Gary Neville believes Manchester United’s tepid draw with Leicester signalled an end to their flickering hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
Neville – in the commentary box for a 1-1 draw which kept United in sixth – says his old club would like to get to the end of the season as swiftly as possible but their forthcoming fixtures mean they will not be able to go “under the radar” – with games against Everton, Liverpool and Chelsea ensuring there is no hiding place for Ralf Rangnick’s beleaguered side.
Kelechi Iheanacho put the visitors ahead on the day, nodding an inch-perfect James Maddison cross past David de Gea after Fred was dispossessed on a United counter-attack.
Fred levelled three minutes later after Leicester failed to clear the ball, Bruno Fernandes shooting from the edge of the box and the Brazilian directing home the rebound after Kasper Schmeichel pushed it out.
Maddison had a late goal ruled out for a foul on Raphael Varane, while on another day Scott McTominay might have seen red rather than yellow for catching the Leicester playmaker with a high lunge.
United struggled for fluency throughout and are now four points behind fourth-places Arsenal having played two games more – and in serious danger of failing to secure a Champions League spot next season.
“Everyone gave everything,” Fernandes told Sky Sports. “I don’t believe there’s anyone who didn’t give everything in the game. Nobody lacked intensity. We have to keep fighting. As I said before, we have to keep looking at our own games.”
United lacked a cutting edge without Cristiano Ronaldo, who missed out because of illness, and a lacklustre performance brought a withering verdict from Neville afterwards.
Asked on Saturday Night Football if United are now out of the running for the top four, he said: “I think so. The run-in started today following the international break. They had to start it with a win but they didn’t get it. It was the way they drew the game – that was really bad out there today.
“Sometimes, teams can look a bit rusty when they come back but I thought the break would work for United as I thought it would be good for players to get away from the club and then come back and give it a right go.
“This is going to be a long two months for those United players and fans. It’s going to be difficult in their remaining eight matches if they continue in that vein of form. It was so flat.”
Substitute Marcus Rashford, who curiously did not start despite Ronaldo being out, had claims for a penalty waved away on an afternoon where Harry Maguire’s every involvement was booed by Leicester fans.
The unavailability of Ronaldo and the injured Edinson Cavani left United without a recognised centre forward so Fernandes, who signed a new contract earlier this week, and the returning Paul Pogba dovetailed higher up the pitch – to little effect early on.
Neville said: “It was really poor out there today and I didn’t have a clear idea of what they were trying to do. I was struggling with it a bit before the game without a centre forward. That’s killed Rashford today, not playing in that team.
Rangnick: Rashford lacking confidence
Man Utd interim boss Ralf Rangnick told Sky Sports:
“In the end we are not happy with the result but the second half was OK.
“The only striker we had was Marcus Rashford. We knew this morning Cristiano could not play and decided to start Paul Pogba. After 60 minutes we made the change and had a central striker on the pitch.
“It is no secret that he was not full of confidence in the last couple of weeks. In training he is looking well but it was a question between Paul and Marcus, we went with Paul.”
“I know he’s struggled for form and for confidence but for Cristiano Ronaldo to pull out this morning and Paul Pogba to go in and for United to change the system of play as opposed to a straight swap surprised me. Too many things surrounding this club at present are uncertain.
“Talks around Harry Maguire, Rashford, Ronaldo, Cavani, the new manager, Rangnick’s future – is he going to be a consultant or is he not? They just need to get to the end of the season but it won’t be easy as they’ve got Everton away, Liverpool away, Chelsea home and Arsenal away.
“It won’t be a case of being able to go under the radar as everyone will be watching. It’s Manchester United. There’s no hiding place and those players are going to have to pick themselves up.”
Fernandes: United’s standard must be higher
Bruno Fernandes called for Manchester United to raise their standards after the disappointing draw. United were uninspiring without Cristiano Ronaldo, sidelined due to illness, with his fellow Portuguese Fernandes withering in his critique of their display as he called for sharp improvements.
“Everyone is disappointed,” he told MUTV. “This result was not the result that we want but there is nothing we can do now.
