Manchester United were dumped out of the FA Cup by a brilliant Leicester City side; Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made a number of changes, resulting in an insipid and error-strewn performance.
It was disastrous from start to finish, with few players emerging with any credit.
Just after the quarter hour mark, Fred gave away two opportunities in quick succession, both to Vardy – he was thankful to Henderson and the defenders that neither resulted in a goal.
It seemed likely that his poor play was going to cost his team – and when that moment came in the 25th minute, it was spectacular. United were going through one of their ill-advised passages of play where they pass the ball in their own area. Maguire played it to Fred, who was already being pressed before he received the ball. That was still no excuse for the terribly weak pass that went straight to Ihenacho in the six yard box. He accepted the gift. United have had a catalogue of poor errors this season in defence – this may well rank as one of the worst for many years.
Fortune is a funny thing; because United could consider themselves lucky to go in at half-time level, when Greenwood finished a Pogba cross that was dummied by Van De Beek. There was nothing fortuitous about the goal, though they were most definitely the team relieved to have parity at the break.
Early in the second half, Leicester scored a second – this time, it was not handed to them, but they made easy work of United’s midfield again – Tielemans played a one-two to embarrass Matic’s lack of pace, and then strolled towards the box with Fred putting in something that resembled a challenge much too late. The Leicester midfielder was able to get his shot off, but it still needed impressive accuracy to beat Henderson as it did.
Leicester missed a golden chance to make it three when Vardy got past Maguire easily and somehow screwed his shot wide.
Solskjaer responded by bringing on Cavani, Fernandes, Shaw and McTominay for Matic, Van De Beek, Telles and Pogba; but the anxiety of chasing a result did not create an environment for an increase in quality on the ball. It was too rushed, and not good enough.
Leicester sealed their place at Wembley with a third 12 minutes from time when Ihenacho took advantage of poor marking from McTominay to head in a free-kick.
United were up against opponents who possess just as many good players and have just as good a team, and that is when they are fielding their strongest eleven.
When they are not, and when the performance levels drop off a cliff – as they tend to do, and as they did here – they are capable of dismal performances where they can look inferior to any team in the league. Taking the gamble as he did, Solskjaer knew the risk he was taking, and that was probably reflected in the drastic number of substitutes he made.
The manager frustrated some fans in the week when he made his comment about trophies. Another semi-final place might not have done anything to say there has been progress this season, but a final place – which seemed reasonable, considering the draw placed them with Southampton – could have. A quarter final defeat, on the other hand, particularly in this manner, definitely does not signal progress.
It sharpens the focus on the other competitions. There is going to need to be some success in order for the changes today to be justified.
A wise chance to rest Shaw, Rashford and Pogba? Those decisions had to be made at some point, and the Europa League feels more winnable than the FA Cup, so if any game was to be used for that rest, this was probably the best.
That said, the aim is to win every game. And it could just as fairly be argued that United don’t have a game for a couple of weeks (although there are of course internationals). Solskjaer must have known the risk he was taking, because the tendency for the performance to drop so frequently and so horrendously is much too predictable to be left to chance. The manager is culpable, but there have to be a few players on borrowed time.
van de Beek 4