Claudio Ranieri’s side would have been crowned champions with a victory at Old Trafford but, with thousands of fans back in Leicester and millions of new converts around the world watching on television, they fell behind to Anthony Martial’s eighth minute goal.
Leicester defender Wes Morgan equalised for the visitors with a 17th minute header before Foxes midfielder Danny Drinkwater was sent off in the closing moments.
Ranieri’s men are now eight points clear of second placed Tottenham and can still secure the first top-flight title in their 132-year history if the north Londoners fail to win at Chelsea on Monday.
Regardless of Tottenham’s result, Leicester will be English football’s most unlikely champions if they beat Everton at the King Power Stadium next Saturday or win at Chelsea in their final game of the season.
“For us it was important to show our mentality. The beginning wasn’t good, but after that I appreciated our performance,” said Ranieri who added that he will miss Monday’s game as he has a lunch date with his 96-year-old mother back in Italy.
“I’d like to watch the Tottenham match, but I’m on a flight back from Italy so I might not know the result until I land.”
It would still take a monumental collapse for Leicester not to claim the title, but their players, staff and anxious supporters must wait a few more hours, if not days, before their place in sporting history can be confirmed.
While Leicester’s destiny remains in their own hands, it was a damaging result for FA Cup finalists United as they battle for Champions League qualification.
“I think we played one of our best matches of the season, but it was not enough,” said United boss Louis van Gaal said.
“When you don’t win, of course it is tougher (to finish in the top four).”
– Major boost –
Yet United’s hopes of making up the gap to the top four were given a boost a few hours later when Manchester City slumped to a 4-2 defeat at Southampton.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side could have done with a morale-raising victory ahead of next week’s Champions League semi-final second leg at Real Madrid.
But instead City, who drew 0-0 in the first leg against Real, were blown away by Senegal winner Sadio Mane’s hat-trick after Pellegrini fielded a weakened team.
Irish striker Shane Long scored Southampton’s opener in the 25th minute and Mane added the hosts’ second with a composed strike after a sweeping attack three minutes later.
City got one back in the 44th minute through a header from Nigerian striker Kelechi Iheanacho.
However, Mane’s header restored Saints’ two-goal advantage in the 57th minute and he completed his treble 11 minutes later before Iheanacho netted again in the 78th minute.
Fourth placed City remain four points ahead of United, but their bitter rivals have a game in hand to close the gap.
“I’m very frustrated because I didn’t expect that performance, especially in defence,” Pellegrini said.
“In this case we had to prioritise Wednesday’s game.The best way to prepare is to win but we couldn’t do it.”
In the day’s other game, Andre Ayew’s double ensured Swansea are safe from the threat of relegation as Liverpool’s weakened team crashed to a 3-1 defeat at the Liberty Stadium.
Ghana forward Ayew was on target either side of a wonderful strike from Jack Cork to guarantee Swansea will be playing in the top-flight next season.
It was a lacklustre effort from Liverpool, who saw Australian defender Brad Smith sent off in the closing stages as the Reds were left to lick their wounds ahead of their Europa League semi-final second leg against Villarreal.
With Thursday’s game in mind, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp made eight changes from this week’s 1-0 first leg defeat in Spain and the visitors paid the price.