So what did you expect? This is how titles are won. Step by step, inch by inch. Not throwing bouquets to the crowd. Leicester might not even be on duty when the most remarkable title race in history reaches its conclusion. They didn’t give a glimmer of hope to their pursuers.
Anything but a win for Tottenham at Chelsea on Monday night and the prize is theirs – and, whatever happens, Leicester could draw their next two games and still win the league. That is what this point means.
It wasn’t the win the nation craves, but it was still a fine display. Manchester United played well, but Leicester ran them into the ground, tireless as always. Had Jamie Vardy played they may even have won. Leonardo Ulloa took up some good positions but did nothing with them. How Leicester missed their out ball.
They will miss Danny Drinkwater next week, too, after a second yellow card for pulling back Memphis Depay saw him dismissed by referee Michael Oliver. It was right on the edge of the penalty area too. All things considered, it could have been worse.
They rode their luck too, the champions elect, not least when a Chris Smalling header hit a post after 79 minutes from Wayne Rooney’s cross. Not that any of it matters right now. What remains here, as any former champion will tell you, is a simple numbers game. Leicester just have to find a way over the line from here. Two points will do it and they might not even have to earn them. If they win the title sitting at home, they will take it as champions do. And it will still be thoroughly deserved.
In an interesting role reversal, Manchester United decided to start the first-half just like Leicester. High tempo, high energy all action. Leicester could barely get out of their half, and in the first four minutes made just eight successful passes. In the eighth minute, the pressure paid off. In an event that was not in the script of any neutral or romantic, Manchester United scored.
It was a lovely goal, too. Antonio Valencia broke down the right, cut inside and left Christian Fuchs for dead – an unfamiliar sight this season, a Leicester defender skinned – before floating a neat chip to the far reaches of the penalty area. Waiting there was Anthony Martial. He brought the ball under control smartly and then finished it under Kasper Schmeichel – incredibly, playing his first match at Old Trafford, despite the illustrious career of father Peter. This was not how he would have imagined his debut here at all.
Not how Leicester would have imagined the afternoon, either, but slowly they got back into the game. A Shinji Okazaki header from a Riyad Mahrez cross – the ball always travelling behind him, making it difficult to get any power – was the first sign of life, but two minutes later United could have gone further ahead.
Marcos Rojo struck a cross that Marouane Fellaini brought down and fed to Jesse Lingard, his shot kept out brilliantly by Schmeichel at the near post. United were in charge, but it did not last. In the 17th minute, by which time many had begun to fear for Leicester, Claudio Ranieri’s men equalised.
Michael Carrick committed the clumsy foul, conceding a free-kick roughly 35 yards out. Danny Drinkwater clipped it in and Wes Morgan got the better of Rojo in the air to steer the ball past David De Gea. From there it was a far more even contest, although Leicester nerves continued to show in some unlikely unforced errors.
N’Golo Kante, everywhere as usual, made a sloppy clearance with the loose ball stolen by Wayne Rooney, whose shot was poor. Soon after, Danny Simpson lost possession as the last man in defence, pushed up to the halfway line – a catastrophic error.
It left him in a foot race with Lingard, who was speeding on goal. Simpson was grappling with Lingard and vice versa, when the Manchester United man tumbled. Old Trafford screamed for a penalty but referee Michael Oliver was, rightly, having none of it.
More convincing was a Leicester appeal six minutes before half-time when Mahrez got the better of Rojo but was held by an outstretched arm. He may have made more of the contact by falling to the ground, but it was a foul. Perhaps swayed by the tumble, Oliver waved that away, too. Leicester finished the half strongest, Jeffrey Schlupp hitting an inswinging cross that caught De Gea by surprise, his punch out more of a save than a clearance.
As has often been the case for United under Van Gaal, Fellaini was often the best of it for United. He has strange games – the stuff one would expect him to good at, like attacking headers, disappointing, only for him to show incredible deft touches to play his way out of a tight spot, surrounded by three Leicester midfielders. He has to be careful, though.
When Robert Huth tugged at his hair in the box, Fellaini responded with sharp elbow to the face. Huth took a liberty and was the provocateur, no doubt of that – but it was Fellaini’s reaction that was most noticeable and had Oliver seen it, he could easily have been sent off.