The coronation is postponed no longer. Finally, Manchester City are champions. Their third Premier League title in four years came courtesy of Leicester City and, perhaps, of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the fixture calendar. But as a weakened Manchester United team were beaten, the inevitable became mathematical certainty. City cannot be caught.
Victory may ultimately prove more significant to Leicester, however. Their top-four push was faltering, their 4-2 defeat to Newcastle on Friday was their worst performance of the season. But they took advantage of a weakened United team to open up a gap of eight and nine points to West Ham and Liverpool respectively. This could prove the result that catapults them into the Champions League.
It came with the aid of goalscoring defenders. Luke Thomas scored his first Premier League goal in spectacular style, Caglar Soyuncu headed his first of the season in emphatic fashion. Circumstances, and Solskjaer’s decision to prioritise Thursday’s game against Liverpool, afforded them an opportunity. They took it.
A manager who is normally reluctant to rotate made 10 changes, retaining only Mason Greenwood, arguing the schedule was impossible; Jurgen Klopp’s team can expect to face an altogether stronger side.
It was the first time since Marcus Rashford’s bow in 2016 that United gave two teenagers Premier League debuts, in Anthony Elanga and Amad Diallo. The Ivorian was able to celebrate with an assist but each looked lively. Solskjaer’s faith in youth is one of his more endearing traits but it is often rewarded. United’s youngsters, like their senior side often do, showed the character to come from behind.
Their second-string defence was breached by perhaps Leicester’s third-choice left-back. Thomas’ maiden top-flight goal came at a fine location and in still better style as he met Youri Tielemans’ far-post cross with a dipping volley.
Sadly for Thomas, he was partly culpable as they conceded. He reached Juan Mata’s long pass, only to be outmuscled by Diallo. One teenager found another and Greenwood escaped the attentions of three defenders to angle a shot past Kasper Schmeichel.
Greenwood was outstanding, but Solskjaer spared his legs for the final stages, brought on Edinson Cavani and Rashford in the search for a winner but United promptly conceded.
Rodgers took the surprise decision to demote James Maddison, abandoning his recent 3-5-2 formation for 4-4-2. It left Leicester looking short of creativity in the first half. They showed more urgency thereafter.
Tielemans was terrific. He was the game’s classiest player. Kelechi Iheanacho ejected United from the FA Cup and had the chance to inflict another defeat on them. But, after a defence-splitting pass from Tielemans, his shot was well saved by David de Gea. Instead, the goal came from Soyuncu, outjumping Nemanja Matic and meeting Marc Albrighton’s corner with a thumping header.
Matic was captaining United in the absence of Harry Maguire, who missed a league game for the first time since joining United, but Solskjaer said his ankle injury was relatively mild and that he could return for the Europa League final. “There is ligament damage but hopefully we'll see him again this season,” he stated.
The presence of Maguire in a protective boot and on crutches was not the only difference sight. There was a far greater police presence outside Old Trafford after the postponement of the Liverpool game. There was more fencing around the East Stand. On this occasion, it was unnecessary.
United had trouble with their fans on the pitch 10 days earlier. This time, the issues were provided by Leicester. Having taken the lead for a second time, they defended it altogether better. They are back on course to join the other City in the Champions League.