Belfast Telegraph

Leicester boss Ranieri ready for deserved breather in title race

By Declan Warrington

Claudio Ranieri plans to visit his family in Rome during the international football break in his latest bid to avoid pressure building on him and his Leicester team.

The Italian oversaw a 1-0 victory at Crystal Palace on Saturday, secured by Riyad Mahrez's 17th goal of the season, which temporarily extended their advantage at the top of the Premier League to eight points.

Second-placed Tottenham's 3-0 defeat of Bournemouth yesterday again reduced that lead to five, but with only seven league fixtures left that remains significant, particularly given Leicester's momentum and apparent defensive improvement.

Ranieri's laid-back approach has done much to contribute to his team's beneficial sense of freedom, and asked how he will take advantage of the international break, he responded: "I will go to Italy now.

"I will go to my family, maybe I'll go to watch some matches, but I am not sure. I will go to my family in Rome.

"We (me and the squad) don't speak about the title. We are speaking about our performance, how we play the last match and how we must play now.

"That is our focus. When I say my players are very concentrated before the match, during the match, I am very calm.

"Okay, we can win, we can lose, but our performance is good. And when our performance is good, you can't tell them anything because if they make a mistake, it is normal."

For all that Leicester have cause for optimism, Palace have never been at greater risk of joining the battle against relegation.

Their last league win came on December 19 at Stoke, leaving them as the division's only team still pursuing a league victory in 2016, and though they remain seven points above the bottom three, they next face West Ham, Norwich, Arsenal and Manchester United.

Norwich is their only home fixture in that run, and manager Alan Pardew - who is only not under intense pressure because of their run to the FA Cup semi-finals, where they face Watford after visiting United - said: "I'm not going to put a (points) total on (safety) because that will change slightly.

"All I do know is that we need a win, or two wins, before that semi-final and that's what we've got to target. If we got those we'd be fairly happy.

"We've had wins in this run of league form, which had got us into the semi-final of the FA Cup, against Premier League opposition. If they were against lower league opposition I might be a bit more concerned. We go to the next one. That's all we can do.

"If we've lost a game against a team in the bottom half and we got outplayed I'd be a lot more worried than I am about perhaps being slightly outplayed by the potential champions.

"We've got West Ham next. That's our next game and that's the one we're focusing on. We're not even thinking about Norwich. We can win at West Ham, no problem. So we have to focus on that."

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