Pellegrini agrees Foxes are new favourites

LONDON • Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini declared Leicester City the English Premier League title favourites, after Claudio Ranieri masterminded a stunning 3-1 victory over his side at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

Two set-piece goals from Robert Huth, either side of a superb effort from Riyad Mahrez, allowed leaders Leicester, who are nicknamed the Foxes, to pull six points clear of chief rivals City and five points clear of second-placed Tottenham Hotspur.

British bookmakers reacted by making Leicester - 5,000-1 long shots to win the title at the start of the campaign - favourites for the first time this season, and Pellegrini could not argue with their judgment.

"If they continue the way they are playing, they are favourites, as they are doing well and have an advantage in points," the City manager said. "It just depends on what they can do from now until the end of the season, but having to play 13 games more is very difficult to predict."

Leicester manager Ranieri, whose even-tempered approach has been one of the highlights of his team's unexpected success story, made light of their new and unfamiliar position.

"I don't believe the bookmakers," said the Italian, whose side visit Arsenal this weekend. "At the beginning of the season, the bookmakers said, 'Sack Ranieri.' I hope one time they are right, okay?

"I don't know why, this season is a crazy league. I don't think about if we win the league, I don't want to think about it.

"My mind goes over the next seven days - Arsenal, another tough match, other fantastic players, another fantastic stadium. But we're alive and we want to fight. I hope we concentrate as well these last matches and continue our dream."

Leicester's visit to Arsenal could have a big say in the destiny of the championship, while City focus on a home meeting with fellow title hopefuls Tottenham.

The announcement that Pellegrini will hand over to Pep Guardiola at the end of the season seemed to have had a negative effect on his players, who only had Sergio Aguero's late consolation to show for their efforts.

But he said: "I don't think it is fair to try to have excuses for other things. Of course, we need to improve a lot from this game. It is important to be focused game by game and try to beat Tottenham as they are another team fighting for the title."

For Leicester, the chief concern is about keeping their feet on the ground, and the much-travelled Ranieri said: "We want to fight, but without pressure. For us, it's important to play and continue in this way because it is a strange league.

"The spirit is fantastic. On the pitch, they help each other, they fight for each other. We play every time (as) 11. It is the best spirit I remember in my career."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 08, 2016, with the headline 'Pellegrini agrees Foxes are new favourites'. Print Edition | Subscribe