Manchester United managed to end their season on a high after rising to the occasion to beat Leicester City 2-0 in a game which sealed both side’s European fate next season.
United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer named arguably his strongest available side which saw just the one change from the side which drew 1-1 earlier in the week to West Ham United as Aaron Wan-Bissaka started ahead of Timothy Fosu-Mensah.
OFFICIAL: Today’s line-up vs Leicester City.
— StrettyNews.com (@StrettyNews) July 26, 2020
As referee Martin Atkinson kicked the game off both sides appeared visibly nervous and reluctant to be too exposed at the back. United started fairly bright but did look seseptable to Leicester’s trademark counter-attack.
That fear was soon realised just after the first drinks break when striker Kelechi Iheanacho broke free of midfielder Paul Pogba in the middle of the pitch and found himself in a position where three Leicester attackers were facing just two United defenders.
Much to United’s relief the Nigerian fluffed his lines when presented with an opening as his scuffed shot was eventually collected by United keeper David de Gea.
Iheanacho’s chance seemed to kick the Reds into life as just eight minutes later Pogba played a delightful chipped through ball over the Leicester back line and perfectly into the path of midfield partner Bruno Fernandes. Despite Fernandes’ cool finish upon closer inspection it was evident the Portuguese midfielder was well offside and the goal consequently ruled out.
Half-time soon approached as both sides went into the break level at 0-0 which only added to the match’s tension.
At the turn of the second-half it was clear Leicester City had started the brighter of the two sides. They looked to press United and often found themselves winning all the 50-50 duels.
Despite United’s relatively tame performance, it was obvious they were determined not to concede as Swedish centre-back Victor Lindelof had one of his best games in a red shirt to date.
The game took a turn in United’s favour in the 68th minute when number nine striker Anthony Martial broke free of the Leicester defensive centre-back pairing of Wes Morgan and ex-United player Jonny Evans.
The Frenchman who was through on goal was brought down well inside the box which left referee Atkinson which no choice but to blow for the penalty. VAR checked the decision but deemed it necessary to uphold after a clear infringement was made by Evans who was also shown a yellow card. Once a red, always a red and all that.
Up stepped Fernandes who cooly converted the spot-kick in his trademark hop, skip and a jump technique. 1-0 United.
With United now in the driving seat, try as they might Leicester remained unable to break down the rigid United back-line.
Gaffer Solskjaer decided that just nine minutes after his side’s opener it would be the right time to make the Red’s first change of personal.
Youngster Mason Greenwood made way for the out of favour Jesse Lingard after an unusually impact-less display.
Just another nine minutes later saw United’s change of the game when goalscorer and main man Fernandes made way for Scott McTominay.
As the game entered it’s final few minutes, it must be said, United looked fairly comfortable knowing that their opponents could not settle for anything less than a win.
Leicester’s misery was piled on in the 94th minute when centre-back Evans stream rolled McTominay in a horrendous challenge. Despite already being on a yellow card, referee Atkinson wasted no time in showing the Irishman a straight red card.
Thankfully for McTominay, although hurt and requiring additional treatment off-field was able to continue the game.
Moments after the Scot’s reintroduction onto the field, Solskjaer opted to run down the clock by making his final two changes which saw left winger Marcus Rashford and striker Martial make way for Fosu-Mensah and Odion Ighalo respectfully.
The game looked set to finish 1-0 United however, Lingard had other ideas after he found himself in front of an open goal in the 98th minute. The English midfielder cooly placed the ball into the back of the net in a goal which sealed the game and booked United’s place in next season’s Champions League.
Overall, not the best game of football fans will ever see, but a thoroughly professional performance from United nevertheless.
Lindelof insured the defensive stability was maintained throughout the duration of the game after centre-back partner Maguire found himself booked early on.
Full-backs Wan-Bissaka and Brandon Williams endured decent displays as they successfully nullified Leicester’s wide options.
Further up the pitch, Portuguese creative midfielder Fernandes’ latest goal contribution sees him extend his impressive impact since his January arrival.
Bruno Fernandes in the Premier League this season [Man Utd squad rank]:
44 total shots taken [3rd]
30 chances created [3rd]
15 goals + assists [3rd]
8 goals [4th]
7 assists [=1st]
He made his debut in February. 🤯 pic.twitter.com/hscqvFT10Q
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) July 26, 2020
Speaking after the game, Solskjaer took the time to praise what he described as ‘a wonderful achievement by everyone’, as he, his players and his staff now look ahead to completing to this season’s Europa League competition with all eyes on next season’s illustrious Champions League.
United’s next game is on Aug 5 at 20:00 where they will face-off against Austrian side LASK in their Europa League second leg first round knock-out. The Red’s are currently leading the tie 5-0 on aggregate.