20 Mar Leicester in the home straight
Claudio Ranieri described Leicester’s 1-0 win at Crystal Palace as turning the corner onto the “home straight”, but insists his team remain far from securing the Premier League title.
Saturday’s victory at Selhurst Park extended the leaders’ advantage over second-placed Tottenham to eight points, increasing the pressure on Spurs when they host Bournemouth on Sunday.
Even if Tottenham reduce that lead to five, it would remain a considerable gap with only seven league fixtures to play.
But should they miss out on the title, Ranieri is adamant that his side will have enjoyed an exceptional season, reiterating his satisfaction that they are close to qualifying for the Champions League.
“Believe me, I’m very happy with this season,” said the 64-year-old, whose team won with Riyad Mahrez’s 17th goal of the season, scored midway through the first half.
“I remember at the start of the season… I have not forgotten.
“The goal was to save the team (from relegation to the Championship) and now everybody is speaking about us. Not only in England, all over the world. Everyone is pushing behind us and that is a great energy that we feel.
“If in the end someone is better than us, we still had a fantastic achievement.
“We have to be focused. Sometimes I’ve said we are at the last turn, and now we are on the final, home straight. Now I want to see my horses, how they run.
“We have to fight every match. We are in the Europa League and we are very close to achieving the Champions League.
“There are seven matches to go at the end. It’s not easy for us for now. We are Leicester. We aren’t a team like (Manchester) United, (Manchester) City, Chelsea. (For them) five points or eight points clear, it would be finished.”
The result also extended Palace’s struggles in the Premier League, in which their failure to win since December 19 at Stoke has left them as the last top-flight team yet to secure a league win in 2016.
They have reached the FA Cup semi-finals but before then, they face the difficult run of visiting West Ham, hosting Norwich, and then travelling to Arsenal and Manchester United.
With the gap between the Eagles and the bottom three growing ever shorter, it is the Canaries clash that Palace boss Alan Pardew considers particularly important.
“That’s going to be an important game,” said the manager, who substituted striker Emmanuel Adebayor at half-time.
“We know we are involved in that (relegation battle). We have enough in the dressing room to make sure we are not involved, but the bottom line is to get some points quickly.
“We certainly had more of the Crystal Palace threat in the second half than the first half. That is what will get us out of it (trouble), our (attacking) DNA. We have showed that in flashes. This was as tough a game as we have had all season.
“Adebayor is not the sort of player who is going to charge around. You have to get the ball into him. We didn’t do that and he wasn’t having an impact. We needed more movement.”