Palace praise for Leicester's defensive resolve
Crystal Palace praised Leicester's defensive strength after the Premier League leaders displayed a new dimension to earn Saturday's 1-0 win at Selhurst Park and extend their advantage at the top to eight points.
Second-placed Tottenham reduced that lead back to five when they beat Bournemouth on Sunday, but given the widely-held belief that Leicester's title challenge has been inspired largely by the attacking abilities of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, a fourth clean sheet in their past five games showed unexpected improvement.
Throughout much of the first half of the season, Leicester played high-intensity, yet one-paced football in which they often lost possession and therefore remained at risk, as they showed by conceding in every game until the last week of October, incidentally against Palace.
On Saturday, however, after Mahrez's 17th goal of the season gave them the lead in the 30th minute, they often slowed play down and demonstrated fine composure to negate Palace's threat with a disciplined performance in which N'Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater impressed and which contributed to Emmanuel Adebayor's half-time substitution.
"They showed in the first half why they're top of the league," said Palace manager Alan Pardew. "We couldn't really make any impact on them.
"They're very strong, and disciplined in terms of their defensive duties. It was very hard to get through them. We couldn't really create anything.
"You don't get a load of chances against Leicester, they're a very organised team."
Palace, owing to the influence of Wilfried Zaha, Yohan Cabaye and Yannick Bolasie, are often among the division's more creative teams but while they improved in the second half, Leicester largely restricted them to longer-range, ambitious efforts and aimless crosses.
"They worked their socks off in the first half and they were on top especially after they scored the goal," defender Scott Dann told Palace's official club website. "They're obviously well drilled. That's the fifth time in six games they've won 1-0 so they score that first goal and they're difficult to break down as we found."
Bakary Sako, whose energy as a replacement for Adebayor contributed to Palace's improvement, added: "Leicester are a tough team to play against because they fight for their life, they defend really well and everybody is on it."
Even in the event of Spurs defeating Bournemouth, a lead of five points at the top of the league, given Leicester show such professionalism and momentum, would be significant with only seven league fixtures remaining.
Their manager Claudio Ranieri instead insisted Saturday's win had simply taken them to the brink of qualifying for next season's Champions League, while also acknowledging their improving defensive strength when he told Leicester's official club website: "It's a fantastic position but we have to remain calm because we've not achieved anything yet.
"At the beginning (of the season) the clean sheet was difficult (for us to achieve for us) and I offered pizza. Maybe they didn't like pizza but then we are good.
"The fans can continue to dream but we have to be focused on our match.
"I'm very happy with the players but we must be calm with our feet on the ground."