Claudio Ranieri is delighted to have the race for the Premier League title in Leicester City’s own hands and continues to feel relaxed ahead of their game at home to Southampton on Sunday.
In an astonishing season, table-topping Leicester sit five points clear of nearest rivals Tottenham with seven matches to play.
They have failed to defeat Southampton in their last eight top-flight matches, though, with Ronald Koeman’s men still having plenty to play for as they sit seventh and in pursuit of a European spot after victories over Stoke City and Liverpool.
The reverse fixture in October saw Leicester come from two goals down to dramatically draw 2-2 thanks to a Jamie Vardy double and Ranieri insisted there is less pressure on his team now than in the early stages of the campaign, despite the massive stakes.
“We know everyone wants to beat us but we know everything is in our hands and we want to continue,” Ranieri said on Friday.
“There isn’t pressure. The pressure was in the beginning when we had to be safe but after this, we are enjoying it. We are on a good run.
“Just now we are five points ahead and maybe it will be three, two, one. It’s important to go out on the pitch and make a fantastic performance. After this, the results are not important.
“It is normal if the players are tired [after international duty] but we have another day to recover – they are fit and in good condition.
“Southampton want to fight and to achieve Europe. They are a very good team – [Sadio] Mane, [Dusan] Tadic, [Graziano] Pelle – they have tall players too. We conceded twice from a corner against them. I hope our support can help us.”
Leicester will check on the fitness of Andy King (hamstring), while Southampton welcome back key trio Charlie Austin, Ryan Bertrand and Jay Rodriguez, with striker Shane Long (patellar tendon) their only fitness doubt.
“It is very important to have all the players available,” visiting manager Koeman said. “That means good competition in your squad.
“You need that and it is important to have everybody available for the last seven games. It starts on Sunday with a fantastic game, and we are looking forward to it.
“We have the experience from the home game. At 60 minutes we were 2-0 up but they showed a great spirit to come back to 2-2.
“Even at that time I was surprised about their position in the table. It is amazing. All credit to them that they are still fighting to win the title.
“Maybe this weekend will be the big decider but they will be afraid of Southampton.
“We have shown we can beat everybody and we showed that against Liverpool, away against Manchester United and we showed it away against Chelsea. We are full of confidence to play.”
Key Opta stats:
– Leicester City have 41 more points from 31 Premier League games this season (66) compared to last season (25). They were also bottom of the league after playing 31 in 2014-15.
– The last three Premier League meetings between these two sides have seen a player score a brace (Jamie Vardy in October, Riyad Mahrez last May and Shane Long in November 2014).
– Leicester have kept six clean sheets in their last seven Premier League games at the King Power Stadium.
– Graziano Pelle has been involved in each of Southampton’s last five goals, scoring three himself and assisting the other two for Sadio Mane.
– Riyad Mahrez has scored more winning goals in the Premier League than any other player this season (7).