Kasper Schmeichel says Leicester’s solid defence is the secret to the shock leaders’ remarkable charge towards a fairytale Premier League title this season.
Claudio Ranieri’s side are within touching distance of becoming the most unexpected champions in English football history as they face struggling Sunderland on Sunday and Denmark goalkeeper Schmeichel has no doubts that the Leicester back 4 will lay the foundation for another priceless victory.
Chelsea captain John Terry this week named seven Leicester players in his vote for the PFA’s team of the year and three of those nominations were for Schmeichel and the club’s centre-backs Wes Morgan and Robert Huth.
That trio, combined with full-backs Danny Simpson and Christian Fuchs, have proved an impenetrable obstacle to opposing forwards as the pressure of the title race has mounted, with Leicester grinding out five 1-0 wins in their last six matches.
“We defend as a team, we are tough to break down. They are an absolute privilege to play behind, those boys,” Schmeichel said.
“They throw their bodies in the way of everything and give us the best opportunity to go and win games.
“Building a good foundation with clean sheets is obviously a great start. For me they are a pleasure to play behind.”
If the Foxes win at the Stadium of Light they will open up a 10-point lead over second placed Tottenham, who will then have to beat Manchester United at White Hart Lane later on Sunday to have any chance of remaining in the hunt.
Ranieri’s men, 5,000-1 outsiders for the title at the beginning of the season, have enjoyed such a trouble-free run-in that they could even be crowned champions for the first time as soon as April 24 against Swansea if they keep winning and other results go their way.
Tottenham have no margin for error after last weekend’s draw at Liverpool, which featured an exquisite equaliser from Harry Kane but also the frustration of failing to finish off the Reds.
Kane’s 22nd league goal of the season set a new club record in the Premier League era, but the England striker would happily swap personal plaudits for a title winners’ medal and he is determined to keep hunting the Foxes right until the end.
“Any day of the week you’d rather your team win rather than have personal achievements,” Kane said.
“For me it is about the team getting as many points as possible.
“Anything can happen; Leicester will do very well to win every game until the end of the season.
“We have to focus on our next game against Manchester United and look for the win.”
Arsenal, in third place, make the short trip across London to face West Ham knowing they must win to maintain their slender hopes of a first title since 2004.
The Gunners are 11 points behind Leicester with a game in hand and, despite successive victories, boss Arsene Wenger is as focused on securing a top four finish -- they are currently five points ahead of fifth placed Manchester United and seven in front of West Ham -- as he is on an unlikely title charge.
“We know that we need nearly the perfect run and we know as well that we don’t look only in front of us, we look behind us as well,” Wenger said.
“We are chased by a group of teams who can make it very difficult for us, so we have just to focus on our performance and hope we finish in a very strong way.”
Manchester City, clinging onto fourth place, will hope the confidence gained from their gritty 2-2 Champions League quarter-final first leg draw at Paris Saint Germain can provide the impetus to see off West Bromwich Albion at Eastlands.
Meanwhile, rock bottom Aston Villa’s seemingly inevitable relegation will be confirmed if they fail to match or better fourth bottom Norwich’s result at Crystal Palace.
Villa, who host Bournemouth, are 15 points adrift of safety with six games left and need an incredible combination of results to avoid a return to the second tier for the first time since 1988.