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Title-contending Leicester begin pivotal stretch

01 February 2016, 18:58

London - The likelihood of Leicester playing in the Champions League next season is growing stronger by the game.

The even more fanciful notion of Leicester as English Premier League champion? We'll have a much better idea in about two weeks.

The team that narrowly avoided relegation last season is the surprise leader by three points with 15 matches remaining, and is 10 points clear of fifth-place Manchester United. If Leicester can emerge from its next three games with a lead intact, English soccer could be in for its most unlikely league champion in a generation.

Also read: Klopp feels squeeze as leaders Leicester loom

The team led by Claudio Ranieri hosts Liverpool on Tuesday in the standout match of a full midweek program in the Premier League. Away matches at Manchester City and Arsenal, the other members of the current top three, come next for Leicester, before a run of seemingly benign games while its title rivals resume their campaigns in Europe.

There's no sign of Leicester slowing down, either, having beaten Tottenham away and Stoke 3-0 in two of its last three matches.

Liverpool has been inconsistent of late, but is one of only two teams to have defeated Leicester this season. Both teams will be fresh after the fourth round of the FA Cup, with Leicester inactive after being eliminated and Liverpool fielding its reserves in a 0-0 draw against West Ham on Saturday.

"We will have fresh legs against Leicester and that's the good news," said Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp, whose team has played a game every three of four days since Christmas. "It's an intensive time. Hopefully we have players to come back from injury and we will have enough."

Here are some more things to know about the midweek games:


Sergio Aguero is back in scoring form for Manchester City and he might have a sidekick to share the attacking burden for the final months of the season.

Kelechi Iheanacho is a 19-year-old Nigerian who is making something of a splash in his first season in City's squad. His hat trick in City's 4-0 win over Aston Villa in the FA Cup on Saturday took his tally this season to eight goals in 507 minutes of action — a goal every 63 minutes.

He has come from nowhere to be arguably City's second-choice striker, ahead of Wilfried Bony.

Iheanacho is likely to be back on the bench for City's trip to Sunderland on Tuesday, but City manager Manuel Pellegrini will no longer be hesitating about whether Iheanacho is up to the task.

City is in second place, tied on points with Arsenal.


Only time will tell if Man United's win over second-tier club Derby in the FA Cup on Friday was another false dawn for under-pressure manager Louis van Gaal.

Stoke visits Old Trafford on Tuesday, looking to complete the league double over United this season. After his team's loss at Britannia Stadium on Dec. 26, Van Gaal raised the possibility of quitting, and the prospect of him departing has hovered over the Dutchman ever since.

United is five points behind Tottenham, which occupies the final Champions League qualification spot.

The biggest positive for Van Gaal at the moment is the form of Wayne Rooney, who has six goals in six games in 2016. Another six and he'll equal the club record of 249 goals held by Bobby Charlton.

"I've been scoring goals, I feel good, I feel fit and, although some of the results have been disappointing, I'm enjoying my game at the minute," Rooney said, "and long may it continue."


Arsenal is at home against Southampton and will be looking to make amends for a 4-0 loss in the reverse match on Dec. 26.

Tottenham visits Norwich, while reigning champion Chelsea is 14 points off the top 14 heading into a match at Watford.

- AP


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