LONDON – With a 3-1 win at Manchester City, Leicester showed why it really could be lifting the English Premier League trophy for the first time in May.
From a 5,000/1 outsider for the title in August, Leicester became the 7/4 favorite with several British bookmakers on Saturday after going five points clear at the top.
“I don’t believe in the bookmakers,” Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri said. “The bookmakers at the beginning said Ranieri would be the first to be sacked. Then?”
Then, Leicester went on to lose only two out of 25 league games to close in on the most astonishing title challenge in the modern English game.
City’s home loss to Leicester was compounded by Tottenham edging Watford 1-0 and replacing Manuel Pellegrini’s team in second place.
Both games saw defenders scoring rare goals, with Kieran Trippier netting for the first time for Tottenham, and Robert Huth claiming a double for Leicester.
City conceded after only three minutes, with Huth pouncing on the ball after Riyad Mahrez’s free kick bounced through the penalty area. Mahrez started the second half by powering a shot past goalkeeper Joe Hart before Huth netted again on the hour.
City, whose Abu Dhabi investment fueled 2012 and 2014 title triumphs, has failed at six opportunities to beat any of the top six teams this season.
When Ranieri took over a Leicester team that came close to being relegated last season, the former Chelsea manager’s mission was just keeping Leicester in the topflight.
Now the Italian’s mission is downplaying giddy talk of Leicester winning the league.
“I am sorry because we know it’s a crazy league and we have to try in this crazy league and there are some big teams who have to win,” Ranieri said. “We just enjoy it. We don’t believe anything. We want to fight of course but without pressure.
“For us, it is important to play and to continue in this way because it’s a strange league.”
Strange sums the season perfectly.
No pundit predicted Chelsea would be lying 13th — without Jose Mourinho — and preparing for a game on Sunday against a Manchester United side in fifth place.
Five years ago, the prospect of protests by Liverpool fans against club owner the Fenway Sports Group, which ended the despised Anfield reign of American duo Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. was unthinkable.
But the jubilant scenes that greeted the October 2010 takeover seemed a distant memory on Saturday as thousands of Liverpool fans walked out of the ground in the 77th minute of the game against Sunderland to protest some ticket prices rising to £77.
Liverpool was leading 2-0, after goals from Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana, at that stage of the match, but Adam Johnson and Jermain Defoe netted for Sunderland in in the final 10 minutes to grab a point for the strugglers.
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp missed the game with appendicitis.
Liverpool was overtaken by crosstown rival Everton, which moved into eighth place by winning at Stoke 3-0.
Aston Villa won for only the third time this season but remained bottom despite beating Norwich 2-0. Sunderland is four points ahead of Villa next-from-bottom.
Norwich replaced Newcastle in the relegation zone, with the north-east side beating West Bromwich Albion 1-0.
On the south coast, Maya Yoshida put Southampton ahead against West Ham and the hosts survived Victor Wanyama being sent off for a lunge on Dimitri Payet in the 54th minute to win 1-0. Southampton is two points behind sixth-place West Ham.
Crystal Palace halted a run of five successive league losses by drawing at Swansea 1-1.