Thursday 8 December 2016

Riyad Mahrez's goal puts Leicester eight points clear

Published 19/03/2016 | 17:21

Riyad Mahrez's 17th goal of the season kept Leicester's title push intact
Riyad Mahrez's 17th goal of the season kept Leicester's title push intact

Leicester earned three further points in their pursuit of a remarkable Premier League title with a 1-0 win at Crystal Palace.

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Claudio Ranieri's team, thanks to Riyad Mahrez's 17th goal of the season, are now eight points clear with seven games remaining. Second-placed Tottenham host Bournemouth on Sunday.

Previous title challenges have faltered at Selhurst Park in recent seasons, as Manchester City's did in April 2015 and Liverpool's did a year before, but Leicester have showed few signs of pressure.

If there was a greater focus on them this week it came in a first call up to the England senior squad for Danny Drinkwater and the fact Spurs were eliminated from the Europa League to leave them with only their title challenge to focus on.

It rarely showed, however. It may be difficult to believe any Leicester figure when they claim their only concern is the next game, but unlike City and Liverpool, who both seemed to struggle with the realisation the title was escaping their reach, Claudio Ranieri's team have built such an advantage that results elsewhere are a smaller concern.

Drinkwater's hopes of being England's defensive midfielder at Euro 2016 could have been tested by the collective threat of Wilfried Zaha, Yohan Cabaye and Yannick Bolasie. He instead demonstrated fine composure throughout, as well as vision when in the 16th minute he collected possession from Jamie Vardy before sending Mahrez through on goal.

Displaying the confidence that has inspired his exceptional season, the forward accelerated towards Wayne Hennessey before watching the goalkeeper make enough contact with his calm, low shot to send the ball off target from where Scott Dann cleared.

On the half-hour mark, Zaha was equally as wasteful. Bolasie ran down the left, cut inside the area and crossed to the winger, but with space from close range he connected poorly and sliced harmlessly wide.

When Leicester took the lead four minutes later, it already felt as though Zaha had squandered Palace's finest chance of avoiding defeat. Drinkwater passed to Vardy, positioned on the edge of the area, and the forward crossed low towards Mahrez from where the Algerian routinely finished beyond Hennessey from just in front of goal.

Palace manager Alan Pardew responded by at half-time substituting Emmanuel Adebayor and Pape Souare for Bakary Sako and Martin Kelly, and while his team responded by showing greater energy, Leicester would not be denied.

Shinji Okazaki sending a shot just over the bar two minutes into the second half represented one of the few occasions the visitors threatened. Mahrez and Vardy are given so much credit for Leicester's form, but the defensive strength provided by N'Golo Kante, Kasper Schmeichel and others is equally important, as Palace's futile attempts demonstrated.

Sako repeatedly showed intent, with aimless crosses and ambitious mid-to-long range shots, yet Palace - without a focal point in the penalty box - never looked like scoring.

Leicester gradually and professionally ensured victory, and edged closer to the Premier League title.

TWEET OF THE MATCH

"Leicester win 1-0 again. Claudio is making us delightfully Italian. 8 points clear. 8 points!" - former Leicester forward Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker)

https://twitter.com/GaryLineker/status/711233674285604868

PLAYER RATINGS

CRYSTAL PALACE

Wayne Hennessey: 7

Joel Ward: 6

Scott Dann: 7

Damien Delaney: 5

Pape Souare: 5

Mile Jedinak: 5

Yohan Cabaye: 7

Joe Ledley: 6

Wilfried Zaha: 6

Yannick Bolasie: 7

Emmanuel Adebayor: 5

Substitutes:

Martin Kelly: 6

Bakary Sako: 7

Dwight Gayle: 5

LEICESTER

Kasper Schmeichel: 7

Danny Simpson: 6

Robert Huth: 7

Wes Morgan: 7

Christian Fuchs: 7

Marc Albrighton: 6

N'Golo Kante: 8

Danny Drinkwater: 8

Riyad Mahrez: 8

Jamie Vardy: 8

Shinji Okazaki: 6

Substitutes:

Leonardo Ulloa: 5

Jeffrey Schlupp: 5

Daniel Amartey: 5

STAR PLAYER

Danny Drinkwater. Riyad Mahrez may have scored the winning goal with an assist from Jamie Vardy, but it was Drinkwater who inspired Leicester's professional performance with his composure. He dictated much of his ream's tempo, provided a fine chance for Mahrez, and found Vardy for his assist.

MOMENT OF THE MATCH

Gifted time and space close to goal by Yannick Bolasie's cross, Wilfried Zaha sliced wide with the score at 0-0. Had he scored, Leicester could have been under real pressure, but he wasted his chance, and the visitors took the lead shortly after and were then rarely tested.

VIEW FROM THE BENCH

Claudio Ranieri's team were organised exactly as they needed to be, so few questions were asked of him. He does, however, deserve credit for not over-thinking Leicester's position and resisting tweaking his team. Little needs changing because they continue to impress, but others still would. Crystal Palace's Alan Pardew showed his patience is running thin. His team have not won in the Premier League in 2016 and he substituted Pape Souare and Emmanuel Adebayor at half-time. All it did, however, was leave them without a focal point in the second half, and greater energy which had little direction.

MOAN OF THE MATCH

Crystal Palace's league form makes so little sense. They repeatedly impress in the FA Cup to reach the semi-finals, and appeared to have some momentum with last week's quarter-final win at Reading, yet played as though their season is already over. Why, when they are capable of so much more?

WHO'S UP NEXT?

West Ham v Crystal Palace, Barclays Premier League (Saturday, April 2)

Leicester v Southampton, Barclays Premier League (Sunday, April 3)

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