Leicester City heads to Manchester United on Sunday (9 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Network) on the brink of securing a historic Premier League title, and Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri hopes his players get an “American movie” ending.
Having narrowly escaped relegation from the top flight last season by winning seven of its final nine outings, Leicester’s dramatic turnaround continued into 2015-16 and has seen it set the pace at the top of the table.
Tottenham’s failure to beat West Brom on Monday means Leicester, which is seven points clear and nine matches unbeaten, requires just three points from their three remaining games in order to be crowned champions.
The first opportunity to secure a first-ever top-flight title comes when Ranieri’s side travels to Old Trafford, ironically home of the Premier League’s most successful club.
Ranieri is confident Leicester will be able to complete the job, but wants to see a defining performance against United.
“It is important for us to make a perfect game. The best away performance of the season, we have to do it,” Ranieri said. “It is good we are doing something special. And of course I am very proud for everybody in Leicester, for our community.”
United, though, is desperate to remain in the hunt for Champions League qualification and will be brimming with confidence after booking an FA Cup final place with a last-gasp Anthony Martial winner against Everton at Wembley last weekend.
Still, the focus will be on Ranieri’s side because of the fairytale nature of the season.
“There is a good feeling about this story, but it is important to finish the story like an American movie. Always in the final it is OK, a happy ending,” Ranieri said. “I feel it is very important to be concentrated 100 per cent. The story of football is fantastic but you have to be focused on the match. I don’t tell my players to stay calm, I say, ‘stay hungry’.”
Beating Leicester City could play an important role in boosting Man United’s chances, with Manchester City and Arsenal, third and fourth, respectively, and five points clear, still to face each another.
But former Barcelona coach Louis van Gaal expects a typically difficult match against Ranieri, citing his previous encounters with the Italian during his tenure at Valencia.
“It was never easy to beat his teams,” said the Dutchman. “Valencia and Barcelona is also more or less a derby so it is a difficult match. He has always organized his teams very good.”
Leicester’s only absentee is star striker Jamie Vardy, who will serve the final game of his two-match ban for improper conduct.
Van Gaal has no new injury concerns to contend with, though Bastian Schweinsteiger and Luke Shaw will not be fit to play.
Key Opta stats:
• After winning nine Premier League games in a row against Leicester City, Manchester United has won just one of their last three against the Foxes (W2 D1 L1).
• If it wins this match, Leicester will become the first team to win its first top-flight league title in England since Nottingham Forest in 1977-78.
• 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).
• United needs five points in its remaining four league games to equal its lowest points total 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 (W2 D5 L2); these coming in December 2001 and November 2003 as Chelsea boss.