When the fourth official’s board was lifted after 64 minutes of Manchester United’s clash with Leicester City, there was an element of surprise that accompanied it.
Not that United made four substitutions at once.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s much-changed team had put up a miserable display in the FA Cup quarter-finals, and it was clear that chivalry was needed to try to fix things.
No, the surprise was that Fred survived Solskjaer’s sacrifice of his starting eleven.
The Brazilian had been a handicap from the get-go at King Power Stadium, with his early mistake of failing to control an Aaron Wan-Bissaka throw-in that led to Dean Henderson being called into action to save Jamie Vardy.
That set the tone, and after two more cases in which Fred gave the ball up in midfield, his most serious mistake occurred.
Under pressure and facing his own goal while controlling a Harry Maguire pass on the edge of United’s penalty area, the 28-year-old could only muster a perfect one-inch pass in the way of Kelechi Iheanacho as he watched. to return the ball to Henderson.
The fit Leicester striker made no mistake with his shot, and although United entered the half-time level after the charming Donny van de Beek dummy allowed Paul Pogba to prepare Mason Greenwood for the draw, the tint I was already cast.
Solskjaer’s team should have been driven by the news at halftime that they would play Southampton, not Chelsea or Manchester City, in the semi-finals if they won.
But instead, it was the other side that put nine past the Saints of late, who emerged galvanized by the second period, with Brendan Rodgers’ team deserving their eventual 3-1 victory.
“We didn’t have the spark tonight, but it’s understandable,” Solskjaer explained to BBC Sport. “It just caught up with us, all the games and trips.
“Thursday night in Milan was a great night and it cost us a lot physically. Today we did not have the energy, the authority and the extra confidence.”
He may have lacked that energy and authority, but it was Fred, one of six players who started at the San Siro against AC Milan earlier in the week, who stood out as United’s weak link.
It was a performance that came from the former Shakhtar Donetsk player, and his performance in the first half on Thursday was particularly poor before improving after the break.
The inconsistency continues to plague a player who was bought for £ 52.5 million ($ 70 million) nearly three years ago, and this was one of his worst outings in a game United couldn’t lose.
He and Nemanja Matic were coached in midfield by rivals Wilfred Ndidi and Youri Tielemans, and it was the latter who gave Leicester the lead early in the second half.
The Belgian international advanced unopposed, with Fred and Victor Lindelof guilty of failing to face Tielemans before his arrow shot reached the bottom corner.
United could only wish their own deep midfielders had such an impact in attack. Instead, they generally rely almost entirely on Bruno Fernandes to create from central areas, and it came as no surprise that he was one of the quartet of players featured as the game entered its final 25 minutes.
Fernandes, along with his fellow players Luke Shaw, Edinson Cavani and Scott McTominay, gave United more forward momentum, but it was another mistake by Fred that ultimately sealed their elimination.
With the Red Devils looking to launch a counterattack in which they outnumbered Leicester’s defense, Fred was unable to complete a direct pass into Greenwood’s path.
Just over a minute later, Iheanacho was rolling away after heading a free kick off the back post. Tied, and United’s streak without a domestic trophy now looks set to extend to four years, barring an unlikely collapse of City in the Premier League.
“I would have done the same thing again, the changes were necessary”, Solskjaer insisted as he defended his team’s selection for such a crucial match.
And yet it was a player who has started 13 of United’s last 15 games that disappointed his manager the most.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.