Ole Gunnar Solskjaer went against the tradition of his role model Sir Alex Ferguson when he played down the importance of trophies in midweek. The Norwegian will be glad of it after Manchester United put in a performance deserving of no reward and no silverware in a miserable 3-1 defeat to Leicester City.
The result sees United knocked out of the FA Cup at the quarter-final stage. Here are five things to note after an infuriating display from the Reds:
Two deep midfielders – both of them passengers
Forget Fred’s gift to Kelechi Iheanacho for a brief second, it’ll do your heart rate some good. Focus instead on Youri Tieleman’s second half goal for Leicester. Manchester United waved the Belgian midfielder through as if he was an elderly man boarding a bus. He strolled past the passenger-like Nemanja Matic and Fred and finished excellently.
Only seconds earlier, Matic had dived carelessly forward. Concentration and focus in football isn’t always about doing something. Sometimes it’s about remembering what not to do instead. Matic is a member of the midfield pivot. Its job is to protect the defence. Instead of holding his position, suffocating the space and the passing lines, he lunged forward and then couldn’t recover sufficiently to stop Tielemans’ ramble onwards.
Gifts to the Foxes
The Foxes didn’t even have to go snuffling round the foodbins to receive their gifts, they were handed them on a silver platter. Matic and Fred’s sloppiness was inexcusable. Fred’s mistake for Leicester’s opening goal will be highlighted plenty in the coming days. It was merely one of a string of errors. Twice before he handed Kelechi Iheanacho a free chance, his loose passing had begun moves for Leicester.
Somehow, though, Matic was worse than his teammate. When he rightly departed the pitch soon after the hour mark – and it was an hour too long he was on the pitch for – he had a pass completion rate of 74%. It was worse than anyone on the pitch except Alex Telles whose nature as a crossing full-back distorts things slightly. Matic’s pass completion rate over the season is nearer 90%. It was a serious off-day.
The combination of the two was quite painful to watch. A 58th-minute sequence of events summed things up. Fred’s pass to his partner was two yards behind him, forcing Matic to backtrack. When he got the ball, he tried to ping it forward, dropping the ball onto a Leicester head and 10 yards away from a player in red.
The same mistakes – all season
Iheanacho’s second was from a set piece. It was not a deciding goal, although it did quell a decent spell from United, but it was a reminder of where United struggle. Optimists and pessimists will have that contrasting opinions on this but United demonstrate the same problems every week. The common mistakes relate to the tempo of the game, defending set pieces and tracking runners. Optimists will say it’s okay, it shows where work needs to be done. Pessimists will point out that it has been obvious for some time and still has not been fixed. Both have a point.
United’s hopes for silverware rest on European conquest
United would have been confident of navigating a Wembley semi-final against Southampton, the team they beat to lift the 2017 EFL Cup in London. The draw, made at half-time, was the best the Reds could have hoped for. Instead, the dire first half stretched into a miserable second in which Leicester deservedly regained their lead and then extended it.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs a trophy. The Norwegian can claim it isn’t a barometer of success but he will be fully aware of the message it can send and the momentum it creates. Progress will now be demonstrated by Europa League victory and second-place in the Premier League. Anything less and fans, and players – you would think, will be underwhelmed and disappointed.
Greenwood’s graft finally earns him goal
Mason Greenwood scored his first goal since United’s Cup victory against Liverpool on January. It’s only his fifth of the season. That was a concern in the first half of the campaign but the overall quality of the Englishman’s game in recent weeks means few United fans have had concerns. If anything, it’s been a matter of waiting for the goal to finally come. Here it did, and it was a well-struck first-time strike. Just reward for a good month from the 19-year-old.
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