The Warm Down: Leicester scythe through United to book place in FA Cup semi-finals
LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 21: Kelechi Iheanacho of Leicester City celebrates after scoring to make it 3-1 during the Emirates FA Cup Quarter Final match between Leicester City and Manchester United at The King Power Stadium on March 21, 2021 in Leicester, United Kingdom. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images)

Leicester City took a gigantic leap in their compelling season after emphatically dispatching of Manchester United and cementing their place in the FA Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1982.

City manager Brendan Rodgers once again exhibited his exemplary tactical approach by effectively nullifying a team that had not suffered a domestic defeat away from home in over 14 months, capitalising on a handful of lacklustre errors.

Despite making notable improvements this season, United still desperately seek a maiden trophy under boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and the Norwegian will undoubtedly be bitterly disappointed when facing the reality of another damning lapse in the closing stages of a competition.

For Leicester however, a captivating encounter at Wembley Stadium against fellow Premier League outfit Southampton awaits as the club attempts to claim their first piece of silverware since winning the league in unprecedented fashion during the 15/16 campaign.

The winners of the defining match will earn their place in the final of football’s most prestigious competition, with Chelsea and Manchester City to determine who will earn their respective place at the culminating stage of the tournament.

  • A rare and monumental victory

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Leicester do not beat Manchester United often, but the rare triumphs over their northern opposition have been astounding. The only time the Foxes have prevailed over United on 25 occasions prior to Sunday’s victory was a 5-3 home victory in September 2014 – Leicester’s return to the division after a ten-year absence. 

Sensations of euphoria were undeniably on full display on both occasions, but the victory in this campaigns FA Cup was of a rather different nature for the club. The last win, over five years ago, was a heralded triumph for the underdogs, a bewildering decimation of one of the world’s most coveted football clubs in history.

Presently, Leicester simply cannot be considered underdogs and Rodgers can boast a team with vibrancy and guile in abundance, capable of decimating any given opposition on their day. 

This was evidenced yet again as United failed to compete to City’s level on the day, clearing missing the influence of key figures such as Luke Shaw, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford, with the latter excluded due to injury and the remaining duo beginning the afternoon's affair on the bench. 

The home side also reaped the rewards of their commendable defensive unity, withstanding the majority of the offensive approaches that came their way throughout the match, as well as maintaining their positivity and vigilance after the prodigious Mason Greenwood equalised proceedings late into the first half. 

Any inkling of a comeback for United was swiftly eradicated as Leicester continue to dazzle and score twice more in the second half to finalise a convincing 3-1 victory, and turn attentions to the semi-final.

  • A revitalised forward presence

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When Kelechi Iheanacho made a reported £25 million move from Manchester City back in August 2017, there was an expectation for the prodigy to emulate his early endeavours in the Premier League at Leicester, but a variety of obstacles such as injuries and limited playing consistency have restricted his progress at the club. 

A 24 years of age, and after four years at the centre of the Foxes set-up, the Nigerian forward has started to live up to his potential and is currently revelling in the most prominent purple patch of his career – with seven goals this month alone.

Across all competitions, Iheanacho has now accumulated 12 goals whilst creating five assists and has stepped up crucially at an instrumental stage of the season in the costly absence of influential offensive components such as James Maddison and Harvey Barnes

Against United, Iheanacho was once again dictating proceedings, clinching the official Man of the Match award after capitalising on two calamitous defensive efforts from the opposition either side of half-time and providing the assist for Tielemans’ strike.

With injured personnel still at the forefront of Rodgers' current issues, Iheanacho’s incisive edge will be duly noted as Leicester seek a finalised position in the top-four, as well as challenging to win the FA Cup. 

  • Injuries in abundance 

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It simply cannot be understated when considering the importance of Rodgers at the helm of City. Since his arrival just shy of two years ago, not only has he devised the creation of a team capable of competing and prevailing against the established ‘big-six’, but he has also maintained an exemplary season despite a plethora of setbacks to cemented individuals.

Once again, tactical prowess and a somewhat innate collective understanding between the players effectively dismantled Man United as they struggled to gain a foothold in the game from the opening.

It is true that Leicester’s injurious period over the past few months has seen a blip in their creative outlet, but shrewd and effective recruitment across the past few years has ensured that players have stepped up to the task ahead. 

The surging rise of young prospects such as James Justin and Wesley Fofana only further strengthens the claim that Rodgers has surpassed expectations in meticulously crafting a team worthy of challenging the pinnacle of Europe's elite.

The masses would undoubtedly remain dubious that the Foxes could cause another dramatic upset and triumph in the FA Cup this season against daunting opposition, emulating the successes brought to the city under the tutelage of Claudio Ranieri nearly five years ago.

The pragmatic Rodgers would dispel such claims as frivolous speculation though, maintaining the need to remain focused and determined in the pursuit of an admirable climax to a unique and thrilling season.

  • A blip for United, but not terminal 

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Solskjaer will have justification to berate the players that took to the field at Leicester, and the performance in its entirety was nowhere near the level exhibited on many occasions previous this season. 

United were abject and miserable in instances during the uninspiring showing, with the desperation for a better performance encapsulated when Solskjaer made four concurrent substitutions during the 64th minute.

Ultimately, it wasn’t to be for the Red Devils, and it now appears highly unlikely that a domestic trophy will be claimed this season, with the only chance resting on Man City to squander a 14-point lead at the top of the division with eight games to complete.

Regardless, United are through to the semi-finals of this seasons Europa League, and will challenge Spanish underdogs Granada CF for a place in the final four of the competition. 

Solskjaer must make sure to instill peace and resolution into his side, and ensure that heads do not drop despite being felled in the latter stages of a competition once again.

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