Leicester's charge relegates Chelsea-Man United to sideshow

Associated Press

February 4, 2016

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney applauds supporters as hail begins to fall after his team's 3-0 win in the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Stoke at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016.

MANCHESTER, England — It sums up the erratic nature of this season's Premier League that a match between Chelsea and Manchester United has been relegated to a mere sideshow just as the title race is getting interesting.

Instead, this weekend is all about whether Leicester can pull off its biggest shock yet and finally be recognized as a genuine title contender.

Leicester, which battled relegation all of last season, takes a three-point lead to Manchester City on Saturday in a match between the top two sides in the league. A victory would guarantee Leicester at least a five-point lead with 13 matches remaining.

Surely that would make the team favorites for the title and set up one of the most unlikely story lines in English soccer history.

"It's not a coincidence we're top of the table," Leicester midfielder Danny Drinkwater said. "This is team spirit at its highest. We won't stop believing.

Leicester’s Kasper Schmeichel, right, celebrates with teammate Robert Huth after Leicester beat Liverpool 2-0 during the English Premier League soccer match between Leicester City and Liverpool at the King Power Stadium in Leicester, England, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016.

"We're staying on the ground but if we carry on the way we are, then why not have the belief (to win the league)? It would go down in history surely."

Even a draw would be fine for Leicester, which visits another title challenger in Arsenal the following weekend before a benign run of games.

City, though, will want to send a message to Leicester's upstarts and collect a fourth straight win in all competitions to take over in first place on goal difference.

Seeking a third league title in five years, City has extra motivation for the run-in — giving departing coach Manuel Pellegrini a successful send-off after it was announced this week that Pep Guardiola would the club's manager from next season.

Chelsea — the defending champion — and Man United — a record 20-time champion — already are also-rans in the title race, although United will boost its ambitions of qualifying for the Champions League with a win at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. United is in fifth place, five points off the Champions League qualification spots and 10 points behind Leicester.

           

Manchester City's manager Manuel Pellegrini awaits the start of the English Premier League soccer match between Sunderland and Manchester City at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland, England, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016.

Chelsea is 13th and can probably forget about making up ground to the European positions in the top five.

Arsenal is winless in its last four league games and has dropped to fourth, behind Tottenham on goal difference, ahead of a visit to Bournemouth on Sunday.

Also Saturday, it's: Liverpool vs. Sunderland; Aston Villa vs. Norwich; Newcastle vs. West Bromwich Albion; Swansea vs. Crystal Palace; and Southampton vs. West Ham.

Here are some things to know about this weekend's games:

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ROONEY REVIVAL

Wayne Rooney often scores goals in bursts and the Manchester United striker is in the middle of another hot streak.

He has scored seven goals in seven games after his latest strike, in a 3-0 win over Stoke on Tuesday that relieved pressure on manager Louis van Gaal.

"He has his momentum," Van Gaal said about Rooney, "but also the team is now playing more for him, I think. We have to wait and see where he goes with this rhythm of making goals, with this then he is a fantastic striker."

The way he is going, Rooney could get the six goals he needs to break Bobby Charlton's all-time United scoring record by the end of this season.

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ALLI VS. BARKLEY

Thoughts are starting to turn to the European Championship in June and July, and many of England's likely players are in strong form.

As well as Rooney, striker Harry Kane has scored in his last three league games to move to 20 goals for the season, while Leicester striker Jamie Vardy's double — including a stunning long-range effort — against Liverpool on Tuesday moved him to 18 league goals.

Dele Alli and Ross Barkley could be fighting for the attacking midfielder slot in England's team and both youngsters are in superb form, scoring again in midweek.

Alli is battling illness to be involved in third-place Tottenham's home match against Watford and Barkley will look to score for Everton for the fourth straight game in a trip to Stoke.