LONDON. — Claudio Ranieri insists leading Leicester to the most remarkable title triumph in English Premier League soccer history wouldn’t serve as revenge on the critics who have questioned the Italian throughout his career.
No team in the English Premier League era has failed to win the title from Leicester’s position, with Ranieri’s side sitting five points clear of second-placed Tottenham ahead of today’s trip to Crystal Palace.
With just eight games left, Ranieri is within touching distance of proving wrong the doubters, the highest profile of whom was Roman Abramovich, who sacked the Italian as Chelsea manager in 2004 to make way for Jose Mourinho.
However, Ranieri has dismissed suggestions that a desire for revenge against Chelsea, who he led to second place behind Arsenal’s title-winning “Invincibles” in 2004, is fuelling his hunger for success.
The theory was ventured by former Chelsea and France star Marcel Desailly, who played under Ranieri at Stamford Bridge, but it was quickly rubbished by the Leicester boss.
“He is wrong. I want to win because I want to win, but not for revenge. I don’t have revenge in my life,” Ranieri said.
“I’m a very lucky man. I’m doing the job that I want to do and not too many people can do this. It is not for revenge. Revenge is stupid. You can talk about revenge when you lose to one team and you want revenge, but not this kind of revenge.
“Now we are very close to making the Europa League and it’s important in the next two or three matches to continue in this way to be also in the Champions League. That would be a great achievement but I want to go back to my focus on Crystal Palace.”
Leicester’s stunning season has sparked inevitable speculation about job offers from elsewhere for Ranieri, with suggestions that his contract contains a get-out clause.
But the 64-year-old says even the chance to succeed the departing Antonio Conte as Italy boss, a suggestion that has gained traction in the media in his homeland, wouldn’t tempt him away from the King Power Stadium.
Ranieri could be without midfielder Andy King due to illness at Selhurst Park but has no injury concerns.
Palace are seeking their first league win since December 19, a run that stands in stark contrast to their form in the FA Cup that has set up a semi-final meeting with Watford.
And Leicester have been warned that their fairytale challenge for the Premier League crown could be shattered by title wreckers Crystal Palace today.
With only eight matches remaining, Ranieri’s side are on the brink of arguably the most unexpected title triumph in English football history after establishing a five-point lead over second placed Tottenham.
The unheralded Foxes have defied all expectations to remain at the top of the table while their supposed superior rivals have struggled to keep pace, but it would be remarkable if they cruised to their first ever top-flight title without a single blip.
Palace manager Alan Pardew believes that wobble could come at Selhurst Park this weekend as the hosts aim to reprise their role as notorious party crashers.
In May 2014, Palace famously ruined Liverpool’s bid for a first English title since 1990 when they fought back from three goals down to draw 3-3 at Selhurst Park in a result that effectively gifted the trophy to Manchester City.
Then last April, Pardew’s men defeated City 2-1 in south London to all but end their hopes of overhauling eventual champions Chelsea.
Leicester have been grinding out victories of late with their ferocious work-rate allowing them to capitalise on occasional moments of inspiration like Shinji Okazaki’s brilliant overhead kick in Monday’s tense 1-0 win against Newcastle.
Okazaki’s impressive contribution has been overshadowed by the heroics of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, but Leicester winger Marc Albrighton was quick to praise the Japan striker’s efforts.
If Leicester can extend their lead, it will put pressure on Tottenham, chasing a first title since 1961, to beat Bournemouth at White Hart Lane tomorrow.
Tottenham bowed out of the Europa League against Borussia Dortmund on Thursday but, with the last 16 tie effectively decided in the first leg, boss Mauricio Pochettino was able to rest Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Mousa Dembele to keep them fresh for Bournemouth.
Languishing 11 points behind Leicester, albeit with a game in hand, third placed Arsenal have no margin for error as they look to finish a dispiriting week on a high when they travel to Ever- ton.
Successive defeats to Watford and Barcelona have ended Arsenal’s interest in the FA Cup and Champions League over the last six days and they desperately need a win to remain in the title race and subdue the calls for boss Arsene Wenger to quit.
Manchester City would love to pile on the misery for Louis van Gaal when troubled Manchester United visit Eastlands.
(All 5pm unless otherwise stated)
Today: Everton v Arsenal (2:45pm); Chelsea v West Ham; Crystal Palace v Leicester City; Watford v Stoke; West Brom v Norwich; Swansea v Aston Villa (7:30pm).
Tomorrow: Newcastle v Sunderland (3:30pm); Southampton v Liverpool (3:30pm); Manchester City v Manchester United (6pm); Tottenham v Bournemouth (6pm).