Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini has tried to play down the significance of this weekend’s top-of-the-table clash with Leicester but has warned the Foxes are capable of going all the way to the title.
The Foxes have defied sceptics throughout the season and travel to the Etihad Stadium today as the surprise leaders of the Premier League.
Leicester hold a three-point lead at the top and have shown no signs of slowing down with the outstanding Jamie Vardy firing them to a superb 2-0 win over Liverpool in midweek.
Claudio Ranieri’s outsiders are now starting to be regarded as genuine title contenders and their meeting with City is being eagerly anticipated, but Pellegrini points out it is not a decisive match.
Pellegrini said: “We can win this game or lose this game and it will not finish the Premier League here.
“After this you still have to play 13 more games, 39 points. There are still a lot of points.
“You cannot think because you win you are the champions.
“If you lose you still have a lot of things to fight for between now and the end of the season.”
The seeds for Leicester’s dramatic rise were sown in their late charge away from relegation last season.
Pellegrini has been impressed and believes they are capable of lasting the course.
The Chilean said: “I think Leicester started playing very well last season. They won seven of their last nine games.
“They started playing with high confidence, knowing what they can do.
“This season, maybe at the beginning it was a surprise but now it is not a surprise.
“They are playing with a very high performance, they have a team that works well together and they have an experienced manager.
“I think they will be involved in the title race until the end.
“I hope we can win to close the gap and continue fighting with Leicester and other teams to see who will win the title this year.”
City are furious following confirmation their FA Cup fifth-round tie at Chelsea will take place just three days before a crucial Champions League game in Kiev.
It is understood the club will send a letter of complaint to senior figures at the FA and Pellegrini has threatened to field an under-strength team.
The game will be televised live by the BBC at 4pm on Sunday, February 21, after City had expressed a preference for the Saturday.
Quadruple-chasing City feel they are being penalised for their success with unnecessary fixture congestion during a critical 11-day spell in their campaign.
The tie will take place the day before Pellegrini’s squad travel to Ukraine ahead of their Champions League game against Dynamo Kiev on February 24.
That in turn comes just four days before the Capital One Cup final against Liverpool at Wembley, and City then face the Reds again at Anfield in the Barclays Premier League three days after that.
Senior sources at City feel the club are not being supported sufficiently by the authorities for respecting all the competitions - Pellegrini rarely fields weakened teams - and for representing the English game in Europe.
City will back Pellegrini if he carries through his threat to field a team of youngsters against Chelsea.
Pellegrini said: “I’m very worried for a lot of things.
“First and foremost, if we have to play that game on that Sunday, we will not play with our (full-strength) team, we will play with a young team.
“For me, I must do what I feel is best for the club, to play with the strongest team we can in the Champions League.”
City already need to find a new date for a fixture against Newcastle because of the Capital One Cup final, while a replay against Chelsea might make the situation even more problematic.
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