Manchester United finally qualifies for Champions League in style
Finally Manchester United will play in the next season’s Champions League after moving past their rivals for a top-four finish. It took a Bruno Fernandes penalty and Jesse Lingard’s first goal of the season to make it 2-0 against Leicester.
The Solskjaer’s side finished third, which has returned them to European football’s elite club competition and the Manager deserves immense credit for guiding United to this position. A top-four finish appeared unthinkable in the autumn, unlikely at the turn of the year but it is a reality now thanks to the 14-game unbeaten league run which the arrival of Fernandes in January inspired.
Recall that Leicester were 14 points clear of United on New Year’s Day, and considered title contenders by many not long before that, until this run of four wins in 17 games pulled them back.
If you had offered Rodgers fifth-place and Europa League football back in August, he and Leicester’s supporters would have readily accepted. This is still a year of commendable progress at the King Power.
Even with the stands empty, you could sense anxiety around the King Power during a tense, goalless first half. Leicester – noisily cheered on by an apprehensive band of club directors – edged the opening 45 minutes and may have led at the break if not for Kelechi Iheanacho’s indecision.
Twice Iheanacho spearheaded a charge through United’s lines, twice he dithered on the ball and twice the opportunity went begging. The first time around, he should have squared to Jamie Vardy rather than scuffing a shot into De Gea’s hands. For the second, he took too long to square to Youri Tielemans and the Belgian’s slow daisy-cutter ran wide of the post.
Leicester could at least be confident of more chances coming their way, given United’s ponderous defending and disjointed play up front. Solskjaer’s side only came to life at the close of the half. When James Justin misjudged a Paul Pogba cross, Marcus Rashford had time to take a touch inside the box but should have done better than clearing the crossbar.
Vardy hit the same crossbar in the second half, shortly after Rodgers elected to replace Iheanacho with Ayoze Perez. Vardy’s flick-on header from a free-kick struck the woodwork and began a sustained spell of Leicester pressure, with Tielemans striking low and wide of De Gea’s right-hand post.
United fan were elated at end of the game, because at a point during the season they almost lost hope, until Solskjaer later turned around the fortune of the team to a winning one.