Claudio Ranieri insists leaders Leicester City must continue to push hard in the Premier League title race, despite claiming that an eight-point lead at this stage of the season would normally be insurmountable.
Riyad Mahrez’s first-half goal gave Leicester a 1-0 win away to Crystal Palace on Saturday to put pressure on second-placed Tottenham ahead of their meeting with AFC Bournemouth.
Ranieri believes more established big clubs such as Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea could consider themselves home and dry were they to hold the same sort of advantage with just seven matches to play, but he feels Leicester have a far more difficult battle.
“It’s not easy for us. We are Leicester. A team like United, City, Chelsea, five points or eight points clear and it would be finished. With us, no. We have to fight for every match,” he said.
“Now we’re in the Europa League and we’re very close to the Champions League. We have to stay calm and concentrated. The seven matches are open matches.
“Now we are at the home straight and I want to see how my horses ran!”
Ranieri was especially pleased with the attitude shown by his players as they withstood some heavy Palace pressure in the second half to come away with a deserved win.
“Of course, when I win I’m very happy. But when I win and we don’t play with this spirit, I’m not so happy,” he said. “When we lost against Arsenal we lost in the last second but I was happy, because we had a fantastic team.
“When I see this spirit, I’m very calm on the bench. The players were very focused, very concentrated.”
Despite their most unlikely of title triumphs edging ever closer, Ranieri is adamant he would not consider a failure to lift the trophy to be a huge disappointment given the way in which Leicester have developed from relegation candidates into top-flight pace-setters in the past year.
“I say to my players that everything is in our hands,” he said. “The others are not important – nobody is helping us. We have to do our job. If somebody goes above us, well done, they are the champions. If not, we continue to fight.
“Believe me, I’m very happy with this season. I remember the start of the season. The goal was ‘save the team’. Now everybody speaks about us, pushes us. If somebody is better than us, well done. We’ve made a fantastic achievement: Europa League, maybe Champions League.
“I feel it, also the fans who say ‘if I don’t win, I hope Leicester can’. They think Leicester play with heart, the right spirit to do something unbelievable. We have to be focused on our job.”