With just four matches remaining, Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri finally acknowledged the obvious on Friday and said his unsung side were fighting for the Premier League title and are most likely to win it.
Ever since the season started, the Italian has played it straight -- talking of avoiding relegation, then achieving points targets and seeing where it might lead -- while steering clear of championship discussions.
Despite having 22-goal top scorer Jamie Vardy suspended for Sunday’s home game against Swansea City, Ranieri took the opportunity to remind reporters of what his underdogs had already achieved.
“Hey man, we are in Champions League,” exclaimed the Italian. “Dilly ding, dilly dong. Come on. You speak about blah, blah, blah but we are in Champions League. Come on man, fantastic. Terrific.
“It is a great achievement. Unbelievable. And now we go straight away to try to win the title,” he exclaimed as reporters cheered the long-awaited recognition. “Only this remains.”
Leicester are five points clear of Tottenham Hotspur, whose recent form has been highly impressive, but Ranieri said he had told his players they had it in their hands.
“I talk to my players. Now is the right moment to push,” he said. “I believe. Always I believe. I am a positive man.
“If Tottenham go over (ahead of) us, congratulations. But I prefer to stay five points up.”
Tottenham striker Harry Kane is the league’s top scorer and his side thrashed Stoke City 4-0 on Monday to cut the gap at the top from eight points.
Ranieri said he had not watched that game, because he knew Tottenham would triumph and expected his rivals to win all their remaining games as well.
“I think they win. But also we win. And then ... if we win the title, unbelievable.”
Vardy has appeared in every league game for Leicester this season but was sent off for diving against West Ham United last Sunday.
England manager Roy Hodgson later defended the player, saying he did not think it was a dive or a penalty and that Vardy had gone down because he lost his balance at speed. Ranieri said Hodgson was not just expressing sympathy.
“I think it was the truth. He was going very fast and when you touch something you lose balance. And then maybe it’s not a penalty but sure it’s not a yellow card. But football is football,” he said.