Manchester United’s hopes of qualifying for the Uefa Champions League next season will be put to the test when they face struggling Premier League champions Leicester City today.
With a four point deficit to arch-rivals Liverpool and Manchester City, a win is absolutely critical for José Mourinho’s team.
With Manchester City facing Swansea City at home in the earlier kick off today, United simply have to beat the Foxes to remain in contention for a place in the top four.
It is safe to say that winning the Premier League title looks highly unlikely for the Red Devils who trail leaders Chelsea by 14 points.
This means qualification for the Champions League is absolutely essential for United to have some positive news.
Yet, as much as the 20-time English league champions need to secure a place among Europe’s elite next season to justify their massive spending, Leicester also require a change in fortunes failing which they will become the second reigning English champions to be relegated since Manchester City went down in 1937/38 after winning the English league title in 1936/37.
With two points separating them from Crystal Palace in 18th place, Claudio Ranieri’s men have endured a nightmare season.
After signing a huge new four-year contract with Leicester, Jamie Vardy’s goals have dried up.
The impenetrable partnership of Wes Morgan and Robert Huth in the center of defence has shown signs of age and fatigue.
Riyad Mahrez is no longer the same inspired and elusive right winger he was during Leicester’s historic title winning campaign.
It appears talk of big clubs wanting his services has affected his motivation and he has seemed nothing more than a passenger at times this season.
Perhaps most concerning of all for Ranieri is the disintegration of the team ethic that carried them through several difficult patches last term.
In a sense, the Foxes were a perfect team when self interest and personal ambition were put aside in favour of the collective.
However, Islam Slimani and Leonardo Ulloa have shown that this team ethic has seemingly disappeared as they were publicly keen to leave for big money offers in January.
Today’s clash between United and Leicester could have other implications for both outfits.
More dropped points for Mourinho’s team could see them fall too far behind for a top four finish, while Leicester need to improve to convince their doubters that their title-winning campaign was not a fluke.
With that said, a demoralising fourth league defeat in a row could be the death knell for a Leicester side that faces Liverpool and Arsenal in the coming weeks.
Elsewhere, Manchester City host a resurgent Swansea outfit at the Etihad Stadium with both sides desperate for a win.
City still have an outside chance of challenging for the title but, at 10 points behind Chelsea, will need to make a move soon, while the Swans are only one position from relegation position going into the match. – TEAMtalk Media