Hope left for Spurs and Arsenal despite Leicester win

Date published: Sunday 3rd April 2016 4:11

Claudio Ranieri: Efforts catch home country's imagination

Leicester City are seven points clear at the top of the Premier League with only six games to play, but the title remains a three-horse race.

It is a pet hate of mine that sweeping statements are so regularly made about the make-up of the final league tables with so much football still to play.

It can see teams written off before Christmas in extreme cases, but even at this late stage of the season there are enough games remaining for some dramatic changes to the ordering of teams.

Six games may not sound like a lot, but there is still more than 15% of the season remaining in the Premier League. More for those on 30 or 31 games. Is there any reason why there should fewer twists in that final part of the season than there have been to date? Not on your nellie.

Leicester will be considered champions-elect after their win over Southampton, but they may need to win four of those final six games to seal the title. Given they travel to Manchester United and Chelsea in two of their final three games, Claudio Ranieri certainly won’t be taking anything for granted just yet.

It’s a classic manager’s cliche, but never has the Italian’s likely post-match warning to his players of the need to take things one game at a time been more true. They just have to go to Sunderland next weekend and win.

Home games against West Ham and Swansea City follow. If Leicester were to take nine points, it would likely be enough given Tottenham and Arsenal’s fixtures, but even one defeat could set up an exciting conclusion to the season.

Should the Foxes go into the final three games – their home game either side of the trips to Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge is against Everton – needing even one win to finish the job, the pressure will be unlike anything those players have ever experienced. Ranieri will be determined to avoid that situation.

That is not to say Leicester aren’t capable of winning one, two or all three of those last three games, incidentally. They are, Even if United, Everton and Chelsea are still chasing European spots themselves. But at that stage of the season, with so much pressure and so much to play for, you simply can’t make any informed predictions about how the games might go.

The good news for Leicester fans is that Ranieri has done a fantastic job so far in keeping his players focused having hit the summit and pulled clear. He’s done everything he possibly can to relieve pressure, saying as recently as three weeks ago his side were fighting to secure a Europa League spot.

He won’t change tact any time soon, but it will be virtually impossible for him to stop his players’ minds from wandering amid the hype that will follow this latest success against Southampton. There is nothing he can do to stop talk and dreams of the title now.

Wes Morgan, Leicester celeb v Southampton

That makes the Sunderland game an incredibly tough one. Leicester have been grinding out wins under pressure for a while now, but only now will the points they need to land the title start to be discussed. Every member of the squad will be preparing for that trip to the Stadium of Light knowing it’s a great chance to claim one of the four wins they need. Once that is in your mind, the pressure really starts.

Sunderland are playing well at the moment, incidentally, and certainly won’t roll over. Sam Allardyce in fact has told his players they need to beat the Foxes. The visitors should be too strong if they play to their full potential, but can they do that under this pressure?

Arguably, they haven’t done it for a while. Their performance against Saints certainly won’t go down as one of their best this season. They were second best for fairly sustained periods and grateful to see Sadio Mane fail when put clean through at 0-0. This was far from vintage Leicester.

It doesn’t matter a jot, of course, and the majority of the nation will be hoping the East Midlanders can hold on now, however they manage it.

But the time for Tottenham and Arsenal fans to give up hope is still long away.

Mark Holmes

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