'Make it happen'
Ranieri tells Leicester to turn title hopes into reality at the Theatre of Dreams
Claudio Ranieri had one message for his Leicester City team last Tuesday morning after Tottenham Hotspur's surprise 1-1 draw with West Brom. "It is now a reality," the Italian told his players, setting the tone for the week and what could be a decisive day at Old Trafford. "Make it happen."
If Leicester win at Manchester United today - or even just claim three points from their last three games - they will win the Premier League, in what might well be the most sensational and unexpected achievement in modern European football history.
So much of Leicester City's campaign defies recent realities - a title victory for a club of their scale was supposed to be impossible in an era when the wealthiest teams always win. If they do win a first league in their 132-year history, they would be the first maiden champions since Nottingham Forest in 1978, in what would also be the first top-tier league medal in 64-year-old Ranieri's 28-year managerial career.
The Italian himself described it as the kind of thing that only happens "once every 50 years". It is now 90 minutes away.
"I understand that people want to start to dream and to enjoy but I am a pragmatic man," said Ranieri, whose first game in England with Chelsea was a 3-3 draw at Old Trafford in September 2000.
"It (the excitement) is not difficult to understand. For the first time in the club's life, they can win the title. It is unbelievable, it is history. I have felt a lot of emotion but I haven't seen it this early before. In Italy, they are very superstitious.
"We are fighting to turn this dream into a reality. But not yet. I see all the happiness around the city and that's great, but it's not finished."
The Leicester players made a pact to not mention the title for so long, but now feel confident enough to reveal that they felt they could win it after the 3-1 victory away to Manchester City on February 6.
"I think that one really showed everyone what level we're at," Jeff Schlupp said on Friday. "I think the players who were involved in that game almost started to believe it - and that was the game for me, personally. We looked like a proper team and we just kicked on from then onwards and kept doing what we'd been doing all season."
It is therefore fitting that Leicester's next trip to Manchester could vindicate that belief as well as prove their quality, and that in the prestigious Old Trafford, home of the club to win more English titles than anyone else. For all the manager's public humility, Schlupp also revealed that Ranieri promised he would "transform the team" on taking over in the summer.
"He said he just wanted to add a few things that he had used in the past and thought worked well. He said if he added it to us it would transform us as a team and that's what he's done," said Schlupp.
It has left Leicester on the brink of what Schlupp describes as a "dream" no matter how they do it. There is still, however, a preferred way to complete the task: victory today: "It is a dream to win it there and get the trophy at home."
If Ranieri's side do beat United today - or if they draw and Tottenham drop points at Chelsea tomorrow, or if both contenders lose - Leicester will be presented with the Premier League trophy in front of their own crowd against Everton on Saturday.
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