Claudio Ranieri readying the whip for the Premier League's final furlongs
Published 21/01/2016 | 22:41
Claudio Ranieri has likened the Barclays Premier League title chase to the final furlongs of a horse race - and the Leicester boss is readying the whip in preparation for one last push for glory.
The Foxes have been the story of the season so far. This time last year, under Nigel Pearson, they seemed destined for relegation but 12 months on they find themselves level on points with top-of-the-table Arsenal and it would take a catastrophic collapse for the Foxes not to be competing in Europe again - after a 16-year absence - next season.
In arguably the most unpredictable and open campaign since the inception of the Premier League in 1992, you could still make a case for any of the top five clubs to be lifting the trophy come May - with just seven points separating them.
Despite being there or thereabouts all season, Ranieri has only recently admitted that his Leicester side are contenders and ahead of the visit of seventh-placed Stoke the affable Italian, in his own inimitable way, said: " Every match for us is very important but if we win on Saturday it would be fantastic.
"Now is the right moment for us. You get the right horses arriving at the finale and n ow we are at the last turn.
"In March there is the final straight but now we are at the turn.
"I will whip them in March. If we are still there in March, I will go!
"I will call Sir Alex Ferguson because he knows the horses very well and then he can give me some suggestions."
A much-changed Leicester team lost to top four, indeed Premier League title, rivals Tottenham in midweek in the FA Cup. It is reasonable to argue that elimination from that competition may benefit Ranieri and his small squad as they look to maintain their surprise pursuit of the title.
However, the City boss is not so sure.
He said: "I don't know because our football is very energetic. For that reason I changed a lot. We have to play every time 100 per cent. For us it is important to have only one competition and work hard during the week."
Leicester have won just one of their last five league games, losing only once also, but the importance of a positive result against Stoke at the weekend is not lost on Ranieri - with Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal next up for the Foxes in February.
"I would like to win because we have a big three matches," he said.
"For this reason this match is very important because it would give us the opportunity to have a little rest for two or three days with a smile and say 'Okay, we lost an opportunity to go through in the FA Cup but at the top we are fighting for something special.'
"I think this would be a good moment for us to maintain and be strong."