On the final day of the 2019/20 Premier League season, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United had to avoid a defeat at all costs in order to receive Champions League football for next season, as they took on a Leicester City side that were missing a number of key players from the starting XI.
With the likes of Ben Chilwell, Caglar Soyuncu, James Maddison and Ricardo Pereira unavailable for the Foxes, Brendan Rodger’s men had a huge task ahead of themselves on Sunday afternoon, as they left themselves in a difficult position since the season restarted, winning just two games out of eight.
Looking into the game as a whole, the visitors had the edge when it came to dominating possession of the ball and making full use of it, achieving 55% possession, creating two big chances during the match and completing 95 passes in the attacking third. On the other hand, the hosts managed 68 successful passes in the final third, given that it took them till the hour mark to gain momentum.
In all honesty, there was hardly any action in the first half or much urgency from either side to go on to taking the lead, with both teams ensuring that there was no room for any mistakes. Following the half-time break, the game was taken up a notch by both Leicester City and Manchester United, as they had realised that Chelsea were beating Wolves and were not showing any signs of weaknesses.
From there onwards, Leicester were causing problems to the United defence but were not testing the goalkeeper at all. The visitors were able to make the breakthrough at 70th minute, as the host were caught out at playing from the back, which led to them giving a penalty away. Bruno Fernandes calmly stepped up to take it and sent Kasper Schmeichel the wrong way to give his team the lead.
The Foxes continued to pile on the pressure and go all out for a top four finish in the final 15 minutes of the game, however, the Red Devils’ managed to seal the victory late in added time, through substitute Jesse Lingard, who managed to caught Schmeichel off guard before kicking the ball into an empty net. In the end, United finished in third place on 66 points, just above Chelsea on goal difference, whilst Leicester City remain in fifth place and have to settle for Europa League football.
Here are the three things we learnt from United’s final league fixture of the campaign…
Champions League football is now officially confirmed for next season
After the side’s recent drop off in terms of results and performances, it did not look like the Red Devils had it in them to pull through on the final of the day season. With stalemates at Old Trafford to Southampton and West Ham as well as the FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea, majority of the Manchester United supporters were expecting the team to typically crumble under pressure.
However, that was not the case today, as they were able to keep the likes of Jamie Vardy, Youri Tielemans and Ayoze Perez very quiet whilst having the capability to work on a few good phases themselves in midfield and attack. With Champions League football now confirmed for next season for Manchester United, the club will be able to make progressive moves financially and sportingly.
The only way is up for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his exciting long-term project
It’s been quite the first full season for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at United, who will be more than happy with a 3rd place finish as well as the opportunity to still compete in the Europa League competition next month. Given the ups and downs, the injury issues alongside the lack of squad depth, Solskjaer has done a good job in removing the deadwood and helping the football club to move into the right direction once again, something that Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho had actually failed to do.
Solskjaer has put the club and the players ahead of himself, and the immense work he has put in is now starting to pay off, as there is a cheerful and encouraging environment on and off the pitch, where the players are playing attractive and intelligent football whilst picking up the much needed results. The critics and the Ole haters have been totally silenced, as United’s unbeaten run since the end of January has allowed the team to do the unthinkable and push for a late top four finish.
Bruno Fernandes and Anthony Martial have played a crucial role since the restart
A lot of the focus has been on the likes of Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood since the Premier League has restarted, though, Anthony Martial and Bruno Fernandes have been the deadly duo that has allowed the team to finish in the top four with their chances. Despite Chelsea and Leicester City’s lack of consistency, Bruno and Martial have been the two key individuals to be the constant threat for Solskjaer’s side, as their movement and creativity has been second to none.
Bruno’s ability to score from the penalty spot has to be appreciated, especially when you have to remember the fact that both Rashford and Pogba had missed a couple of penalties at the start of the season, which could have helped the side to confidently finish in third place. Not only that, Martial’s playmaking quality and clinical instincts are now starting to be well-recognised, particularly by those who thought he was not good enough to lead the line and become United’s main number nine.