“We have to look ahead to the next game and understand that the standard of this club has to be higher and better, and we know that we are capable of that.”
Fernandes, who on Friday signed a new contract that ties him to United until 2026 with the option of a further year, has come under scrutiny following a dip in his own form this season.
With Ronaldo and the injured Edinson Cavani absent and Marcus Rashford benched, Fernandes was deployed as a false nine while the returning Paul Pogba played higher up the pitch in a supplementary role.
United struggled to create many openings in a first half where their best chance fell to Fernandes, who fluffed his shot, but he had a hand in their equaliser three minutes after going behind.
Fernandes’ low strike drew a good save from Kasper Schmeichel but the ball headed into the path of Fred, who slotted in the rebound after 66 minutes which ultimately secured a share of the spoils.
But Fernandes wants to draw a line under a result that left United three points adrift of fourth-placed Arsenal, who have played two games fewer, and is now eyeing next week’s trip to Everton.
“You have to think (about) winning every game we have going forward,” he added. “But now, (we need to be) thinking about the next one and not rushing too much because we have to think game by game.”
Are United still in the top-four race?
Sky Sports’ Jamie Redknapp:
“I just can’t see it right now in terms of how they’re playing. With both Arsenal and Tottenham you see sides with a pattern who are playing with an enjoyment. Both managers have a style but I just don’t see it with United.
“There’s no joy to how Manchester United play. It was indicative of them all season, last year and the year before that. United must go to games and wonder, ‘what are we going to get today’. They looked lethargic and I wouldn’t put it down to a lack of effort as I think it would be lazy for me to say that.
“They’re lacking in ideas, confidence and good players are making elementary mistakes. They’re just not enjoying their football right now. They are drifting – the players and I think the manager is as well. He’s probably thinking it’s tough for him.
“He thought he would do better, surely, than what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did – but he isn’t. With the players he’s got, it’s a real struggle. He’s tried different systems, he played with two up with two narrow ones when he first came and now he’s not playing with a striker.
“People wondered whether Cristiano Ronaldo was the problem, but he isn’t as they certainly could’ve done with him today. There are so many problems and things that have to be sorted out at United. It may not be the manager but the players who have to go. They need a clean sweep as it’s a tough watch right now.
“For the fans and for the players, there’s a lack of belief in what they’re trying to achieve.”
Man Utd interim boss Ralf Rangnick told Sky Sports:
“As long as it (top four) is possible mathematically, it is possible. It is our job and duty to do our best to finish of the best on the best possible note. The picture for me is clear, internally we spoke about it but there is nothing else I can say at this stage.
“For us, it’s my job and all of our jobs to finish this season on the highest and best possible note. Saying that does not necessarily mean finishing fourth.
“Dropping another two points hasn’t made the situation better at all. For us it’s about preparing for the next game again.
“It doesn’t help at all to look at the table every weekend and speculate and anticipate what might happen, how many points we might need. Right now we are not the favourites for sure for number four.
“But the season is not over, we still have another eight games to play and then it’s time to draw the right conclusions and take the right decisions for next season.”
A fractured dressing room with poisonous characters
Sky Sports’ Jamie Redknapp:
“It’s a risk for your reputation right now taking that job. United is one of the biggest clubs in the world and it’s an ideal opportunity for someone because everyone is thinking, ‘I can get this right’, but there have been some brilliant managers who have struggled.
“I feel a bit sorry for Ralf Rangnick as he’s a bit naked in that dressing room. Everyone knows he’s not going to be there and people are sort of listening to him. More importantly, it’s the players who are going to be leaving.
“Pogba and Jesse Lingard are going to be leaving on free transfers as well as Juan Mata and Cavani. They’re leaving and that will be the best for the club as they’re not going to take it forward.
“Next season, Rashford will be up for contract along with Luke Shaw. They aren’t too many players who if you’re looking at that squad you’ll be thinking, ‘I can’t wait to work with them’.
“I’m looking at Rashford right now and this is a young man that I believe has to go and explore and do something else. He looks like he’s fell out of love with the game right now. He needs to go and play somewhere as there’s no doubt there’s a player in there.
