LONDON • Claudio Ranieri watched his Leicester City team draw level on points with Arsenal at the top of the English Premier League after a 1-0 win at Tottenham on Wednesday, but maintained any title talk was silly.
"I laugh," he said, when asked how it felt to have his club touted as potential champions. "It's January. What a pity! If it was May, maybe. We must continue to work hard, to keep our feet on the ground."
Ranieri and his players are living a dream , having bolted from relegation contenders last season to the shoulders of the title favourites, Arsenal. Leicester already have 43 points on the board, overtaking their points tally from last season (41) with 17 games to spare.
Wednesday's result - just Spurs' second home defeat - was achieved without decisive contributions from his star men, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez.
Instead, it was defender Robert Huth who headed the 83rd-minute winner, ending a run of 374 minutes without a league goal for the Foxes.
Vardy, who had just returned from minor groin surgery, has managed just one goal and six shots on target in his last seven games, after scoring in a record 11 straight Premier League matches.
"Vardy and (Riyad) Mahrez are very important for us, but if we can score without Mahrez and Vardy, then that's good," Ranieri said.
"We drew 2-2 in the FA Cup at Tottenham on Sunday with goals from (Marcin) Wasilewski and (Shinji) Okazaki and, tonight, it was Huth. A lot of players can make a goal, and that's important for the team and their confidence to continue this great run."
While their chances of taking the title may still be minimal - just 2 per cent, according to a statistical report in the Leicester Mercury - Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino believes Leicester deserve to finish in the top four, at the very least.
"Full credit to them. I'm very disappointed, but I think they deserve to finish in the place that they are," said the Argentinian, when asked if he though Ranieri's side could maintain their form.
Pochettino thinks that the inexperience of his own squad is hindering their consistency in key matches. His starting XI against the Foxes was the youngest in the Premier League this season, with an average age of 24 years and 304 days.
"We need to learn a lot," he said, after his team's five-match unbeaten league run came to an end. "We are very young. When we get positive results, I try to explain that we are very young and need to learn."
His team dominated possession (61 per cent to 39) and created most of the chances (21 shots to 10), but the visitors always looked dangerous with their counter-attacking style, and Pochettino hinted at a naivety among his squad.
"We can play really well and believe in your philosophy, and need to accept that another team can play in a different way," he said. "We need to be stronger."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS