Fernandes strikes decisive blow as Manchester United take third

United’s 14th penalty award of the league season – a competition high - was crucial

 Bruno Fernandes scores from the penalty spot for  Manchester United during the Premier League game against Leicester City at  The King Power Stadium. Photograph:  Oli Scarff/Pool via Getty Images

Bruno Fernandes scores from the penalty spot for Manchester United during the Premier League game against Leicester City at The King Power Stadium. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Pool via Getty Images

 

Leicester City 0 Manchester United 2

When Manchester United signed Bruno Fernandes at the end of January, they were fifth in the Premier League and trailed Leicester in third by 14 points. After a fraught season finale at the King Power stadium, Fernandes’s team held on to a third-placed finish, breaking Leicester’s hearts in the process and, fittingly, it was Fernandes that struck the decisive blow.

The midfield signing from Sporting Lisbon has still to lose a league game in United’s colours and his 10th goal for them, from the penalty spot, was enough to make the difference.

The spot-kick was awarded for a foul by Jonny Evans on Anthony Martial – he was booked for the challenge – although Wes Morgan also looked to get a piece of the United striker and the move had stemmed from a throughball from, you guessed it, Fernandes. It was United’s 14th penalty award of the league season – a competition high – and Fernandes, with a saunter and a hop, never looked like missing.

Leicester City’s Jonny Evans challenges Manchester United’s Scott McTominay for which he receives a red card. Photograph: PA
Leicester City’s Jonny Evans challenges Manchester United’s Scott McTominay for which he receives a red card. Photograph: PA

It was not one of Fernandes’s better performances but he has the priceless knack of finding a way through and the frustration was too much for Leicester to bear. They had known that victory would have given them a Champions League finish – most likely at United’s expense – and Evans felt the red mist come down late on, being sent off for a dangerous lunge at the substitute, Scott McTominay.

There would be further pain for Leicester when Kasper Schmeichel tried and failed to dribble around another United substitute, Jesse Lingard, who took great delight in finding the empty net. It was his first league goal since the win at Cardiff in December 2018 – which was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first game in charge – and United could celebrate loudly upon the full-time whistle. After looking dead and buried at the end of January, they have fashioned a route back into the Champions League.

In time, Leicester will reflect on an excellent season and Europa League qualification. This was not that time. After only two wins in nine games since the league’s restart, they have seen the dream slip away.

Leicester had sorely wanted this game to have been played in front of a home crowd and yet, usually for post lockdown football, there was a bit of feeling from the stands. Every Leicester tackle or positive action was greeted by loud applause from the club’s directors and support staff. There was bellowed encouragement for those in blue and, if it was hardly the kind of thing to discomfit United, it certainly reflected what was at stake.

Rodgers persisted with three at the back and there was a pleasing intensity to his team’s pressing. United were passive at the outset, they looked nervy and Leicester harried them into a series of errors.

Nemanja Matic was guilty of the first, playing a poor pass as United tried and failed to build from the back. Leicester worked the ball quickly to Wilfred Ndidi who shot high from the edge of the area. The home team also threatened when James Justin read a Paul Pogba pass and sprang the impressive Kelechi Iheanacho forward on the counter. He shrugged off Pogba’s attempts to tackle back and kept on running before working David De Gea.

Leicester’s moved the ball better in the first-half, they were more aggressive in the one-on-ones and they could be frustrated that they had nothing to show for it at half-time. Youri Tielemans stabbed a low shot just wide and Harry Maguire did enough to put off Jamie Vardy following a cross from the 19-year-old, Luke Thomas.

United struggled to settle. Pogba had hung out a risky leg at Iheanacho inside the area early on and Matic bailed out Harry Maguire after the captain lost the ball under his studs, with Iheanacho lurking.

Where was the drive and cohesion from United? Evans stopped Martial with a good challenge on 21 minutes before Solskjaer’s team enjoyed a brief flurry before the interval. Justin misread the bounce of a spinning ball over the top from Pogba, allowing Marcus Rashford a glimpse at goal – he curled high – while the forward also drove at the near post following a corner. Schmeichel stood tall.

The 0-0 suited United but they had no margin for error. Nor did Leicester and the challenge for them was to maintain their first-half levels. They could not. Matic got Martial in with slide-rule throughball only for Justin to tackle back and after Jamie Vardy had flicked a looping header from a Tielemans free-kick against the angle of post and crossbar, Fernandes got Martial away and United had what they wanted.

The move had stemmed from Mason Greenwood robbing Hamza Choudhury and Leicester, despite creating chances for the substitutes, Harvey Barnes and Demarai Gray, had no way back. - Guardian

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