Leicester five points ahead but better-placed teams have wilted, says Gary Lim
Overcome the unrelenting pressure coming up and Leicester will be champions
(Riyad Mahrez 56)
Rarely have Leicester City enjoyed such worldwide interest in their run-in to the end of the English football season.
Then again, this is no ordinary English Premier League season.
As the Foxes sit five points clear at the top of the table after a 1-0 away win over Watford yesterday morning (Singapore time), the world braces itself for possibly the most sensational climax in Premiership history.
Former Leicester midfielder Robbie Savage thinks they are in the driver's seat, because none of their remaining nine opponents are in the title race.
Jamie Redknapp, the ex-Liverpool playmaker, believes the opposite is true, simply because Leicester's style of sitting deep and hitting opponents on the counter may not work as well against smaller clubs who will now adopt a more defensive stance.
Just maybe, what will decide Leicester's fate in the end, is not who they play, or how they play.
How Claudio Ranieri's men overcome what will be increasing pressure, with every game from now to the end of the season, will decide whether the Premier League trophy ends up at the King Power Stadium for the first time.
For seven months, Leicester have been the Premiership's feel-good story, and they have picked up the points with metronomic efficiency.
Meanwhile, the dynamics of the title fight have changed.
No longer are they seen as the overachievers who have been punching above their weight or simply riding their luck.
They will go into the majority of their remaining nine league games as favourites.
Ambitions have swelled, new targets have replaced old ones, and the stakes have become deadly serious.
The shock win of October will be expected to be replicated in March.
The scales have been realigned.
The players have never been here before.
They may be tempted to look at how the chasing pack are doing.
Anxiety will build, nerves will fray.
Ranieri's biggest task is to steer away the distractions as much as he can.
At first, they had nothing to lose.
Now, the Foxes will know that a couple of stumbles and they will throw glory away.
The closer they move towards the biggest prize in English football, the more stress they will come under.
A five-point advantage with nine matches to go can very easily be reined in.
Two years ago, Liverpool lost their nerve despite holding a five-point lead with nine points left to play for, and eventually conceded the title to Manchester City.
In the 2011/12 campaign, Manchester United's eight-point advantage over City with six matches remaining wasn't good enough.
Kevin Keegan's Newcastle United side famously blew a 12-point cushion over Man United during the 1995/96 season.
Against Watford at Vicarage Road yesterday, Leicester's endurance and composure showed no signs of fraying.
It was business as usual, in fact.
The outstanding Riyad Mahrez removed the Hornets' stingers with his superb second-half strike.
Jamie Vardy, the Premiership's most lethal marksman this season with 19 goals, put in another typically industrious performance to ensure that the hosts' defence was kept busy.
Everything Watford's attackers could throw at them, Leicester's defenders dealt with it comfortably.
The true test of Leicester's mettle, however, is on their doorstep.
The pressure is about to be cranked up, and it will be relentless.
We are about to find out what Leicester are made of.
Ranieri: I don't dream, I continue to work hard
Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri insists he is not dreaming about winning the English Premier League despite moving five points clear in the title race, after a 1-0 victory at Watford yesterday morning (Singapore time).
A brilliant goal from Riyad Mahrez after 56 minutes has put clear breathing space between Ranieri's side and second-placed Tottenham Hotspur, with only nine matches left.
But Ranieri (above), whose side will host struggling Newcastle in their upcoming league fixture next week, played down Leicester's chances of completing one of British sport's greatest fairytales.
"I don't dream, I continue to work hard," said Ranieri, despite the visiting support at Vicarage Road singing "we're going to win the league" in the closing moments of the Watford clash.
"The fans dream and we work, which is a good combination. Did you see today? Every match in the Premier League is a battle, not (just) for us but everybody, and five points are nothing.
STEP BY STEP
"We want to continue to fight match-after-match, step-by-step, and now our mind is on Newcastle, which is another tough match at home."
The Foxes had taken full advantage of the 2-2 draw between fellow title challengers Tottenham and Arsenal, to move five points clear at the top.
However, Ranieri claimed neither he, nor his side, knew the result of the North London Derby, before their match at Vicarage Road.
"I didn't know," said Ranieri, when asked for his reaction to the draw at White Hart Lane. "No. Believe me. I was focused on Watford and I did not know the result."
When the score was pointed out to the Italian during his post-match press conference, he replied with a smile: "It was 2-2? Oh good. Thank you."
Mahrez, a £400,000 ($780,000) signing from French second-division side Le Havre, scored his 15th league goal with a strike befitting of his incredible season.
"The goal was amazing," said Ranieri, who substituted the Algerian with 10 minutes left. "The ball was there, the shot at goal was good quality, but we know very well about Mahrez.
"There was no injury, just a little cramp. He wanted to continue, but his job was done and I preferred to change him."
Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel paid tribute to his back four, telling Sky Sports News: "We knew it was going to be a tight game and we would have to come up with a bit of magic.
"We started the game quite well, before losing our way in the middle. The manager made two changes at the break, though, and it gave us more stability and more balance.
"It is an absolute joy and privilege to play behind those boys. They lay everything out there and, as a goalkeeper, they are a dream to play behind."
Watford remain 12th in the table, having failed to score in seven of their last nine matches.
"Leicester look like a very good team," said manager Quique Sanchez Flores. "It is no different to what we were expecting. They played really well, very intense in the middle, defending well and getting back all the time,
"We respected them before the match and we carry on respecting them now." - PA Sport.