Manchester United handed the Premier League title to fierce rival Manchester City on Tuesday by losing 2-1 to Leicester, which ignited its bid to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
United needed to avoid defeat at Old Trafford to delay City’s title celebrations for at least two more days, but manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s decision to field a weakened lineup amid a congested fixture schedule proved costly.
Leicester took full advantage and Çağlar Söyüncü’s 66th-minute winner lifted the team above Chelsea into third, eight points above fifth-place West Ham in the race for a top-four finish.
City holds an unassailable 10-point lead over second-place United with three games remaining for each team. It has won the league for the third time in four seasons — and seventh time in total.
“Congratulations to them," Solskjaer said. “They have had a fantastic season. Very pleased with my boys because they have made it to the last 10 days with a Manchester City side ahead of us that are lauded as the best in Europe.”
Liverpool and West Ham, the teams fighting with Leicester for an automatic Champions League qualifying spot, would have been unhappy to see their rival get an easier ride at Old Trafford owing to Solskjaer’s team selection that saw stars like Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba start on the bench.
Solskjaer felt he had no option, having been handed a schedule which forced United to play Aston Villa on Sunday, Leicester on Tuesday and the Liverpool on Thursday. That came about because United had to rearrange its fixture against Liverpool that was postponed at the start of May because of fan protests against the club's American owners.
“It can’t be like this again," Solskjaer said. “We can’t play Thursday, Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday. It is impossible. That’s the reason we made the changes. It’s unheard of.”
Fifth-place West Ham must win its final three games and hope Leicester slips up in its remaining matches, against Chelsea and Tottenham.
Liverpool, in sixth place, might have a better shot as the deposed champion has four games left. If Liverpool wins all of them, Leicester would likely need to pick up four points against Chelsea and Tottenham.
United has come from behind to win on 10 occasions in the league this season but its backups couldn’t make it 11.
Luke Thomas volleyed into the top corner for his first Premier League goal to put Leicester in front, only for Mason Greenwood to show great footwork before finding the bottom corner for the equalizer five minutes later.
Söyüncü’s winner came off a header from Marc Albrighton’s corner, leaving Leicester in sight of a second season in the Champions League — after 2016-17 when it represented England as the Premier League's unlikely titleholder.
“It was a huge step. I am so proud of the team," Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers said.
“The players have definitely overachieved with all the big teams around."