“There will be hundreds of clubs who will want him. He’s had enormous success against clubs like Paris Saint-Germain in Europe while clubs in England will want him. Tottenham, Arsenal, everyone would want him but I feel his race is run at United. It looks a fractured dressing room at United with poisonous characters. It’s not a dressing room that’s pulling together.”
Is speculation over the next manager a hindrance?
Erik ten Hag has refused to rule out the possibility of joining United and added that he hopes Ajax will understand if he decides to take the “next step” in his managerial career.
Ten Hag and United have held official talks, which were described as “very positive”, over the Dutchman becoming the Premier League side’s next manager.
Following that interview, United have been informally gathering information around Ten Hag, including a potential compensation figure should they choose to appoint him.
They’re trying to run a football club by Zoom and they’ve been trying to do that before Zoom even existed because they’ve not been here.
Neville added: “I said because the interview process started around 7-10 days ago, I said publicly that they would conclude it quite quickly otherwise it becomes a bit of a mess.
“There were already reports earlier in the week regarding whether Erik ten Hag was going to be offered a contract and I suspect what we’ll see after that performance today is a PR spike this week whereby the next manager might be named and it wouldn’t surprise me.
“We’ve been here now for nearly 10 years and it’s tough. I’m not angry and I don’t think any Manchester United fan who left this ground is angry tonight because we’ve probably gone past anger and we’re just flat and we’re bored. There was nothing there today.
“I don’t feel sorry for the players but I do genuinely believe the players care. They lack direction and that comes from the very top. The owners have had around 10 years post Sir Alex Ferguson to try to work this out.
“They’re trying to run a football club by Zoom and they’ve been trying to do that before Zoom even existed because they’ve not been here. Ultimately there needs to be something that culturally shifts at this football club to make it a project.
“I didn’t think Louis van Gaal suited the club and he didn’t fit with my style of play but he had a pop at the club this week. They need to get to a point where everyone is pointing in the same direction. There are two many people at the club looking left and right thinking, ‘where’s my next move? Is he going to be here next year?’ That’s never good.”
Should McTominay have seen red?
Sky Sports’ Jamie Redknapp:
“I think it’s a red in the current climate. We saw a similar challenge to this earlier in the season involving Harry Kane and he got a yellow card when I thought he should’ve got a red card on that occasion.
“It was reckless and he’s out of control. He endangers his opponent as you can see how high James Maddison goes. When you’re playing and you lose control of the ball, it is pure frustration and desperation. He goes lunging in but when you do that, you have to win the ball. Once you don’t, I think it’s a red card.
“You wonder if the VAR [Michael Oliver] could’ve asked Andre Marriner to go to the monitor just to leave it with his interpretation and people would’ve accepted that. When they are so contentious and dangerous like that, it’s why the screen is there.”
Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers: “We had one in the season when Ayoze Perez was sent off, that one was similar, the ball gets way he has to make a challenge. We got the yellow.”
Should Maddison’s strike have been disallowed?
James Maddison told Sky Sports:
“The disallowed goal is one of them – you see them given and you see them not given. I’m obviously going to be biased and say it’s not a foul. As soon as he goes over to the monitor you know.
“I saw Varane go down. The way he went down I thought it was a twist injury. As soon as the referee went to the monitor I knew something was going to happen that was going to spoil my party.”
Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers:
“Raphael Varane has used his experience, he gets the contact and goes down. There were opportunities for them to clear it but we were deserving of that. Every week we are seeing this types of actions, we felt we deserved to win the game.”
Former Leicester striker Emile Heskey:
“In real time, I thought it was great play by Iheanacho, he held the ball up well and I thought Varane just slipped. Maddison showed composure to finish, but after seeing the replays you can see Iheanacho pulls his leg out and it is a foul.”
Manchester United travel to Everton in the Premier League on Saturday, April 9; kick-off 12.30pm.
Leicester host PSV Eindhoven in the first leg of their Europa Conference League quarter-final on Thursday, April 7; kick-off 8pm.