Old Trafford coronation beckons for Leicester City

Photo credit: AFP

Photo credit: AFP

Leicester City can bring their fairytale pursuit of glory to a suitably spectacular conclusion on Sunday by beating Premier League standard-bearers Manchester United at Old Trafford to capture the title.

Seven points clear of second-place Tottenham Hotspur with three games remaining, Leicester, the 5,000-1 outsiders, will be champions for the first time in their 132-year history if they prevail at the home of United, the dominant force of the Premier League era.

But although Leicester are now so close to the trophy that they can smell the silver polish, manager Claudio Ranieri is determined to make sure that his players do not lose sight of the task in hand.

“We have to fight a lot,” the Italian told a packed King Power Stadium media room during his pre-game press conference.

“It will be a fantastic match, but tough. We have to stay calm and stay hungry. I want to see that.

“For the first time in the club’s life, they can win the title. It is unbelievable. It is history.”

After a sequence of nervy, narrow wins and a fraught 2-2 draw with West Ham United, the title swam into pin-sharp focus for Leicester this week when their breezy 4-0 victory over Swansea City was followed by Tottenham losing ground in a 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion.

It means that Leicester can drop points at United and still be crowned champions, as long as Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham do not better their result when they visit outgoing champions Chelsea a day later.

And with a home game against Everton followed by their own trip to Chelsea still to come, Leicester possess ample room for error.

While Ranieri continues to proceed with caution, the city of Leicester is now firmly on a title footing.

– ‘Postpone the party’ –

Fans sporting Leicester shirts and blue face-paint queued for photographs with the Premier League trophy in a city centre bank on Friday and local landmarks have been lit up blue in anticipation of the team’s first major silverware since the 2000 League Cup.

It is a while since Old Trafford hosted a title party, with a solitary Community Shield the only trophy of note that the club have won since Alex Ferguson retired as manager in 2013.

But Louis van Gaal’s United side are far from ideal candidates for the role of sacrificial lambs on the Leicester title altar.

Fifth-place United boast the strongest home record in the division, having lost only twice on their own patch all season, and have conceded only seven goals in their 17 home games to date.

They are currently on a run of six successive home wins, which has helped to keep their challenge for a Champions League place alive, and with Manchester City and Arsenal guaranteed to take points off each other when they meet next weekend, Van Gaal’s men are not short of incentives in their pursuit of a top-four finish.

“We have to beat them because we are still in the race for fourth position,” Van Gaal said.

“We cannot allow them to be champions this weekend at Old Trafford. They shall be champions a week later. We don’t spoil the party, only postpone it a little bit.”

Leicester have not won at Old Trafford in seven attempts, since a 1-0 league victory in January 1998, and will again be without 22-goal top scorer Jamie Vardy, who completes a two-game ban stemming from his dismissal for diving against West Ham.

His Argentine understudy Leonardo Ulloa is expected to continue up front despite sustaining a minor back problem after scoring twice against Swansea, while Ranieri must decide whether to keep faith with Jeff Schlupp on the left wing or recall Marc Albrighton.

United, who beat Everton at Wembley last weekend to reach the FA Cup final, are close to full strength, with left-back Luke Shaw (broken leg) and midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger (knee) their only absentees.

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