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Leicester are on the verge of achieving the impossible, with three points at Old Trafford all that is required to snatch the English Premier League title with two games more to go. Interestingly, the opportunity up for grab at the Theatre of Dreams, the home of the Premier League’s most successful club with a mighty squad worth £300plus; a sum 10 times the financial worth of the Leicester’s squad – when it was assembled, that is.
There is another sub-plot; Kasper Schmeichel, the Leicester goalkeeper, and son of Manchester United legend Peter Schmeichel, has a golden chance to win a miracle Premier League crown at his father’s old stomping ground. There is another aspect in a team full of incredible stories. Success at Manchester United’s home ground would be a fitting way for Claudio Ranieri’s boys to complete their unbelievable campaign.
But while all the glittering focus will be on the miracle Foxes in this exciting clash, hosts United still find plenty to play for themselves. With just one game in hand on fourth-placed Arsenal, van Gaal’s boys can still secure a last-minute UEFA Champions League ticket at the expense of their London rivals, but to be practical they must win for this to be a possibility. The gap right now sits at five points.
Defeat could also leave Manchester United vulnerable to slipping out of even the Europa League before the season’s conclusion as Liverpool and Southampton still breathing down their necks on 55 and 54 points respectively.
The match is scheduled to kick-off at Old Trafford on Sunday at 2.05pm (BST).
Manchester United: Louis van Gaal has the luxury of maintaining the same team that see off Everton 2-1 in the FA Cup semi-final last weekend. Whether he will actually select a same eleven is unlikely, however, especially with Juan Mata and Schneiderlin both selected on the bench at Wembley. They could make a comeback into the team as well as Italian full-back Matteo Darmian.
Leicester City: Leicester’s goal-machine Jamie Vardy is still missing, so Ulloa and Okazaki will start as the forward pairing once again. Fans can sit more comfortably as the record-breaker’s absence on this occasion after Ulloa scored a brace against Swansea City in a sensational 4-0 victory.
United possible starting XI: De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Rojo; Schneiderlin, Fellaini; Mata, Rooney, Martial; Rashford.
Leicester possible starting XI: Schmeichel, Simpson, Morgan, Huth, Fuchs, Mahrez, Drinkwater, Kante, Albrighton, Okazaki, Ulloa.
Riyad Mahrez vs Marcos Rojo
Even though the Argentine left-back is most likely to line up directly on Mahrez, the responsibility of keeping the Leicester star in check will extend well beyond Rojo’s reaches.
Operating from his place on the right side of midfield, Mahrez will look to cut inside whenever possible, so Manchester United’s central defensive pairing, as well as midfield screen Morgan Schneiderlin, will have to be ready every time Mahrez touches the ball. Mahrez is the chief creative force who drives the Foxes. If he can get off the leash, Leo Ulloa and Shinji Okazaki will be the beneficiary, and could well mean Leicester secure glory.
After winning nine Premier League games in a row against Leicester, the Red Devils have now won just one of their last three against the Foxes (drawn one, lost one).
Leicester City have now won 22 league games this season – their highest tally in a top-flight season, overtaking both 1928-29 and 1965-66.
Manchester United need to win five points in their remaining four league games to equal their lowest points tally in a Premier League campaign (64 in 2013-14).
Claudio Ranieri has won just two of his previous nine Premier League matches as a manager against Manchester United (drawn five, lost two); these coming in December 2001 and November 2003 as Chelsea boss.
Coming into this matchday, Riyad Mahrez is the only player to have reached double figures for both goals (17) and assists (11) in the Premier League this season.
Wayne Rooney has currently scored 99 Premier League goals at Old Trafford – the only player to have scored 100+ at a single ground in the competition is Thierry Henry at Highbury (114).
Leicester are one of just three clubs which Rooney has faced with Man Utd in the top-flight without scoring (also Blackpool and Derby). He did, however, score two in the Premier League versus the Foxes for Everton.
Rooney only has seven Premier League goals this season – he’s only failed to reach double figures in two league campaigns; 2002-03 at Everton (6) and 2003-04 at Everton (9).
Leicester City could become the 24th different team to win the English top-flight league title, doing so against the team that has won the most top-flight titles in England (Manchester United – 20).
Manchester United win: 1.1
Leicester City win: 2.9
Will Leicester City finally crack under pressure on their biggest of days?
The same question has been asked many a time this term but the Foxes yet to flinch. However, this will be their toughest challenge of all away fixtures against a resolute Manchester United, and even with Vardy absent, Leicester still have what it takes to prevail.
This clash promises to be tight, tense and nervous, but Ranieri will have to emphasise the importance of cool heads. Leicester have displayed time to time they can win ugly, and that is what may be required on this outing also. After all, it happens to be a result that will win them the league title, no matter how it is achieved. So expect a scrappy fight with a fairytale finish.
Our prediction Manchester United 0-1 Leicester City.