London — Leicester's next hurdle in its unexpected run to
the English title is against the Premier League's other surprise package.
In the league's most unpredictable season since its
inception in 1992, Leicester will face sixth-place West Ham on Sunday with both
teams seeking their highest finish in the Premier League era.
Leicester will be looking to maintain its seven-point lead
over Tottenham at the top, while West Ham tries to close the gap on
fourth-place Manchester City. A loss for Leicester could see Tottenham, which
plays at Stoke on Monday, cut the lead to only four points with four games
Leicester's rise to the top of English soccer is widely
regarded as one of the league's most surprising events since Blackburn won the
top division in 1995. Like Blackburn, Leicester's success has been largely
because of its attacking prowess, although instead of Alan Shearer and Chris
Sutton, it's Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez.
Vardy has scored 21 goals this season, including two against
Sunderland last week, and trails league leader Harry Kane by only one.
"He deserves everything he gets," Leicester
goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel said of Vardy. "He works so hard and he's a
top lad around the dressing room. He's a good influence on everybody.
"Even balls that are put into areas that some strikers
maybe wouldn't go for them, he runs them down. He makes bad balls into good
balls and good balls into great balls."
West Ham also has plenty to play for in its first season
under manager Slaven Bilic. The team is still fighting for a place in next
season's Champions League, a vast improvement on last year's 12th-place finish.
Also read: One step at a time as Ranieri eyes Champs League
"He's a great manager and a great bloke, to be
honest," West Ham striker Andy Carroll said of Bilic. "You can talk
to him about football or not about football, and when it comes to games his
tactics are spot-on. Every game, he takes each game as it comes and it's
different tactics, different set-ups and different formations."
West Ham's best finish in the Premier League was fifth place
in 1999. Before the Premier League was established, the team finished third in
Leicester's best finishes were eighth in the Premier League
in 2000, and before that second in 1929.
Also, Manchester City, which reached the Champions League
semifinals for the first time on Tuesday, will play at Chelsea on Saturday,
while fifth-place Manchester United hosts Aston Villa. Third-place Arsenal
hosts Crystal Palace on Sunday.
Here are some other things to know about this weekend's
Both Leicester and West Ham have players named in the
shortlist for the Professional Footballers' Association player of the season
Vardy, Mahrez and N'Golo Kante are all on the list
representing Leicester, while Dimitri Payet is there for West Ham. The other
two players on the shortlist are Tottenham striker Kane and Arsenal midfielder
Chelsea winger Eden Hazard won the award in 2015.
AT THE BOTTOM
Seventeenth-place Norwich hosts 18th-place Sunderland in a
must win game for both sides in the battle for Premier League survival.
Norwich has 31 points with five games left, while Sunderland
is four points behind.
A Sunderland win would leave it a point behind Norwich with
a game in hand, and could cause problems for 19th-place Newcastle.
Newcastle faces Swansea on Saturday in a game that it has to
win to have a real chance of avoiding relegation.
Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez, who took over last month, is
still without a win. But a victory on Saturday could give the club
encouragement for the final few games.
Last-place Aston Villa, which plays at Manchester United,
will be relegated if the team fails to win or if Norwich draws or wins against
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