MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, May 1, (AFP): Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City must wait to complete their fairytale Premier League title quest after being held to a 1-1 draw by Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday.
The Foxes needed three points to win the league for the first time, but with thousands of fans back in Leicester and millions of new converts around the world watching on television, they had to make do with one after Wes Morgan cancelled out Anthony Martial’s opener for United.
Leicester, who lost Danny Drinkwater to a late red card, will be crowned champions unless second-place Tottenham Hotspur win at Chelsea on Monday, but if Spurs do prevail, Ranieri’s men will be left requiring two points from their final games, at home to Everton and away to Chelsea.
“For us it was important to show our mentality. The beginning wasn’t good, but after that I appreciated our performance,” said Ranieri.
“I’d like to watch the Tottenham match, but I’m on a flight back from Italy so I might not know the result until I land.”
It would still take a monumental collapse for Leicester not to claim the title, but their players, staff and anxious supporters must wait a few more hours, if not days, before their place in sporting history can be confirmed.
While Leicester’s destiny remains in their own hands, it was a damaging result for Louis van Gaal’s United, who were left four points below the Champions League places with three games to play.
“I think we played one of our best matches of the season, but it was not enough,” said Van Gaal.
“When you don’t win, of course it is tougher (to finish in the top four).”
Leicester have turned winning with minimal possession into an art form this season, but United’s early dominance here was to prove the precursor to a soft opener.
Antonio Valencia was allowed to cut inside Christian Fuchs and trundle a cross to the back post, where Martial exploited Danny Simpson’s errant positioning to slot his 15th goal of the season past Kasper Schmeichel.
Back at the ground where his father, Peter, made his name, Schmeichel then produced a sharp one-handed save to thwart Jesse Lingard.
Shortly after Schmeichel’s save, visiting captain Morgan outmuscled the floundering Marcos Rojo to meet Drinkwater’s arcing free-kick with a headed 17th-minute equaliser.
The game was now an intense, robust encounter and United midfielder Marouane Fellaini was guilty of a wild elbow to Robert Huth’s chin, after the German had provoked him by yanking his hair, that could earn the Belgian a retrospective ban.
Asked for his reaction in a post-match television interview, Van Gaal grabbed the reporter’s hair and said: “When you see what Huth is doing with Fellaini, is that not a penalty?”
Referee Michael Oliver did not spot Fellaini’s infringement and he was also involved in two incidents prior to half-time that could have had major ramifications for either side.
In the first, Lingard intercepted a pass from Simpson, a former United player, on halfway and raced towards goal, only to go to ground as Simpson leant into him.
It would have been a red card if Oliver had called it a foul, but he saw no wrongdoing and it was the same story moments later — albeit perhaps more contentiously — when Riyad Mahrez crashed to the turf after being caught by Rojo inside the United box.
The teams continued to exchange chances in the second half, with Martial shooting over and Lingard curling straight at Schmeichel for United, while Leonardo Ulloa, once again deputising for the suspended Jamie Vardy, twice threatened for the visitors and Mahrez stung David de Gea’s palms.
The closing stages belonged to United, however, with Chris Smalling’s header clipping the post before Drinkwater, another Old Trafford old boy, saw red after receiving a second yellow card for hauling back substitute Memphis Depay right on the edge of the box.
The home fans wanted a penalty. Oliver, again, said no.