With just four matches to go and five points ahead of second placed team, Tottenham, what was generally perceived as a fairytale is fast becoming reality as surprised Premier League leaders, Leicester, continue to soldier on with the visit of Swansea. The result would go a long way in deciding the Premiership title.
Ahead of tomorrow’s showdown with Swansea, Leicester winger Marc Albrighton says the shock Premier League leaders are feeling unbeatable as they march towards the most remarkable title triumph in the history of English football.
Claudio Ranieri’s side are five points ahead of second-placed Tottenham Hotspur with four games left and remain firmly on course to clinch a first English top-flight title despite suffering a setback in Sunday’s draw with West Ham United.
After stunning the Premier League with their surge to the top of the table earlier this season, Leicester were widely expected to fade away when the pressure of the title run-in mounted.
But instead the Foxes, beaten just three times this term, have proved impervious to nerves during a remarkable run of six wins and only two goals conceded in their last seven matches.
That blistering sequence has given Leicester a five-point lead over second placed Tottenham and put the title within touching distance just 12 months after the unfashionable club were battling to avoid relegation.
Establishing the secret of Leicester’s astonishing success in Ranieri’s first season in charge has become a favourite discussion for pundits and fans alike in recent weeks.
But Albrighton, 26, has a simple answer, insisting Leicester are being driven by a wave of confidence that has grown stronger each week as they realise they are good enough to compete with the league’s best.
“Yes, to some extent, I would say we feel unbeatable. The position we are in and keeping the clean sheets, that is one of the main factors. If you are not conceding goals then you are not going to lose games. We have the quality up front to go and score. The team spirit is what has got us here. We have brilliant individuals, but there is no point having them if we are not going to play as a team. It’s massive that we are keeping a winning habit going. If we continue to do that everything will look after itself,” Albrighton said.
However, Leicester’s remarkable charge on the Premier League title has given fans of other clubs hope that their teams can achieve a similar feat, Albrighton has said.
Albrighton highlighted the applause from Sunderland’s supporters when the Foxes beat the home side 2-0 at the Stadium of Light on April 10, a victory which secured their place in next season’s Champions League.
“To be applauded off by home fans is very rare and it was touching, it touched everyone, including the gaffer. Obviously, with what is going on, it is an emotional time,” the former Aston Villa winger told British media.
“We are in a place no-one, including ourselves, thought we could be in. We have achieved something special. It is a credit to us. Obviously, he (Ranieri) got emotional and we have never seen that before.
“It shows how much he cares and how much he has put in since the summer. A lot of people questioned it (his appointment) maybe. The relationship between the players and the manager, and the coaching staff, has just clicked into place.”
Leicester host 15th-placed Swansea City at the King Power Stadium on Sunday before Spurs take on 14th-placed West Bromwich Albion at White Hart Lane a day later.
Meanwhile, this afternoon, Manchester City will try to strengthen their position in the top four when they face Stoke City at the Etihad Stadium. Manuel Pellegrini’s side are unbeaten in their last four league fixtures, while mid-table Stoke have failed to win any of their last three games in the top flight.
As the season winds down, teams begin to prioritise games according to what competitions they remain in, and in Manchester City’s case, Pellegrini’s men are three wins away from lifting the Champions League trophy.
Focus will turn to the European competition next Tuesday when they face Real Madrid at home in the first leg of the semi-finals, but before that, they have to take on Stoke in the Premier League.
City’s title challenge drifted away a few months ago, but they are not yet assured of a place in the top four as they currently reside third in the standings, one point above fourth-placed Arsenal with four games left to play.
Manchester United are knocking on the door as they are two points adrift of their local rivals, so City cannot switch off in the Premier League as they still need to keep themselves within the top four.
The team’s form in the top flight has improved over the last few weeks as they have managed to record three victories and a draw since losing 1-0 in the Manchester derby on March 20.
After earning a 3-0 win over Chelsea last weekend, City had momentum heading into their midweek game against Newcastle United, but they were restricted by Rafael Benitez’s side.
City head into this weekend’s match in the fifth-best form of the league having taken 11 points from their last six matches – only Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Manchester United are in better form at the moment.
In addition, the North-West outfit are second to Spurs in terms of attacking threat as they have scored 62 goals this season, just two fewer than Tottenham, who have scored the most league goals in the campaign.
After his strike against Newcastle, Aguero has now moved up to second in the league’s top scorers, level on 22 goals with Leicester’s Jamie Vardy. Tottenham’s Harry Kane leads the way on 24.
The Potters meanwhile are on course to finish in the top half of the Premier League table this season, but Mark Hughes’s men need to start picking up points if they are to put pressure on the teams above them.
Stoke are currently ninth in the standings, four points behind Southampton, seven behind Liverpool, who reside seventh and eighth respectively, and nine points adrift of sixth-placed West Ham United.
Last season, Hughes’s team finished the campaign in ninth place on 54 points, meaning that they will need a further eight from their last four games in order to better their 2014-15 campaign.
The Potters are not in the best form of late, having recorded one draw and two defeats since sealing a 2-1 victory over Watford on March 19.
Pellegrini could receive an injury boost ahead of this weekend’s game as David Silva, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna are all expected to be declared fit for the visit of Stoke.
Vincent Kompany is expected to play twice in five days as he made his return from a calf injury to start City’s 1-1 draw with Newcastle United on Tuesday night.
The captain came through the match unscathed, as did Raheem Sterling, who came off the substitutes’ bench after recovering from a groin injury.
As for Stoke, they will be without Erik Pieters until January 30 as he serves a suspension for picking up 10 yellow cards this season.