Manchester United can postpone Leicester’s party but not spoil it, according to Louis van Gaal.
The Foxes travel to Old Trafford on Sunday where victory would give them a stunning first Premier League title.
But United are also desperate for three points to close the five-point gap to Arsenal and Manchester City as they chase Champions League qualification.
Van Gaal’s side have finally found some consistent winning form, claiming victory in six of their last seven matches to keep the pressure on in the league and reach the FA Cup final.
Leicester are unbeaten in nine and the United boss has no doubt that they will end up lifting the trophy, with games against Everton and Chelsea still to come.
He said: “I think we have to beat them because we are still in the race for fourth position. We cannot allow that they are the champions this weekend at Old Trafford.
“I think they shall be the champions a week later. We don’t spoil the party, only postpone it a little bit.”
Van Gaal bristled at the suggestion his players would find it chastening to play in a match where the visiting team were the ones chasing the title.
The Dutchman cited a lack of titles among his squad, although the facts do not back up his assertion.
Van Gaal rather embarrassingly picked out David De Gea as a player who has not won a title with United, even though he was one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Premier League champions in 2013.
Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick have both won the Premier League five times with United; Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young have all won it at least once, while Bastian Schweinsteiger, Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo, Marouane Fellaini and Memphis Depay have been title winners overseas.
Van Gaal said: “The players that we are now playing, they are not used to being the champions. I don’t think (Matteo) Darmian is used to being the champion, and De Gea was never champion.
“Memphis Depay was champion last year, so not many players. Rooney, Carrick, they have been the champions once and maybe more, but you have to see always the situation where a club is.
“It is a process of transition and now we are fighting for qualification for the Champions League and we are still in the FA Cup. We have to fight for something and we shall do it. Hopefully we can beat Leicester City.”
Leicester’s remarkable season has stunned football, but Van Gaal insisted the Foxes’ exploits have not been a total shock to him.
The Dutchman praised his opposite number Claudio Ranieri, whom he first battled against when the pair were at Barcelona and Valencia respectively in the late 1990s.
Van Gaal said: “It was always difficult to beat his teams. He has always organised his teams very well.
“I was the first that said that they could be the champions. For me it’s not any surprise. I’ve seen it many times and I believe in team building and this manager has done that with this team.
“Of course they had the circumstances to play always with the same team, they didn’t play so many matches as the other teams in the Premier League, so it is always possible.
“They have confirmed it and I think it is also good for the Premier League and for the sport of football that not always the same teams are the champion.”