The streak had to end at some point but, when he did it for Manchester United, he did it holistically. They hadn’t tasted defeat on their domestic travels for 14 months, a 29-game sequence, yet they were second best across all departments here to see another avenue to cutlery closed.
In simple terms, Leicester seemed to love him more. They were faster with the ball, more skillful when they had it, more incisive and, in Kelechi Iheanacho, they had the goal from the scorer to two goals. However, pointing it out was unfair. There were heroes in blue all over the field, including Caglar Soyuncu at the rear and almost everyone in the midfield, where the foundation for victory was laid.
It’s remarkable to think that Brendan Rodgers was without a group of key players due to injury, primarily James Justin, Ricardo Pereira, James Maddison and Harvey Barnes. Leicester brought a high pace from the first whistle to the last and they will imagine their chances in the semi-final against Southampton. It’s his first appearance in the last four since 1982, while his last appearance in the final was in 1969.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær has spoken of how the most faithful measure of his team is the Premier League but that did not dilute the pain of this exit. Their tenure has been ruined by semi-final losses, four of them, to be precise, and the club’s hopes for a trophy this season now rest in the Europa League, where they have reached the quarter-finals.
Revenge had been in the air for Leicester, given their loss here on the final day of last season to United (it cost them a place in the Champions League and propelled United into the competition) and they were bristling with aggression.
Rodgers had left with his strongest personnel available, set up on a three-on-the-back system and the plan was to win the ball high and hit United quickly. It worked repeatedly, with United uncomfortable in front of the press.
Twice in the first 20 minutes, Fred was mugged in dangerous areas, first by Iheanacho and then by Ayoze Pérez, and twice he was rescued by a teammate. The first opportunity fell to Jamie Vardy after Harry Maguire half cleared his low center and returned it to him. Vardy ducked into the far corner and it took a good save from Dean Henderson to push him off. The second chance also went to Vardy, and this time Maguire stood upright to block his shot.
United, and more specifically, Fred ignored the warnings and when they tried to play from behind in the 25th minute it ended in disaster for them. Maguire’s direct ball to Fred put him in trouble, with Youri Tielemans hot on his heels, but what happened next was an aberration. Fred tried to return it to Henderson, but Iheanacho was on the prowl. He came in, walked the ball around the goalkeeper and scored the goal.
Leicester controlled the first half, which made it so annoying for them that the game entered the break at 1-1. United scored from their only consistent forward drive and represented a good moment for Donny Van De Beek, whose low-cut mannequin of Paul Pogba threw the Leicester defense down and was the signal for Mason Greenwood to fire a low shot home. Otherwise, it was another frustrating day for Van De Beek. He was not the only United player to disappoint.
Leicester’s confidence markers were numerous, picking up on Iheanacho’s ability to beat Maguire and take a free kick near the corner of the penalty area in the first half and a beautiful curve from Soyuncu, which took him away from Pogba. Iheanacho was stopped by a stretched tackle from Aaron Wan-Bissaka, while Pérez hit a deflected shot in the 44th minute.
There was an easy balance in Leicester’s approach, with wingers Marc Albrighton and Timothy Castagne eager to push up, particularly when the ball was on the other side, and Perez and Tielemans roaming threatened by their offensive midfield roles. Wilfred Ndidi dominated further behind.
Leicester kept pushing after the break and Tielemans’ 2-1 goal exemplified many of the differences between the teams. He worked the ball around Nemanja Matic through a single double with Iheanacho and, when he started towards the edge of the area, United could not get close to him. Fred’s efforts to do the challenge weren’t good enough. Tielemans’ shot curled into the bottom corner.
There was also the moment when Vardy passed Maguire after another quick transition from Leicester only to drag himself too far. Rodgers had his hands up in celebration.
Solskjær had made changes to his lineup, leaving out Marcus Rashford, who has had a scan for a foot injury, and opening Luke Shaw, Scott McTominay, Bruno Fernandes and fit Edinson Cavani on the bench. He introduced all four in the 63rd minute and, almost immediately, United looked more determined. However, the game was over for them when McTominay missed a header attempt at the back post on an Albrighton free throw and Iheanacho headed in. Fernandes would force Kasper Schmeichel to make an excellent save from a free kick in the 88th minute, but by then his tie was gone.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism