Claudio Ranieri has warned that Leicester City will have to dig deep against Crystal Palace on Saturday if they are to extend their advantage at the top of the Premier League.
With Tottenham not playing until Sunday, Leicester could move eight points clear at the top of the table with victory at Selhurst Park as the most improbable of title triumphs moves into sight.
Palace have not won in 12 league games, a run that stretches back into last year, while Leicester have beaten Tottenham and Manchester City on their travels since the turn of the year and secured a 1-0 victory when the sides met at the King Power Stadium in October.
However, Ranieri – who only has doubts over Andy King’s fitness for the clash – expects FA Cup semi-finalists Palace to be another tough test for his high-flying Foxes.
“We don’t know what will happen in the next match,” the Italian told a news conference. “We just want to fight, not to think of the title. It will be a very tough match against Palace.
“In our last game with them I was so happy [to win] as they are a good team. I want us to enjoy and fight. If the result comes, then great. If not, it doesn’t matter. Carry on, let’s play.”
Leicester’s win over Palace earlier in the campaign came courtesy of a Jamie Vardy goal in the midst of the England striker’s 11-game Premier League record-breaking scoring run.
Palace bounced back from that defeat with four wins in their next seven, but things have spiralled out of control for Alan Pardew’s side, although their Cup run has kept spirits up.
However, their rotten run in the league leaves them eight points above the relegation zone, with Newcastle United and Sunderland – 19th and 17th in the table respectively – meeting at St James’ park on Sunday.
Five straight home defeats provide a shaky platform to build on as Leicester bring the Premier League’s best away record to Selhurst Park.
“The route is clear for them, they’re favourites,” said Pardew. “I take my hat off to them, they’ve been brilliant.
“In all the games they’ve won recently it’s been really tight and I expect it to be the same against us. We’ll be hoping for a result.
“We’ve had fantastic results in the cup. We’re in decent form, but not enough of it in the league. We’ve got a chance to turn it around now.”
Pardew is without strikers Connor Wickham (hip) and Marouane Chamakh (groin), while Mile Jedinak is a doubt with a back problem.
Key Opta Stats:
– Crystal Palace have taken just four points from the last 36 available in the Premier League.
– Leicester City’s Andy King has scored in his last two league appearances against Palace. He has also scored on two of his last three visits to Selhurst Park with the Foxes.
– Jamie Vardy needs one more goal to reach 20 league goals for the season. The last Leicester player to score 20 times in a top-flight season was Gary Lineker in 1984-85 (no Leicester player has done it during the Premier League era).
– Leicester have lost just five of their last 41 Premier League matches (W25 D11 L5) but four of those have been against London clubs (Arsenal twice, Chelsea & Spurs).
– The Eagles have lost their last five Premier League games at Selhurst Park and defeat to Leicester would equal their longest losing run at home in Premier League history (set in April 1998).