MANCHESTER. — Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini declared Leicester City English Premier League soccer title favourites after Claudio Ranieri masterminded a stunning 3-1 victory over his side at the Etihad Stadium.
Two set-piece goals from Robert Huth, either side of a superb effort from Riyad Mahrez, allowed leaders Leicester to pull six points clear of chief rivals City and five points clear of second-placed Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal who are now in third place after yesterday’s comfortable 2-0 won over Bournemouth.
British bookmakers reacted by making Leicester – 5 000-1 long-shots to win the title at the start of the campaign – favourites for the first time this season, and Pellegrini could not argue with their judgement.
“If they continue the way they are playing, they are favourites, as they are doing well and have an advantage in points,” he told reporters after Saturday’s game in soggy east Manchester.
“It just depends on what they can do from now until the end of the season, but having to play 13 games more is very difficult to predict.”
Leicester manager Ranieri, whose even-tempered approach has been one of the highlights of his team’s unexpected success story, made light of their new and unfamiliar position.
“I don’t believe the bookmakers,” said the Italian, whose side visit Arsenal next weekend. “At the beginning of the season the bookmakers said, ‘Sack Ranieri.’ I hope one time they are right, OK?
“I don’t know why, this season is a crazy league. I don’t think about if we win the league, I don’t want to think about it.
“My mind goes over the next seven days – Arsenal, another tough match, other fantastic players, another fantastic stadium. But we’re alive and we want to fight.
“I hope we concentrate as well these last matches and continue our dream.”
Leicester’s visit to Arsenal could have a big say in the destiny of the championship, while City focus on a home meeting with fellow title hopefuls Tottenham Hotspur.
Pellegrini’s announcement that he will hand over to Pep Guardiola at the end of the season seemed to have had a negative effect on his players, who only had Sergio Aguero’s late consolation to show for their efforts.
But he said: “I think I talked too much about last week. I don’t think it is fair to try to have excuses for other things.”
The City manager added: “Of course, we need to improve. We need to improve a lot from this game. We are not in our best moment, we just have 14 players fit and we have played a lot of games.
“We continue to be involved in all the competitions and it is very important to recover from this.
“We talked with the players before the game. It was our chance at home to recover the lead in the table. We couldn’t do it, now we are six points behind Leicester and have another 39 points to play for.
“So it is important to be focused game by game and try to beat Tottenham here as they are another team fighting for the title.” For Leicester, the chief concern is about keeping feet on the ground, but Ranieri did not want to dampen the travelling supporters’ spirits on one of the great days in the club’s history.
“It’s fantastic. They must continue to dream,” he said.
“We know and enjoy it. We don’t leave anything, we want to fight, but without pressure. For us it’s important to play and continue in this way because it is a strange league.
“The spirit is fantastic, but we said this from the beginning of my moments here in Leicester. There is a fantastic dressing room. On the pitch they help each other, they fight for each other, that’s fantastic.” — AFP.