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Leicester promise no let-up in title pursuit

Leicester City's midfielder Riyad Mahrez (R) celebrates with Danny Drinkwater during the English Premier League football match against Watford on March 5, 2016
AFP

London (AFP) – Leicester’s Danny Drinkwater has insisted there will be no change in the club’s approach as they eye a remarkable Premier League title success.

The Midlands club were 5,000/1 outsiders to be crowned champions of England before the season started.

Yet they now lead England’s top flight by seven points from second-placed Tottenham Hotspur and head into this weekend’s match at home to West Ham needing just three wins from their final five league games this season to complete a stunning title success.

Foxes manager Claudio Ranieri has fostered a strong bond within the squad at the King Power Stadium, but Drinkwater — one of several Leicester players to have gained England recognition on the back of the club’s performances this season — said there was no great mystery to the team’s unity.

“There isn’t a secret to the dressing-room camaraderie, it’s just that we’re a bunch of lads that get along,” said the 26-year-old former Manchester United trainee. 

“We’re all willing to work hard for each other on the pitch and it shows by how well we graft out results,” he added, with Jamie Vardy’s late double sealing a 2-0 victory against Sunderland last time out.

“We’re guaranteed a top-four place and that’s massive,” the midfielder explained.

“A lot of the lads probably didn’t realise how close we were to it and it’s just another step closer to our ultimate dream. 

“People talk about three wins needed now, but one thing I was taught as a youngster at Manchester United was to keep focused on the job. 

“We’re taking it game by game and I can’t see that changing anytime soon.”

Three Leicester players — Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante — made up 50 percent of the six-strong shortlist announced this week for the Professional Footballers’ Association Players’ Player of the Year award.

The trio are all set to be in action against a West Ham side who will be looking to revive their top four ambitions following the disappointment of an FA Cup quarter-final replay defeat by Manchester United at Upton Park in midweek.

Tottenham, should Leicester win, could find themselves 10 points adrift by the time they kick-off away to Stoke on Monday.

– Referee change –

Their fans have already won a ‘victory’ of sorts after a social media campaign forced officials to pull Leicester-based referee Kevin Friend from their match amid concerns he might be perceived to favour Stoke because of the Foxes’ position. 

“It seemed to be led by social media, which is maybe dangerous ground if people on Twitter are going to tell the Premier League who to appoint for individual games, so you have to be careful about that,” said Stoke manager Mark Hughes.

Such is Leicester’s rock-solid form that Tottenham’s hopes of landing a first English title since 1961 are hanging by a thread and Spurs defender Toby Alderweireld said: “The title is difficult. Leicester has everything in hand.

“However, we want to win the last five games to increase the pressure on Leicester and keep the pursuers behind us,” added Alderweireld, who scored in Spurs’ 3-0 win over Manchester United last time out.

Arsenal host London rivals Crystal Palace looking to cement third place as they try to assure themselves of Champions League football for a 19th consecutive season.

At the other end of the table, Norwich will relegate basement club Aston Villa before the Birmingham side face Manchester United on Saturday if they avoid defeat in the early kick-off match against fellow strugglers Sunderland.

Saturday will also see Manchester City look to continue their quest for a top-four place against fallen champions Chelsea.

Meanwhile Liverpool, buoyed by a dramatic come-from-behind win over manager Jurgen Klopp’s former club Borussia Dortmund that saw them reach the Europa League semi-finals on Thursday, can bolster their bid to get into the top six with a win away to Bournemouth on Sunday.  

Fixtures (1400 GMT unless stated)

Chelsea v Manchester City (1630 GMT), Everton v Southampton, Manchester United v Aston Villa, Newcastle v Swansea, Norwich v Sunderland (1145 GMT), West Bromwich Albion v Watford

Sunday: Arsenal v Crystal Palace (1500 GMT), Bournemouth v Liverpool (1230 GMT), Leicester v West Ham (1230 GMT)

Monday: Stoke v Tottenham (1900 GMT)

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