Football: Leicester must remain grounded, says Ranieri

Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri and his captain Wes Morgan are leading the Foxes in making small but strident steps towards the league's end. With six games left, they have a seven-point breathing space at the top.
Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri and his captain Wes Morgan are leading the Foxes in making small but strident steps towards the league's end. With six games left, they have a seven-point breathing space at the top. PHOTO: REUTERS

Leicester boss urges team to remain focused as they close in on a first top-flight title

LONDON • Suddenly, the talk is not about if the miracle will happen, but when.

Seven points from safety at the bottom of the Premier League this time last year, Leicester City are now seven points clear at the top with six matches remaining.

They need to win only four of their final six matches to cement what would surely be the most unlikely title triumph in English football history. The way things are going, they will not even need that.

On Sunday, they beat Southampton. It was their fourth consecutive 1-0 victory, their fifth in six matches since a last-gasp loss away to Arsenal in mid-February led many to venture that the Leicester bubble had burst.

It has done nothing of the sort. Claudio Ranieri's team march on relentlessly, driven by the tenacity of Jamie Vardy, the flair of Riyad Mahrez and, on Sunday, the leadership of Wes Morgan, their captain, who chose the perfect time to score his first goal of the season.

  • EPL TITLE RUN-IN

    LEICESTER CITY

    April 10: v Sunderland (away)

    April 17: v West Ham (home)

    April 24: v Swansea (h)

    May 1: v Man United (a)

    May 7: v Everton (h)

    May 15: v Chelsea (a)


    TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

    April 10: v Man United (h)

    April 18: v Stoke (a)

    April 25: v West Brom (h)

    May 2: v Chelsea (a)

    May 7: v Southampton (h)

    May 15: v Newcastle (a)


    ARSENAL

    April 9: v West Ham (a)

    April 17: v Crystal Palace (h)

    April 21: v West Brom (h)

    April 24: v Sunderland (a)

    April 30: v Norwich (h)

    May 7: v Man City (a)

    May 15: v Aston Villa (h)

Ranieri, so often the nearly man during his long managerial career, was asked afterwards whether he had even the slightest concern that his players might "choke" as the pressure increases in the final weeks.

He seemed not to understand the question before finally clutching his throat for dramatic effect. "No, no, no, no, I'm very calm," the Italian said.

"We believe in what we are doing. We believe it's a magical season. We believe next season it will not be the same, so we try to do our best.

"Other teams can fight to win 3-0 or 4-0. We have to fight to win 1-0. For this reason we want to be focused in our way."

No doubt Leicester are ticking off their remaining games with the dead-eyed professionalism of seasoned trophy winners.

Their approach, Ranieri joked, has become "more Italian" as the season has worn on.

The club's fans were treated to a doughnut and a free beer to celebrate their club chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha's birthday on Sunday, but they could all be drinking champagne soon if they complete their remarkable fairy tale and win the Premier League.

Leicester now have 69 points from 32 matches, followed by Tottenham Hotspur with 62 from 32. Then come Arsenal (58 from 31), Manchester City (54 from 31) and Manchester United (53 from 31).

So unless they slip up, Ranieri's team are well in control of their destiny. Late on Sunday, British bookmaker William Hill, which made Leicester 5,000-1 no-hopers for the title at the season's start, cut its odds to 1-3.

Said Ranieri: "We are dreaming. If we fight we can do something and we must continue. The fans must believe but we must stay with our feet on the ground.

"All our matches have been very, very tough. Very difficult. So imagine Sunderland next Sunday, another battle. Now we must be focused."

An unshakeable focus has brought the Premier League title into view. The miracle is on.

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2016, with the headline 'Foxes must remain grounded: Ranieri'. Print Edition | Subscribe