Ranieri's methods show up Man Utd's van Gaal, says Neil Humphreys
United's egotist could learn from Italian's gentle touch
MAN UNITED v LEICESTER
(Today, 9.05pm, Singtel TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
Here's a fun fact that Manchester United supporters will not find funny.
Under Louis van Gaal, Ashley Young has featured in every position except centre-back and goalkeeper.
The 30-year-old occasional winger has followed the confused instructions of his schizophrenic manager to pop up as a fullback, a wingback, a central midfielder, a winger and, most infamously of all, a striker.
Against Tottenham last month, van Gaal conceived the ingenious plan to introduce Young's pace with the contest evenly poised at 0-0.
Spurs scored three quick goals and won 3-0.
Claudio Ranieri, on the other hand, has made only 27 changes to his Leicester starting line-up all season.
And that's why the Foxes are in a position to win the title at Old Trafford tonight and the Red Devils are struggling with the kind of identity crisis usually associated with a Marvel superhero without the heroics.
When the two managers stand in their dugouts, it will be hard not to compare their campaigns and acknowledge that the megalomaniacal Dutchman could learn a thing or two from the mild-mannered Italian.
United might win the battle, but the war was lost a long time ago. Ranieri's deftness triumphed over van Gaal's daftness.
Somehow, the two veterans effectively swapped places. The ego landed at Old Trafford and bragged of templates and philosophies only to reject the lot and tinker more often than a DIY freak with fidgety fingers.
Ranieri, on the other hand, went in the opposite direction.
The serial tinkerer who once admitted that he had cost Chelsea a place in the 2004 Champions League final with a number of baffling substitutions in the semi-final, has turned into Paul McCartney.
He sings the same lyric every week.
Let it be.
To put those 27 changes into context, the fewest changes ever made by Premier League champions is 26. That was Manchester United back in 1993, a time of smaller squads and fewer fixtures.
Indeed, the squad size has been an obvious retort. The argument being that Ranieri retains the same line-up out of necessity, with fewer talents at his disposal. He also has no midweek European distractions.
But the lazy cynicism isn't warranted.
First, Liverpool had no Champions League commitments in 2014 - and a bigger squad to boot - and still surrendered their position at the summit.
Tottenham also pick a near identical line-up from week to week, but Mauricio Pochettino is seldom accused of lacking depth or imagination, quite the opposite in fact.
Ranieri does make changes. But unlike the bombastic van Gaal, the Italian's tweaks are subtle and effective.
He garnered praise for replacing the suspended Vardy with Leonardo Ulloa against Swansea.
But the real masterstroke was dropping Marc Albrighton, a player who'd started 33 of 34 league games, for Jeffrey Schlupp, who has the pace to trouble opposition defences.
Ranieri's delicate handling of his resource got buried again beneath the cranking, screeching din of van Gaal crunching through the gears until United's sputtering engine finally roared to life.
Suddenly, there is giddy talk of United hitting upon a winning formula with Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford up front and Wayne Rooney in a quarterback role.
When the season kicked off, the players were certainly not expected to feature in those positions. In the case of Rashford, he wasn't expected to feature at all.
Van Gaal got lucky, through a haphazard trial and error approach that stands in stark contrast to Ranieri's careful, considered work.
At United, Daley Blind has occupied three different positions along with Jesse Lingard, Martial, Rashford, Antonio Valencia and Ander Herrera.
Rooney and Marouane Fellaini have gone one better, being used in four different positions as van Gaal fumbled around for an effective formation, like trying to organise scattered marbles in the dark.
The Dutchman believes that it's impossible to make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. But he keeps tearing up the omelettes only to then complain that he doesn't have enough eggs.
Interestingly, Ranieri still takes his team to the same Italian restaurant in Leicester, where the owners make authentic, traditional pizzas.
He recognises that there's no need to radically change an established, successful recipe.
But van Gaal is still making a bit of a mess, throwing ingredients in the air like that mad chef in The Muppets.
BY THE numbers
Leicester's game is based on a solid defence. Before the New Year, they had kept just three clean sheets. Since January, they have kept 11. Their midfield is a crucial shield, with N'Golo Kante's 142 interceptions and Riyad Mahrez's 51 tackles this season keeping the rivals at bay.
Ranieri: Money doesn't buy success, always
CITY UNITED: The Liberty statue in Leicester is illuminated blue as the city celebrated "Backing the Blues Day" on Friday to mark the club's remarkable Premier League season. People were dressed in blue, and one butchery has even produced limited edition blue sausages while public buildings, including City Hall, have been bathed in blue light. PHOTO: REUTERS
If Leicester go on to win the Premier League title, it will be a once in a lifetime event, insists manager Claudio Ranieri.
The Foxes, three points away from the English Premier League title, will win the league with victory at Manchester United today in one of the most extraordinary seasons in modern football.
Leicester have spent less than £30 million ($59m) on their squad since last summer, while United have fielded sides which have cost over £200m this season.
Shinji Okazaki was Leicester's biggest outlay last year at a reported £7m, while United splashed out £25m on Memphis Depay and an initial £36m for Anthony Martial.
Leicester, who are seven points clear of Tottenham with three games left, have upset the establishment and Ranieri feels money does not have to be a defining factor.
He said: "Once in the life it can happen. That is football. Once every 50 years a little team with less money can beat the biggest ones.
"If there are 20 teams who spend millions of pounds, at the end of the season one will win the title and three will go down.
"Now, there are very special circumstances. The big teams don't have the consistency and normal teams have the consistency during the season.
"From August to April and now, it's important to keep the same consistency in May.
"I'm waiting for next season, United at the top, Chelsea at the top, Liverpool, (Manchester) City and Arsenal and we are fighting."
Ranieri has said he wants to see a perfect away performance at Old Trafford, having already won in Manchester when they beat City 3-1 in February, a performance Ranieri rates as their best.
"To do something better is difficult, but I am speaking about the performance, not the result," said the Italian, who is without suspended 22-goal top-scorer Jamie Vardy.
"When you play at Old Trafford it's amazing, it's the story of football. It's great, I hope to show one of our best performances."
- PA Sport.