As the minutes ticked down at Old Trafford, the pouring of the champagne will have started on the other side of Manchester. Leicester City’s 2-1 victory over Manchester United means that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side can no longer mathematically catch Manchester City at the top of the table.
City have been champions-elect for some time now but United’s defeat ensured that this season’s Premier League title winners were crowned without even kicking a ball. It is City’s fifth league title in nine seasons; this will only add fuel to United’s ambitions of toppling their city rivals next season.
Solskjaer’s much-changed side were second-best to Leicester in this game. The visitors needed this win to overcome a mental barrier and bring a halt to a slightly disappointing run of two wins from their last six league matches.
Leicester have only been out of the top four for one match-week during the past two years: the final game of last season. Brendan Rodgers and his players do not want that unfortunate slip to occur for the second campaign running, but this win means that they have an eight point buffer with two games remaining.
What’s more, Leicester have an FA Cup final to look forward to this weekend and the signs of progression around this club are all too evident.
Story of the game
The atmosphere in the visiting dressing room will have lifted somewhat when they saw the side that United were sending out. Solskjaer’s hand was forced due to the prospect of playing three games in the space of five days. He made 10 changes from the team that come-from-behind win against Aston Villa on Sunday with only Mason Greenwood remaining in the lineup.
There was a first Premier League start for 18-year-old Amad Diallo, who has already featured and scored for United in the Europa League this season. Anthony Elanga, a 19-year-old forward, was given his first start for the club while there was also a rare league start for Donny van de Beek.
Leicester were without Jonny Evans at the back but it was fellow defender Luke Thomas who stole the early headlines with his lovely-finished goal which set the visitors on their way.
It really came from nothing too. Youri Tielemans passed the ball forward and set Kelechi Iheanacho off down the inside right channel. The striker ran into the United area and crossed to the back post. There was Thomas leaping in a fluid motion, side-footing first time with his left boot back across David De Gea and high into the top corner.
The efficiency of the goal will have pleased Rodgers who takes great satisfaction from well-worked manoeuvres such as these. What will have frustrated the Leicester manager was his side’s inability to hold on to their early lead for longer than five minutes.
A lofted ball over the visitors’ defence by Juan Mata found Diallo. He wrestled Thomas off with ease, which was not a great look for the Leicester goalscorer, and the ball was played back to Greenwood. A quick shimmy sent Caglar Soyuncu the wrong way and allowed Greenwood to move into a shooting position from where he finished with aplomb past Kasper Schmeichel.
Both teams had scored with their first attempts on target but clear chances from then on were not forthcoming. Elanga made some bright and busy runs in and behind the Leicester defence but he was not found by those supplying from further back.
The lacklustre end to the first half was replaced by a far more energised Leicester display after the interval. De Gea had to block an effort from Iheanacho whose angle of approach was rather too tight to do damage. There was no denying that the visitors were on top at this stage against a team of players who won’t have spent much time on a pitch together this season.
Solskjaer made changes and sent on Edinson Cavani, who has recently signed on for an extra year with the club, and Marcus Rashford. The problem was that the United manager made the substitutions just as his side were defending a corner - a no-go move some may say.
Soyuncu watched as the ball swirled in from the right. He ran to the back post, losing his marker - the newly arrived Rashford, who had barely time to acquaint himself with his marking position - and the Turkish centre-back towered a header past De Gea.
Leicester could have extended their lead when Iheanacho was given time to pick his spot in the United area for his cross. He found Vardy who headed across goal but Tielemans couldn’t quite stretch enough to push the ball in at the back post with which he collided.
When United need a goal they often resort to Bruno Fernandes and that’s what they did here with the Portuguese entering proceedings 12 minutes prior to the finish. He sliced a shot wide and then Rashford had a chance to make amends for his earlier involvement in Leicester’s goal but he couldn’t quite connect properly with Brandon Williams’s delivery.
This was not a pivotal loss for United, they are already practically guaranteed a top-four finish, but it could prove a decisive win for Leicester and their hopes of Champions League football. Perhaps most crucially, it presented City with the title - although that was never in doubt.
Man Utd: De Gea; Williams, Bailly, Tuanzebe, Telles; Van de Beek, Matic; Diallo (Fernandes 78), Mata, Elanga (Rashford 65); Greenwood (Cavani 65).
Subs (not used): Henderson, Shaw, Lindelof, Wan-Bissaka, McTominay, Pogba.
Leicester: Schmeichel; Castagne, Fofana, Soyuncu; Albrighton, Ndidi, Tielemans, Thomas; Perez (Maddison 65); Iheanacho, Vardy (Chowdhury 80).
Subs (not used): Ward, Fuchs, Amartey, Pereira, Praet, Mendy, Maswanhise.
Referee: Craig Pawson.