For the third time in four years, Manchester City are champions. For the first time in five, Leicester City could be competing in the Champions League again. A much-changed Manchester United, meanwhile, succumbed to their first Premier League defeat since January, in a result which reverberated around the top of the table.
Caglar Soyuncu’s thumping second-half header lifted Leicester to third, one place and four points behind United, bolstering their hopes of finishing in the top four and easing fears in the east Midlands of another late season collapse. It also rendered City’s 10-point lead at the top unassailable. Yet that only tells half the story.
This was United’s third of four games in the space of eight days, with Liverpool’s rearranged visit set to be played here on Thursday evening. The congestion practically forced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to play his second string. That still involved some £200m-worth of talent, and this was far from a walkover, but Solskjaer’s side were decidedly second-best.
There will be complaints from Anfield and east London. Fifth-place West Ham are now six points adrift of the top four. Liverpool have two games in hand on Leicester but, nine points back, will have to be almost perfect between now and the end of the season, starting at Old Trafford on Thursday night.
Circumstances dictated an almost entirely different United line-up from that which started Sunday’s win at Villa Park, with Greenwood the only survivor. Anthony Elanga, a highly-rated Swedish prospect, made his full debut. Amad played from the off out on the right wing. Even Donny van de Beek was handed a start, only his third in the league this season.
That lack of chemistry told in the early stages and certainly for Leicester’s opening goal. Four United players including two members of the back four - Axel Tuanzebe and Alex Telles - were drawn out to press Marc Albrighton near the halfway line. A simple first-time pass into the space they had vacated in behind played in Youri Tielemans.
There was still plenty of work for Tielemans to do and more still for Thomas, who patiently watched, waited and adjusted his body shape as his teammate’s far post cross dropped out of the sky. The volley which followed was perfectly executed, struck across a helpless David de Gea and inside the far post.
Thomas was not the only adolescent out to impress, though, and United equalised with the Premier League’s first goal to be scored and assisted by teenagers since 2006. Amad’s frame is slight but hides surprising strength, if the way that he muscled Leicester’s goal-scorer off the ball is anything to go by.
A pass inside then released the sparkling Greenwood, who controlled with one touch, shimmied away from Soyuncu with the second then rolled a finish past Kasper Schmeichel with the third. It was the 19-year-old’s eighth goal in his last 11 games and one that only a player with supreme confidence in his abilities could score.
A goal apiece inside the opening quarter of an hour promised much for the remainder, but they came from the only two meaningful shots of the first half. This was a tight affair, but only particularly tense from a Leicester perspective, and their frustration grew as they tried and failed to break down United’s second-string defence.
Greenwood could have punished them further at the start of the second half and perhaps should have done better when heading a Telles free-kick well wide. What followed, though, was a sustained period of Leicester pressure, carrying Rodgers’ men up to the hour mark, with Kelechi Iheanacho going closest from a narrow angle.
Solskjaer attempted to stem the tide with a double substitution but Leicester immediately regained the lead. Albrighton’s corner delivery was whipped towards the far post but by no means unplayable. Marcus Rashford, only just introduced, and Nemanja Matic could certainly have done better jobs of stopping Soyuncu climbing highest and thumping home.
Albrighton sank to his knees in satisfaction. Rodgers allowed a beaming grin to break across his face once he realised it would count. Solskjaer threw on Bruno Fernandes in an attempt to salvage at least a point and delay City’s coronation further, as well as avoid awkward questions around the integrity of the competition, but Leicester held firm.
At the sound of the final whistle, Albrighton and his teammates were down on their knees again. Leicester knew this was a hugely significant result, for themselves, as much as anyone else.
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