An international break ends with a dire result against Leicester with the manager certain to vacate his post next month. Not much has changed at Manchester United in six months.
When Kelechi Iheanacho stooped to put Leicester ahead, one supporter in a hoodie in the south stand had had enough. He stood up and vented at the Manchester United dugout. Darren Fletcher vented back.
The supporter was escorted out by stewards to applause, though it was unclear if that was for his removal or rant. He missed Fred’s swift equalizer, unwittingly assisted by a complacent Kasper Schmeichel.
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Fletcher, never shy in challenging opponents as a player, is one of the few remaining members of the old boys’ club culture Ole Gunnar Solskjaer cultivated and is under pressure to justify his technical director role. He has watched matches from the directors’ box, the press box and the dugout and there have been attempts from the club and the man himself to define his role.
Perhaps Fletcher was not the intended target of the fan’s ire. United’s experiment in hiring an interim manager who had managed 81 matches in 10 years seems almost as certain to fail as United are of hosting Thursday night football next season. United have squirmed 15 goals in 13 games under Rangnick at home.
The phlegmatic Ralf Rangnick is struggling to bottle up his emotions. At full-time, he strode onto the pitch, shook hands with the officials and appeared to give Anthony Elanga some curt advice. Elanga’s failure to square the ball to Marcus Rashford was the signal for several fans to head down the gangways towards the exit.
This was not as disastrous as the reverse fixture in October that signaled the beginning of the end of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tenure but the ramifications could be just as damaging. If fourth-placed Arsenal win their games in hand they will be nine points clear.
Approaching Old Trafford has become cause for dread among United players and staff. They have won half of their 16 home games in the Premier League and the atmosphere is borderline poisonous, with sinister songs about Joel Glazer aired once more.
With United failing to play to an ardent level, the matchgoers intervened. Those in the ‘Red Army’ section railed against the pessimistic tone of others into the second-half, buoyed by the emergence of Rashford.
Even Fred’s 66th-minute equalizer, with a quarter of the game left to play, only succeeded in galvanizing Leicester, by far the dominant force in the second-half. Boyhood United fan James Maddison, perhaps worthy of United’s interest again, was denied by Iheanacho’s trip on Raphael Varane, via the Video Assistant Referee. Rangnick protested immediately but the foul was patent.
There were boos again at the interval and Scott McTominay played a backward pass less than a minute into the second-half to groans from supporters. McTominay was then fortunate to avoid expulsion for a rash tackle on James Maddison and soon removed by Ralf Rangnick.
United’s last attacking substitution available to Ralf Rangnick was Juan Mata, signed by David Moyes, or Jesse Lingard, who emerged under Louis van Gaal. Rangnick plumped for Nemanja Matic at the expense of the lethargic Paul Pogba and the Serb’s intricate first touches and probing pass trumped anything Pogba mustered in 75 minutes.
Pogba dubbed United’s season ‘dead’ last week and he seemed to struggle when Bruno Fernandes invited him into the Leicester area. There were other poor moments from the Frenchman, fortunately to start. He still has a greater chance of playing on Tuesday and Wednesday nights next season than United.
Fred beckoned Fernandes towards Kasper Schmeichel with the goal at his mercy yet his side-footer was so tame it almost caught Schmeichel off balance as he prodded the ball away.
With Cristiano Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood absent again, Rashford was benched again as Rangnick opted for the same front six that started at City four weeks ago, a dubious call given the final score that day. Rashford did not distinguish himself in his sole start against Tottenham last month and this latest omission may have stung as much as the derby.
Not trusted through the middle, Jadon Sancho and Anthony Elanga are ahead of him in the queue for his favored left-sided role. Rashford was summoned 10 minutes after the restart for McTominay, clapped on and geed up by an impassioned Alex Telles, and played up front, where Fernandes failed. So did Rashford.
In expressing their support for Maguire, some United supporters stooped to the low of chanting his crass England song until normality was restored with ‘once more than England, world champions twice’. ‘Harry Maguire’, punctuated by five claps was a sufficient compromise.
Maguire, unnerved in the reverse fixture in front of supporters who once revered him, had his steadiest game of the whole season and United supporters revealed in his humiliation of Iheanacho. Leicester fans had the last word: “Oh Harry, Harry, he went to Man United and he won f–k all.”
Fernandes, emboldened by his salary hike, was chatty and animated off the ball but ineffective off it, withdrawing too deep and resorting to hit-and-hopes before the interval when he was doubling as the center forward. His passes from him were telegraphed and easily intercepted. He did little better when repositioned.
That is just something else for the fans to sell about.