Leicester 0 Man Utd 2: Bruno Fernandes and Jesse Lingard secure Champions League football in crucial £80m clash

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IT was a fitting way for Manchester United to seal their return to the Champions League – a penalty from the man who has revolutionised their season.

Had it not been for the £67million January arrival of Bruno Fernandes, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men would not have been close to the top four.

Leicester led United by 14 points when the Portuguese midfielder arrived from Sporting Lisbon on January 30 – yet the Reds have overhauled them.

And the fact that United have been awarded a staggering 20 penalties this season – 14 of them in the Premier League – has certainly proved a major factor in their campaign.

Leicester had their chances to win this final-day shoot-out for a place in Europe’s elite club competition – with Jamie Vardy coming closest by heading against the bar.

But United kept their heads and Fernandes slotted home his 10th goal of the season to calm nerves, even though a draw here would have been enough to edge out Leicester.

This was a bitter pill for Leicester to swallow but they have won just four times in the Premier League since New Year’s Day and injuries to key players such as James Maddison, Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira have hindered them badly.

While there has been much talk of Leicester’s collapse over the second half of the season, United’s recent form had not been convincing either.

Just one win from their previous four matches, including an FA Cup semi-final hiding by Chelsea, had taken some shine off their impressive resurgence either side of the lockdown.

Rodgers reshaped his side, returning to a flat back four, with Marc Albrighton returning from injury.

It meant that four of Claudio Ranieri’s 2016 miracle men were starting – on a day when Leicester needed the improbable, here were players who had already achieved the impossible.

This was the loudest of behind-closed-doors matches, Leicester having clearly instructed their subs, directors, backroom staff and security staff to roar on their team.

It was not the same as 30,000 Foxes fans armed with clappers but it was noticeable and seemed to spur Rodgers’ side.

Anthony Martial, though, had the ball in the net early on – only for the Frenchman to be ruled offside.

Harry Maguire – on his first return to the King Power since last summer’s £80million move – did not receive the ear-bashing he would have expected had this fixture been played in normal times.

But he was booked for clattering Kelechi Iheanacho from behind – and then came a string of Leicester chances.

Nemanja Matic’s sleepy pass fell straight to Iheanacho on the edge of the box, with the impressive Wilfred Ndidi shooting narrowly over.

An Iheanacho shot squirmed out of David De Gea’s grasp but Jamie Vardy could not quite snaffle the rebound as the United keeper held it at the second attempt.

Leicester were pressing United high, making Maguire and Matic, in particular, look clunky.

Youri Tielemans almost snuck one in a shot with United’s defence against looking soporific.

Yet United ended the first half on a high – a looping pass from Paul Pogba bounced over James Justin and Marcus Rashford lofted his shot over when he ought to have scored.

Pogba was instrumental again when he fed Martial, whose shot was deflected wide from a corner.

When Leicester failed to clear, Rashford’s vicious shot was beaten away by Kasper Schmeichel.

There were a couple of excellent pieces of defensive work early in the second period – Justin nicking the ball from Martial, just as the Frenchman was about to pull the trigger and Victor Lindelof blocking Albrighton as the winger closed in on goal.

Then from a Tielemans free-kick, Vardy looped a header against the bar.

But Leicester started playing a succession of wobbly defensive passes before Hamza Choudhury was caught dawdling and dispossessed by Greenwood, Fernandes sending Martial through.

The French striker was tackled almost simultaneously by centre-backs Jonny Evans and Wes Morgan – Morgan seemed to get the initial touch but Evans the yellow card.

Despite the pressure, Fernandes performed a dummy in his run-up before he sent Schmeichel the wrong way.

Schmeichel’s dad, Peter, won the Champions League with United in 1999 and he could not prevent them returning to the competition next season.

Evans then lost his head in injury-time and was handed a straight red by Martin Atkinson for a horrible late challenge on Scott McTominay.

In the final seconds, Schmeichel attempted to dribble round Lingard who robbed the keeper and tapped into the empty net.

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