Leicester City have opened up a five point gap at the top of the Premier League table with just nine games remaining, seeing them edge slightly closer to what would be a historic title. Claudio Ranieri’s men picked up another victory over the weekend by beating Watford 0-1 away from home, whilst second-placed Tottenham and third-placed Arsenal played out an enthralling 2-2 draw in the North London Derby to give Leicester some breathing room as they enter the final stretch of the season.
Although Leicester City are creeping towards what would be one of sport’s greatest fairytale seasons, Ranieri is not getting carried away, he told BBC Sport.
“The fans dream and we work, which is a good combination. I said to my players, ‘every game is a final’.”
Watford have proved a difficult team to beat this season and particularly at home, but Leicester proved their title credentials with a hard fought victory at Vicarage Road. Riyad Mahrez scored the only goal of the game with a sublime effort in the 56th minute, and he has now been involved in 26 goals (scored or assisted) in 28 appearances this season and he has been instrumental to their success. Leicester City next plays on March 14, where they host a struggling Newcastle side who find themselves in the relegation zone with just 24 points from 28 games.
With 60 points from 29 games, it is quite the contrast to last season for Leicester City. After the same number of games in the last campaign, Leicester had chalked up just 19 points and were rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table. They narrowly avoided relegation thanks to an astonishing run at the end of the season, but most still believed that they would be fighting at the bottom end of the table this season.
Forbes reported that Leicester City began the season as 5000-1 outsiders, but they now find themselves the bookmakers favorite to lift the title come the end of the season. If they can achieve this, Williams Hill (Britain’s biggest bookmaker) claims that it will be “the biggest upset of all-time.” Aside from the very loyal fans, there were not too many who put money on Leicester City to win the Premier League, but one man in Manchester placed a £20 bet and could win £100,000 if they taste glory.
Although Leicester City are now favourites with just 9 games remaining, the pressure has proved too much for a pair of Leicester City fans who have now cashed in on their bets. The Leicester Mercury has reported that one fan, John Pryke, cashed in prior to their victory over Watford and scooped £29,000 from a £20 bet. Upon reading this, a second (unnamed) fan then cashed in his £50 bet to take home a whopping £72,323. Had the second fan waited till after the Watford result, he could have cashed out for £91,322. He stood to win a quarter of a million pounds if City win the league. Alex Donohue of Ladbrokes told the Leicester Mercury why he believes some fans are now cashing in despite Leicester City edging closer to the title.
“Every supporter who has cashed out still believes City will make history but given the money at stake, the offers must just be too good to turn down.”
Although the pressure is too much for some of the fans, one person who is not feeling the pressure is Leicester City’s star striker, Jamie Vardy. Vardy told the Guardian that his side are in control of their own destiny and they are enjoying each game.
“We know it is up to us and we’ve got to keep performing ourselves. No matter what the result was earlier, we knew we needed to come to Watford and get three points. We’ve done that and we’re walking away happy.
“The pressure we had was up until we knew we were safe [from relegation]. We’ve been on a good ride and we’re going to keep enjoying it, simple as that.”
There have been no signs that Leicester City are feeling the pressure as they have lost just one league match since the New Year. However, the next nine fixtures will define their season and the entire sporting world will be watching closely as Leicester try to pull off what will perhaps be the greatest underdog story in sports history.
[Photo by Tim Ireland/AP Images]