LEICESTER, England — It was a day to remember for Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford at the King Power Stadium, and one to forget for Harry Maguire and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. It sums up where Manchester United are at the moment: bits of good and lots of bad culminated in a 4-2 defeat to Leicester City and the pressure is mounting on the Norwegian.
This was a Leicester side that had not won in the Premier League since August, yet United found a way to lose and most of it was their own doing.
Greenwood scored with a stunning strike and Rashford marked his comeback from injury with a goal, but when your defence — which included a very rusty Maguire — seemed determined to concede at every opportunity, it didn’t really matter what happens at the other end. The defeat — United’s first away from home in the league since January 2020 — would have been even heavier had it not been for David De Gea.
Depending on how you like your stats packaged, it’s now four defeats in the last seven games or one win in five. Either way, it’s getting dire for Solskjaer and next up in the league is Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City. In nearly three years at Old Trafford, he has developed the reputation of a great survivor, and he will need that more than ever when Atalanta visit in the Champions League on Wednesday night.
“The goals we conceded were disappointing, the timing of them and the way they were conceded,” said Solskjaer. “It says everything when your best player is probably David but still concede four goals.
“We didn’t deserve the points today. We gifted them the first goal. All the goals were disappointing, the way we conceded them. We were too easy to play through. It was the team as a whole. We need to be more compact and more aggressive. We didn’t defend well enough.
“We’ve been really good at showing our character when we’ve needed it. The attitude has always been good. We need to stick together and work hard. We need to perform better.”
United only needed the first 45 minutes to demonstrate the best and worst of their season so far: individual brilliance followed quickly by collective incompetence.
Solskjaer’s team had not started well when Greenwood picked up the ball on the right after 19 minutes. Without much going on in front of him, the 20-year-old burrowed forward and smashed a stunning left-foot rocket in off the far post. It was a moment to remind everyone of United’s attacking quality, as well as the fact that any one of about six or seven players in their squad are capable of moments like these.
So why have they been struggling? The answer came 10 minutes later. Leicester didn’t look like they needed any help breaching a United defence that had not kept a clean sheet since August, but they obliged anyway.
From their own free-kick, Paul Pogba passed to Victor Lindelof, who passed to De Gea. He rolled the ball out to Maguire, who decided to wait long enough to let Kelechi Iheanacho nip in and steal possession; five seconds later, the ball was in the net thanks to an outrageous finish from Youri Tielemans. A great goal, yes, but from Solskjaer’s point of view, it was avoidable — something it had in common with most of the goals they’ve conceded this season.
United have had just one clean sheet in the last 19 games and afterwards, Solskjaer was forced to defend his decision to bring back Maguire after just one training session on Friday morning following three weeks out with a calf injury. Maguire’s first touch of the game was a heavy one that bounced into the advertising boards, and his day never improved.
“It was my decision to play Harry,” said Solskjaer. “He has worked really hard on the rehab and he looked ready and looked sharp. He’s a big, massive player for us. He’s the captain and we want to bring him back as soon as we can. I’m not pointing fingers at any player but we have to do better.”
It got even worse for Solskjaer during a chaotic final 15 minutes. Caglar Soyuncu put Leicester ahead from a corner, but Rashford, on as a second-half substitute, looked to have got Solskjaer out of trouble with an emphatic finish from Lindelof’s wonderful 40-yard pass.
With eight minutes still to play, it should have been United’s turn to put their foot down, but instead, just 54 seconds after the re-start, Jamie Vardy put Leicester back in front. Patson Daka’s fourth in stoppage time only compounded Solskjaer’s misery as the United boss stood motionless, arms folded, on the touchline. He couldn’t have had many complaints if Leicester had scored six; they perhaps would have done had De Gea not tipped Tielemans’ shot on to the post and Ricardo Pereira not missed a good chance.
Brendan Rodgers and Kasper Schmeichel had both fulfilled their post-match media duties by the time Solskjaer emerged from the dressing room 45 minutes after the final whistle. By that time, the Leicester fans who had ended the game singing “you’re getting sacked in the morning” were long gone, but the noise around his job will only get louder if things don’t change soon.