Manchester City know they will retain their Premier League title if they win on the final day of the season after Vincent Kompany’s wonder strike saw off a spirited Leicester side.
With 20 minutes remaining, the score goalless and nerves jangling at Etihad Stadium, the defending champions needed inspiration in a game where only victory would maintain their advantage at the top of the table.
They got it from an unlikely source in their long-serving captain, who strode forward and let fly from 25 yards with a strike that arrowed into the top corner of the net.
City’s victory means they move back above Liverpool and hold a one-point lead as they go into the last round of fixtures on Sunday, when Pep Guardiola’s side travel to Brighton and the Reds host Wolves.
After they had to fight so hard to gain victory here, it is unlikely City will take anything for granted as a pulsating title race reaches its climax.
The lead at the the top of the table has now changed hands 32 times this season, but for long spells on Monday night it seemed Liverpool would be staying in top spot until the weekend at least.
Managed by former Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers, who came so close to bringing the title to Anfield in 2014, Leicester were resolute defensively and posed a significant threat at the other end.
They restricted Guardiola’s famously free-scoring side to a handful of first-half chances, with Sergio Aguero’s header against the bar the closest they came to breaking the deadlock.
City’s frustration on the pitch and in the stands continued after the break until 33-year-old Kompany stepped up in spectacular fashion to score his first goal of the season, and his side’s 159th.
Leicester did threaten to ruin the party late on but former City striker Kelechi Iheanacho fired wide, and the final whistle triggered cascades of relief for the home players and fans as they moved to within one win of their sixth title.
There is never any shortage of entertainment for City’s fans, who have now seen their side score 100 goals in 29 games at the Etihad Stadium in 2018-19.
But they are not used to tension of the sort that was served up on Monday night, with Leicester stopping them scoring for longer than any other visiting team has managed in the Premier League this season – West Ham, who held out for 59 minutes, were the previous best.
City were still creating chances, going close before the break when Aguero’s header hit the woodwork before it was clawed to safety by Kasper Schmeichel, and after it when the Foxes goalkeeper denied the Argentina striker with an outstretched leg.
Their fans were urging them forward but Guardiola’s side lacked their usual composure in the final third and a first home blank of the campaign in all competitions looked on the cards, and at the worst possible time.
That was until Kompany, who scored a vital header to beat Manchester United and help bring the title to the Etihad in 2012, provided another memorable moment to help his side take a giant step towards more silverware.
A domestic treble remains in City’s sights, and they can also become the first team since United in 2007-08 and 2008-09 to win back-to-back titles.
Leicester’s hopes of nicking seventh place and a spot in next season’s Europa League are over after this defeat, but their performance underlined their improvement since Rodgers took charge at the end of February.
As well as being disciplined in defence and comfortable on the ball, the visitors sent men flying forward in numbers on the counter-attack.
The hosts were growing increasingly jittery as their wait for a first goal continued, but their nerves were not helped by the threat the Foxes posed on the break.
Harry Maguire ran the length of the pitch to set up James Maddison, who fired wide with the score at 0-0, and Leicester continued to look dangerous even when they went behind.
If Iheanacho, 22, had showed more composure after being fed the ball in front of goal then Leicester and Liverpool fans could have had a late equaliser to celebrate – instead it was the home fans who were smiling as their players marked their final home game with three points and a parade around the pitch at the end.