Excitement growing for Claudio Ranieri’s title favourites

Crystal Palace 0 Leicester City 1: Claudio Ranieri may have claimed after Saturday’s game he would be happy no matter what the final outcome of this season, but there is no doubt the complexion of the title race has changed.
Excitement growing for Claudio Ranieri’s title favourites

From rank outsiders to clear favourites, the shock now will be if Leicester fall short.

Saturday’s victory at Crystal Palace demonstrated both the qualities that have pushed Ranieri’s side clear at the head of the table and, later on in the game, the nerves that could yet undermine a group of players unaccustomed to the pressure of challenging for honours.

Leicester, though, held on for a fourth 1-0 victory in five games.

They are moving towards the title in much the same way Chelsea did last season, albeit without the accompanying sense of inevitability.

Belief, however, is growing, certainly among the visiting supporters who remained, chanting, until long after the final whistle had blown adding to the expectation that will surround the club’s remaining seven games.

Ranieri, though, is doing an outstanding job of insulating his players from the growing excitement, directing his players’ focus on the immediate job in hand and the results have followed.

“We don’t speak about the title,” said the Italian.

“We are speaking about our performance, how we play the last match and how we must play today. That is our focus. That is true.

“When I say my players are very concentrated before the match, during the match, I am very calm.

"OK, we can win, we can lose, but our performance is good. And then when our performance is good, you can’t tell them anything because if they make a mistake, it is normal.”

At the moment, they are simply not making many mistakes, certainly not at the back where an impressively drilled unit is laying the foundation for their continuing challenge.

Palace have struggled for goals all season and are in a miserable run of form, but they are also a side battling to pull away from the bottom three and when they did throw everything at Leicester during the second half, their sole chance came when Damien Delaney struck the bar from a late corner.

As other champions have discovered before now, a solid back-four makes for a much easier life. “We just love defending. We love clean sheets,” said Danny Simpson, the right-back.

“It’s the next best thing to scoring a goal I would imagine. Final whistle blows, we come together and praise each other, another clean sheet.

"I think we have just got that no nonsense thing. You can see us, we don’t mind booting it into Row Z.

"We don’t mess about, we will put it out for a throw-in and everyone regroups as an 11 and we just make it as difficult as we can for the opposition”

That approach helped Leicester hold on after they had forced a 33rd-minute lead through Riyad Mahrez’s well taken 16th goal of the season.

They should have added to that and avoided an anxious final few minutes but Palace are short of confidence right now and the breaks aren’t going their way.

Alan Pardew’s side are without a win in 13 league games and the manager is at a loss to know why. “I’m slightly baffled by the fact we haven’t a win in this run of games,” he said.

“We’ve certainly got ourselves more than close on a couple of occasions.”

CRYSTAL PALACE (4-2-3-1):

Hennessey 7; Ward 6, Dann 6, Delaney 6, Souare 4 (Kelly 46, 6); Jedinak 7, Ledley 6 (Gayle 76, 6); Bolasie 6, Cabaye 6, Zaha 7; Adebayor 5 (Sako 46, 8).

Subs:

Speroni, Campbell, Gayle, Mutch, Kelly, Puncheon.

LEICESTER CITY (4-4-1-1):

Schmeichel 7; Simpson 7, Morgan 7, Huth 7, Fuchs 7; Mahrez 7 (Schlupp 84, 6), Drinkwater 9, Kante 8, Albrighton 7; Okazaki 7 (Ulloa 74, 6); Vardy 7 (Amartey 88, 6).

Subs:

Schwarzer, Gray, Wasilewski, Inler.

Referee:

M Jones 6

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