LONDON: Time to take Leicester City seriously. Until their 3-1 win away to Premier title rivals Manchester City the Foxes had been merely an entertaining aberration, expected to fall back into the pack as soon as the traditional giants asserted themselves.
Not any longer. Not after two goals from German defender Robert Huth and one from Riyad Mahrez left City with only a late consolation from Sergio Aguero.
Leicester’s victory and establishment of a five-point lead over, now, Totteham Hotspur was good news not only for English football but for Europe. Here is proof that there is no divine right to rule even for monoliths such as Bayern Munich in Germany, Paris Saint-Germain in France as well as Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spain.
Manager Claudio Ranieri, still refusing to talk up his team’s title potential, said: “It was a good performance. Difficult, because when you’re playing against a team like City, players with fantastic quality, it’s not easy but we concentrated very much.
“We wanted to try to win, without pressure, just enjoy the match, and try to do our best. I think the first goal was very good for our confidence and then we closed all the space.”
Ranieri, with Leicester facing another tough test against Arsenal next week, added: “This season is a crazy league, I don’t know why. I don’t think about if we win the league, I don’t want to think about it.
“My mind goes over the next seven days – Arsenal, another tough match, other fantastic players, another fantastic stadium. But we’re alive and we want to fight. I hope we concentrate as well as in these last matches to continue our dream.”
Opposite number Manuel Pellegrini insisted the title race was far from over.
He said: “If Leicester continue the way they are playing then they are favourites. It is fair to give them merit. But it just depends on what they can do from now until the end of the season. Having to play 13 games more is very difficult to predict.
“We have another 39 points to play for so it is important to be focused game by game and try to beat Tottenham here next time, as they are another team fighting for the title. But this was a defeat we didn’t expect.”
The game was City’s first at home since it was announced Pellegrini would be replaced in the summer by Pep Guardiola. Pellegrini refused to consider this as an excuse.
Leicester took an early lead when Robert Huth flicked in a free-kick at the near post after only three minutes. Leicester struck again early in the second half through Mahrez on the counter attack before Huth headed a third from a corner on the hour.
Tottenham moved up into second with a 1-0 win over Watford at White Hart Lane.
Spurs finally broke down a stubborn Hornets defence on 64 minutes when substitute Dele Alli, who had just come on, crossed through the six-yard box for Kieran Trippier to net from close range. Mauricio Pochettino’s side have won six successive matches in all competitions.
Bottom club Aston Villa beat struggling Norwich 2-0 but remain eight points adrift of safety. Villa took the lead just before the break through a Joleon Lescott header and doubled their lead with Gabriel Agbonlahor’s first league goal for 11 months.
Villa’s third league win saw the Canaries slump into the relegation zone on the back of a fifth-straight league defeat.
Jermain Defoe scored a dramatic 89th-minute equaliser to secure relegation-battlers Sunderland a 2-2 draw with Liverpool at Anfield. Reds manager Jurgen Klopp missed the game after being taken ill with suspected appendicitis.
Roberto Firmino put the home side in front on 59 minutes and created a second for Adam Lallana to score a second with 20 minutes left. Sunderland hit back for a point twice in the last eight minutes through Adam Johnson and Defoe in the last minute.
A significant number of Liverpool had already left before then in a protest against proposed ticket price increased. Many fans left their seats during the 77th minute, demonstrating over-the-top priced admission of some £77 seats in the new main stand at Anfield.
Newcastle moved out of the bottom three after beating West Bromwich 1-0 at St James’ Park with a 32-minute goal from Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Everton collected their second victory of the week when they won 3-0 at Stoke.
The Toffees went ahead on 12 minutes through a penalty from Romelu Lukaku, while full-back Seamus Coleman headed in a corner to double the away side’s lead on 28 minutes.
Winger Aaron Lennon scored for a third consecutive game to make it 3-0 after 42 minutes, which put the match beyond Stoke before half-time.
Swansea and Crystal Palace drew 1-1 at the Liberty Stadium in what was a first home game in charge for new boss Francesco Guidolin.
Gylfi Sigurdsson curled in a free-kick to put the Swans ahead on 14 minutes but Palace levelled a minute into the second half through defender Scott Dann.
Southampton held on to an early goal from Maya Yoshida to edge out West Ham 1-0 despite playing most of the second half with 10 men after the sending-off of Victor Wanyama – his third of the season – for a foul on Dimitri Payet.
Saints have kept five consecutive clean sheets, with goalkeeper Fraser Forster yet to concede in seven and a half hours since he returned from a long-term injury.