Louis van Gaal insisted there was no reason for Manchester United to feel embarrassment that it is Leicester rather than the home side who could win the Premier League title at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Victory for the Foxes would see them complete the most unlikely of sporting feats with two games of the season remaining.
Leicester have taken full advantage of the likes of United and Chelsea struggling for form, with Claudio Ranieri’s side sitting 17 points above the Red Devils going into the fixture.
But, asked whether Leicester’s success should leave the usual title challengers red faced, Van Gaal said frostily: “No, it’s sport.”
United are enjoying their best period of the season, winning six of their last seven matches and reaching the FA Cup final.
But they are still outsiders to qualify for the Champions League, which surely would have been the minimum expectation at the start of the season.
Van Gaal, though, insisted this campaign should not be seen as a backward step after last season’s fourth-placed finish.
He said: “We are still in the first five, last year we were in the first four, so the difference in points [to Leicester] is not bigger than with Chelsea I believe.
“The question for us is to qualify [for the Champions League]. Fourth position is okay, third position then we have reached our aim. But we have of course a final to play in the FA Cup, so we have pluses.
“We are more or less in the same position only last year we didn’t play so many matches. We have played a lot of matches. I think only Manchester City has played one more and Liverpool probably.
“We were one of the latest clubs in three competitions, and in spite of all the injuries we are still there.
“I don’t think you can say that we haven’t played at a certain level. We have played at a certain level and we played fantastic matches, but we have also played lousy matches.
“I think every club has played lousy matches, also Leicester City, but they have won their lousy matches.”
Van Gaal has experience of winning a league title with an unfashionable club having led AZ Alkmaar to the Eredivisie crown in 2009.
He praised the job done by Ranieri and his players but argued in some ways Leicester have an advantage over their bigger rivals.
He said: “As a club of AZ or a smaller club like Leicester, it is more easy to buy players. It’s not so easy to buy players for a club like Manchester United.
“You have to pay much more, you have to pay also the agents, and then you have the player himself. Also the pressure of the transfer of players is less big, and also for the players who have to perform it’s less. So it’s a big difference.
“But it’s also a fantastic performance of Leicester City, and at that time AZ, to beat the top clubs. The performance of Ranieri and his players is fantastic because they are not used to winning every game and they have to win every game, and they have done it.
“I believe that they shall be at the end the champions.”
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