Leicester within four wins of fairytale
LONDON – When Leicester City faced Sunderland on the opening day of the season, even their most optimistic fans were expecting another testing struggle to avoid relegation.
As they prepare to visit Sam Allardyce’s side in the return fixture on Sunday, some of those supporters are now pre-emptively buying scarves emblazoned with the words ‘Premier League Champions’.
While many are no doubt steering clear to avoid tempting fate, four victories from the remaining six games of the season will hand Leicester a maiden top flight title and complete one of the most remarkable fairytales in English soccer history.
Leicester lead second place Tottenham Hotspur by seven points heading into Sunday’s game and need 12 more to put themselves out of sight.
For the Leicester side that plunged to the foot of the table last season, four wins in six games might have seemed like a daunting task.
Yet such has been the collective sense of calm that seems to encircle Claudio Ranieri’s side this year that few are now expecting a collapse in the home straight.
The slip-ups and the wobbles have been reserved for the so-called bigger teams, who have all fallen off the pace while Leicester have sailed smoothly through the supposed choppy waters of the title run-in.
Four successive 1-0 victories have propelled Leicester to the verge of success and been testament to the organisational abilities of their Italian coach.
Leicester have never kept five consecutive clean sheets in the top flight, but, in a season when past records have counted for little, it would be a brave man, or perhaps a foolish one, to bet against another shut-out against Sunderland, whose relegation woes are intensifying.
Allardyce’s side are four points adrift of Norwich City in 17th and entering the now-or-never part of the season when they will have to start winning or become resigned to their fate.
Tottenham, whose hopes of catching Leicester were dented by their 1-1 draw with Liverpool at Anfield last weekend, could find themselves 10 points adrift of the leaders by the time they host Manchester United later on Sunday.
United are involved in a local battle with Manchester City for fourth place and the final Champions League qualification spot and would love nothing more than to salvage an inconsistent season by overhauling their rivals in the table.
City, buoyed by a gritty 2-2 draw at Paris St Germain in their Champions League quarter-final first leg on Wednesday, host West Bromwich Albion, who are comfortably placed in mid-table.
Third place Arsenal, whose hopes of taking anything from the campaign look forlorn as they trail Leicester by 11 points, albeit with a game in hand, travel to West Ham United on Saturday.
Newcastle United, who are battling local rivals Sunderland to avoid relegation, visit Southampton, while Norwich play at Crystal Palace. Alan Pardew’s Palace are three points above Norwich, but seemingly in freefall after failing to win a league game since December. -Reuters