LONDON • With just four matches remaining, Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri finally acknowledged yesterday that his unsung side were fighting for the Premier League title and could win it.
Ever since the season started, he has played it straight - talking of avoiding relegation, then achieving points targets and seeing where it might lead - while steering clear of any title talk.
Despite having 22-goal scorer Jamie Vardy suspended for tomorrow's home game against Swansea City, Ranieri took the opportunity to remind reporters of what his underdogs had already achieved.
"We are in the Champions League, dilly ding, dilly dong. It's fantastic, terrific," exclaimed the Italian. "Well done to everybody, the owners, the fans, the players, the staff, everybody involved in it. It's a great achievement.
"And now we go straight away to try to win the title," he exclaimed as reporters cheered the long-awaited recognition. "Only this remains."
Leicester are five points clear of Tottenham Hotspur, whose recent form has been highly impressive. But Ranieri said he had told his players that they had it in their hands.
"I talk to my players. Now is the right moment to push," he said. "I believe. Always I believe. I am a positive man.
"If Tottenham go over (ahead of) us, congratulations. But I prefer to stay five points (ahead)."
Tottenham striker Harry Kane is the league's top scorer and his side thrashed Stoke City 4-0 on Monday to cut the gap at the top from eight points. Ranieri said he had not watched that game, because he knew Tottenham would triumph and expected his rivals to win all their remaining games as well.
"I think they win. But also we win. And then ... if we win the title, unbelievable."
Leicester will have to win without ever-present Vardy for a game or two. The striker has accepted a Football Association improper conduct charge following his red card in Sunday's 2-2 draw with West Ham United and could receive a further one-match suspension that would also rule him out of the away trip to Manchester United.
"I don't want to put my energy into this case," said Ranieri. "My focus is only on Swansea. Swansea is a difficult match."
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino believes Vardy's suspension could have an effect on the title race: "I think it is a big impact for Leicester because Vardy is one of the best players in the Premier League."