Leicester's players in spotlight
MANCHESTER, England (AP):
There have been considerable knock-on effects for Leicester following the team's giddy rise to the top of the English Premier League.
A ramping-up of global interest and adulation? Definitely.
Qualification to the Champions League for the first time? Almost certainly, especially if the surprise leaders beat Southampton at home on Sunday.
Then there's growing international recognition for their star players. On Tuesday, England started with two Leicester players in this case, Jamie Vardy and debutant Danny Drinkwater for the first time in 42 years in the 2-1 loss to the Netherlands. And on the same night, N'Golo Kante, Leicester's enforcer in central midfield, made his full debut for France on his 25th birthday and marked it by scoring one of the goals in a 4-2 win over Russia.
"Things are going fast," said Kante, who was playing for Caen in France's second tier only three years ago.
"I wouldn't have said it was possible four or five years ago," said Vardy, a goalscorer against the Dutch and a striker who once worked in a carbon-fibre factory.
Leicester's fans will be saying the same kind of things.
After narrowly escaping relegation last season because of an incredible run of results in the final nine games, Leicester are mounting the most unlikely of title challenges and are five points clear of second-place Tottenham with seven games left. The club has never won a top-flight English league title.
Training would have been unusually quiet for Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri over the recent international break, given the increased number of national-team call-ups. Ranieri, therefore, must reignite the team's momentum from before the two-week hiatus ahead of the biggest six weeks in the club's 132-year history.
Southampton could be one of the toughest remaining opponents for Leicester, with the visitors from the south coast having won their last two games to climb within four points of the Champions League places.
But Leicester are showing remarkable resilience under pressure, winning its last three matches 1-0.
"They've been the best team this season, without question," Alex Ferguson, a managerial great in English soccer, has told Sky Sports, "and they deserve to win it."
Tottenham would pile the pressure on Leicester by beating Liverpool tomorrow, a day before Leicester play.
MAN CITY'S REINFORCEMENTS
In danger of dropping out of the top four, out-of-form Manchester City have been handed a much-needed boost on the injury front.
Three midfielders Samir Nasri, Kevin De Bruyne and Fabian Delph were back in training this week after long injury layoffs and could be in line to play against Bournemouth tomorrow.
De Bruyne's return after two months out with damaged ankle and knee ligaments is especially important for City, who have not scored in their last three matches and have been short of creativity. City broke their transfer record last August to sign De Bruyne for more than US$77 million.
City are in fourth place the final Champions League qualification position and only one point ahead of West Ham and Manchester United. West Ham host Crystal Palace tomorrow and Manchester United are at home to Everton on Sunday.
Last-place Aston Villa are heading into their home match against Chelsea without a manager following the departure of Remi Garde on Tuesday.
With seven games left, Villa are 12 points from safety and has only won three league games all season.