United in a class of their own

 

Before long Manchester United's sixth Premiership title in eight seasons will surely be taken as red. Their rivals are running out of points of order and United just keep on winning.

Week by week it becomes harder to envisage just where Alex Ferguson's team could come unstuck. Leicester City, beaten 62 on their ground by United last season, might have been expected to give them a hard game at Filbert Street on Saturday if only for the sake of self-esteem, but it did not happen.

Manchester United lolloped through a low-key match won by a free-kick from David Beckham and a neat finish by Dwight Yorke. Ferguson fielded the side which three nights earlier had ensured a place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League with an inspired, passionate performance against Fiorentina, but against Leicester his team merely unwound.

To be caught this season United would have to lose probably three of their remaining nine Premiership matches. Given the remainder of their programme this is hard to envisage.

Of the four teams due to visit Old Trafford only Chelsea are likely to cause the champions problems. The others, West Ham, Sunderland and Tottenham, will need to catch United on off days.

Away from home United have to travel to Bradford City, Middlesbrough, Southampton, Watford and, on the last weekend, Aston Villa. As run-ins go this one looks a doddle.

Ferguson has given every indication that from now on he will field his strongest side in most matches. "At this stage of the season there comes a time when we have to play the same team in every game," he explained on Saturday. "With Leeds chasing us we can't afford to make mistakes."

Tomorrow United complete the second phase of the Champions League in Valencia where they will need to avoid being defeated by three goals or more to stay top of Group B and steer clear of Bayern Munich and Barcelona, who have already won their groups, in Friday's draw.

While Ferguson can afford to rest Yorke or Andy Cole, or perhaps both, in this game he will want to revert to his first-choice side at Valley Parade this weekend. At least Bradford City, unlike Leicester on Saturday, will surely force United to raise a sweat.

Leicester's vapid performance was thoroughly untypical of a team which has made tenacity and aggression articles of faith. Martin O'Neill's players seemed mesmerised by the gentle ebb and flow of United's football.

Or perhaps it was more a matter of not wanting to be routed on their ground for a second successive season. As O'Neill pointed out: "In that match, when we were 4-2 down, we kept on attacking and they just picked us off on the break to win 6-2. If we'd kept on playing it could have ended up 19-2."

So a certain wariness in Leicester's football was understandable, although O'Neill was disappointed that his players failed to increase the tempo in the second half.

Leicester have now lost twice since the departure of Emile Heskey to Liverpool and their attack has still to readjust. Playing the ball over the top of opposing defenders does not carry the same threat now that Heskey's power and speed are no longer there.

Beckham's hair is now styled after the US marines and just past the half-hour he dipped a free-kick inside the near post helped by a Leicester wall built after the style of Jericho.

Seven minutes from the end Matt Elliott failed to intercept a low centre from Giggs and Yorke completed a victory which had long looked inevitable.

LEICESTER: Flowers, Sinclair, Taggart, Elliott, Guppy, Savage, Izzet, Lennon, Oakes (Cottee 71), Collymore, Eadie (Marshall 81). Subs Not Used: Gilchrist, Arphexad, Impey.

MAN UTD: Bosnich, G Neville, Irwin, Berg, Stam, Beckham, Scholes, Keane, Giggs (Butt 85), Cole (Sheringham 82), Yorke. Subs Not Used: Van Der Gouw, P Neville, Solskjaer. Goals: Beckham 33, Yorke 83.

Referee: R Harris (Oxford).