By Billy Stephens @BillyLaughs @TLE_Sport
I wrote back in November that Leicester City would have to tighten up at the back if they wanted to challenge for the title (at the time they had conceded five more than any other team in the top five) and they certainly have done that.
Sunday’s 2-0 away victory against Sunderland was their fifth consecutive clean sheet, putting them within touching distance of the Premier League title and effectively ending Arsenal’s challenge after their entertaining 3-3 draw with London rivals West Ham the day before.
Relegation-battling Sunderland put in a resilient performance against the league leaders, but two second half goals from Jamie Vardy sealed the victory for the Champions elect, and kept Sunderland in the bottom three. The Black Cats face 17th placed Norwich next weekend and will need a positive result to keep any realistic survival hopes alive.
Arsenal let slip a two goal lead as Andy Carroll struck twice in two minutes just before half-time, and again at the start of the second half for his hat-trick, before Koscielny rescued a point for the Gunners. If you want to win titles, you can’t draw from two goals ahead during the run-in. That being said, take nothing away from Carroll and West Ham’s commanding performance.
The Foxes are now 13 points clear of Arsenal in third with five games left to play, and although Wenger’s men have a game in hand (six remaining) the gap now seems unassailable. Even if Arsenal were perfect for the rest of the season, which seems unlikely given they are currently 11th in the form table with just two wins from their last six, Leicester would still only need two victories to finish above them.
Tottenham now look like the only team capable of threatening Leicester having kept the pressure on with an emphatic 3-0 victory over Manchester United. Goals from Dele Alli, Toby Alderweireld and Eric Lamela in the space of six second half minutes pulled Spurs back to within 7 points of the leaders.
I felt this was Tottenham’s toughest remain fixture and if they play that well for the rest of the season, they could well pick up maximum points. Leicester look like winning every game too, but with four 1-0 victories in the last five games, the margins are slim and if Leicester were to drop points against West Ham next weekend it could make for a nervous end to the season for The Foxes. West Ham have been playing lovely football this season under Slaven Bilic, exactly the type of football that Hammers fans where literally crying out for under Sam Allardyce, and they’re still in with a shout of a top four finish. Playing against players who are still fighting for something at this stage of the season is so much harder than facing a foe in mid-table obscurity, so I expect an tough encounter for Leicester.
If Leicester do overcome West Ham next Sunday, they look nailed-on for the Premier League trophy. Regardless of that result, barring a series of events that would be unbelievable even in this season, the Premier League will have a first time Champion.