Louis van Gaal is determined to stop Leicester City from winning the Premier League title at Old Trafford on Sunday.
But the Manchester United manager expects that even if his side tops the Foxes from celebrating on Sunday, the champagne will merely be on ice temporarily, with Leicester’s coronation as champions to come in the following few days.
Leicester will become the most unlikely title winners in Premier League history if Claudio Ranieri’s side secures victory at United.
But van Gaal’s team need the points themselves as they try to secure Champions League football for next season.
And so the Dutch manager would rather Leicester be reliant on second-placed Tottenham Hotspur losing at Chelsea on Monday or beating Everton themselves next Saturday to guarantee their historic triumph.
“We have to beat them (Leicester) because we are still in the race for fourth position,” van Gaal said Friday. “We cannot allow them to be champions this weekend at Old Trafford.
“They shall be champions a week later. We don’t spoil the party, only postpone it a little bit.
“I was the first to say they could be champions. For me it’s no surprise. I’ve seen it many times. I believe in team building and this manager (Claudio Ranieri) has done that with his team.
“Of course they had the circumstances with the same team and they didn’t play as many matches as other teams in the Premier League (because of a lack of European commitments), so it’s always possible.
“It’s good for the Premier League and the sport of football that it’s not always the same teams (winning the title),” van Gaal said.
– ‘Transition period’ –
United are a distant 17 points behind champions-elect Leicester but van Gaal believes they can still finish the season on a high, with an FA Cup final against Crystal Palace to come next month and the opportunity to bridge a five-point gap on Manchester City and Arsenal, who occupy third and fourth positions in the Premier League respectively and are still to play each other.
“We are fighting for the Champions League and still in the FA Cup,” said van Gaal. “We have to fight for something and we shall do it. Hopefully we can beat Leicester City.”
United last won the Premier League title in 2013 under Alex Ferguson and van Gaal claims they were not geared up to do it this season as he looks to continue to re-build the squad he inherited from David Moyes two years ago.
“The players we are now playing are not used to being champions,” he said, despite the fact that most of United’s senior squad have won a league title either in England or their home countries.
“You have to see the situation where the club is. We have seen that we are in a transition period.
“When I was mentioned as the coach it was also about that. When I took over we had five or six players above the age of 32/33. You have to buy other players. There were not too many young players. It is a process of transition.”
Midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger and defender Luke Shaw are United’s only two injury absentees heading into this weekend.