Dream on: Leicester extend Premier League lead, but Claudio Ranieri keeps his poker face on
Claudio Ranieri is still refusing to countenance Leicester City as Premier League title favourites despite seeing his side extend their lead at the top of the table to five points.
Leicester’s 1-0 victory at Watford ensured they cashed in on Tottenham and Arsenal’s 2-2 draw earlier in the day and answered questions about their own ability to grind out results from difficult assignments.
Success at Vicarage Road came courtesy of Riyad Mahrez’s second-half goal and left Leicester in pole position.
Yet Ranieri maintained his poker face and played down the growing confidence among Leicester fans that the club can complete the most remarkable title triumph in Premier League history.
“I don’t dream,” said Ranieri. “I continue to work hard. For our fans it’s good. They dream and I work. It’s a good combination.
“But you can see in the Premier League that every match is a battle, not just for us but for everybody, and five points is nothing.
“But we want to continue to fight, match by match and step by step.
“Now our mind is on Newcastle, which is another tough match at home.
“We want to fight. We know we can win or we can lose but I want to see my team as they were against Watford, concentrating and with hard work.
“If I see that I am happy and the results are not important.”
Mahrez gave supporters an injury scare after his goal when he pulled up holding his hamstring, but he continued to play before being substituted and Ranieri allayed fears by confirming the Algerian was simply suffering from cramp.
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Leicester now have a nine-day break before returning to action against Newcastle in the first of their nine remaining games.
“We are very happy but we know there will be another nine battles, not only for us,” said Ranieri.
“The Premier League is fantastic. Nobody now can say who will win the title.
“We aren’t nervous. Our job is done. Our job was to save the team, and doing this was an amazing achievement.
“The others must be nervous. The others spent a lot of money to win the title and we just have to build, slowly, slowly.
“This year is a crazy season for us and everybody but we are happy and we have to enjoy.”
The result extended Leicester’s unbeaten run to three matches since they were defeated at Arsenal and means they have still lost just three times in the league.
Watford have won just one of their last six Premier League games and had to contend with the late loss of Miguel Britos to a hamstring injury in the warm-up.
They were undone by Mahrez’s superb strike but manager Quique Sanchez Flores believes his side lost to genuine title contenders.
“Leicester look like a very good team,” he said. “I like them. They are no different to what we expected.
“They were really intense in the middle and got back every time.
“They were very quick in attack, a very good team. We respected them before the match and we respect them now.”
He added: “We had our chances. The ball possession was 50-50 and we were expecting this type of match. It was very tight and little details cost us the match.”