iheanacho wrapped it up, unmarked from a set-piece to sum up
United’s dozy overall performance.
Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers has never reached a major Cup Final in
English football – with semi-final defeats against Aston Villa with
both Liverpool and Leicester.
United were all at sea after Fred’s shocking pass presented the ball to IheanachoCredit: AFP
Iheanacho is in brilliant form and proved too hot for United to handleCredit: Reuters
But he will fancy his chances now. Despite a raft of injuries,
Leicester are enjoying a hell of a season – on roure for Champions
League qualification and an FA Cup Final.
Solskajer had taken the bold move of benching his great creative
influence Fernandes, giving a rare start to Donny Van de Beek – aka
Van de Bench – at the front of a midfield diamond.
The United boss also dropped his in-form left-back Luke Shaw – newly
restored to the England squad.
Rodgers was ballsy from the off, with a front three of Jamie Vardy,
Iheanacho and Ayoze Perez.
And Vardy had the first clear sight on goal after 17 minutes forcing
Dean Henderson to plunge and push out a shot after Fred sloppily
conceded possession to Iheanacho.
United’s defence – and Fred – discuss the shocking error that led to the game’s opening goalCredit: Getty
Then another Fred slip and Vardy was bursting forward again – this
time having a shock blocked by his old mate Harry Maguire.
And on 25 minutes, the third scoring opportunity of the match – and
the third provided by a Fred mishap – brought the opening goal.
As United attempted to play it out of their own area, Maguire sent
something of a hospital ball to Fred – under pressure from Tielemans.
The Brazilian panicked with a weak back-pass, snapped up by Iheanacho
who rounded Henderson to tap home.
It was a shocker for United but Iheanacho’s sixth goal in four games
was no more than Leicester deserved for the tempo and intent of their
Mason Greenwood some hope when he equalled things up in the first halfCredit: Paul Marriott
Maguire was then booked for bringing down Iheanacho, who had kippered
him on the edge of the box.
United were floundering in defence and devoid of inspiration going
forward – until they suddenly levelled on 38 minutes.
Paul Pogba neatly turned Wesley Fofana on the left and his centre was
dummied by Van de Beek, allowing Greenwood to lash home first time.
Youri Tielemans scored the goal of the game to fire Leicester 2-0 aheadCredit: Getty
Solskjaer almost looked embarrassed, such had been the paucity of his
side’s play until that point.
After another wildly mistimed attempt at a tackle from Fred, Perez
curled a powerful shot narrowly wide.
After the break, Leicester were straight back at United’s throats.
Tielemans drove forward, exchanged passes with Iheanacho, taking out a
sluggish Nemanja Matic in the process then steering home past
Henderson from the edge of the box.
There had been a failed attempt at a tackle from – you guessed it – Fred.
Alex Telles thundered a shot narrowly wide as United showed a little
But Vardy should have buried United soon after, Wilfried Ndidi winning
possession, Iheanacho releasing last season’s Golden Boot winner, who
skinned Maguire but shot wide and kicked the goal-post in frustration.
Vardy has scored just once since Christmas, the idea that he carries
this team is old hat.
Then a quadruple substitution from Solskajer – Fernandes, Shaw, Scott
McTominay and Edinson Cavani on for Pogba, Telles, Matic and Van de
Beek – Fred somehow escaping the cull.
Iheanacho sealed Leicester’s safe passage into the FA Cup semi-finalsCredit: Reuters
United instantly livened up – Fernandes pinging crossfield balls, Shaw
rampaging, McTominay commanding and Cavani menacing.
But after they’d enjoyed their best spell of the match, United fell
asleep at a set-piece and conceded the third.
Marc Albrighton delivered the free-kick from the left and Iheanacho
snuck in behind McTominay and beyond the far post, to head home.
The Foxes are on their way to Wembley – as United look to end a
four-year trophy drought, it is the Europa League or bust.
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Mason Greenwood did his bit by scoring – sadly his team-mates were well off the paceCredit: Getty