HAM­MERS TEST FOR LE­ICES­TER

The Economic Times - - Sports - Andy Datson

Aus­tralia fin­ished with the max­i­mum 18 points from six out­ings, fol­lowed by In­dia on 12 points and New Zealand on 11 points

Le­ices­ter’s next hur­dle in their un­ex­pected r u n to t he Engli sh t it le i s a g a i nst t he Premier League’s other sur­prise pack­age. In the league’s most un­pre­dictable sea­son since its in­cep­tion in 1992, Le­ices­ter will face sixth-place West Ham on Sun­day with both teams seek­ing their high­est fin­ish in the Premier League era.

Leic e st er wi l l be lo oki ng to main­tain its seven-point lead over Tot­ten­ham at the top, while West Ham tries to close the gap on fourth­place Manch­ester City. A loss for Le­ices­ter could see Tot­ten­ham, which plays at Stoke on Mon­day, cut the lead to only four points with four games re­main­ing. Le­ices­ter’s rise to the top of English soc­cer is widely re­garded as one of the league’s most sur­pris­ing events since Black­burn won the top divi­sion in 1995. Like Black­burn, Le­ices­ter’s suc­cess has been largely be­cause of its at­tack­ing prow­ess, although in­stead of Alan Shearer and Chris Sut­ton, it’s Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez.

Vardy has scored 21 goals this sea­son, in­clud­ing two against Sun­der­land last week, and trails league leader Harry Kane by only one. ``He de­serves every­thing he gets,’’ Le­ices­ter goal­keeper Kasper Sch­me­ichel said of Vardy. ``He works so hard and he’s a top lad around the dress­ing room. He’s a good in­flu­ence on every­body.

``Even balls that are put into ar­eas that some strik­ers maybe wouldn’t go for them, he runs them down. He makes bad balls into good balls and good balls into great balls.’’

West Ham also has plenty to play for in its first sea­son un­der man­ager Slaven Bilic. The team is still fight­ing for a place in next sea­son’s Cham­pi­ons League, a vast im­prove­ment on last year’s 12th-place fin­ish.

``He’s a great man­ager and a great bloke,to­be­hon­est,’’WestHam­striker Andy Carroll said of Bilic. ``You can talk­to­himabout­foot­bal­lorno­tabout foot­ball, and when it comes to games his tac­tics are spot-on. Ev­ery game, he takes each game as it comes and it’s dif­fer­ent tac­tics, dif­fer­ent set-ups and dif­fer­ent for­ma­tions.’’

West Ham’s best fin­ish in the Premier League was fifth place in 1999. Be­fore the Premier League was es­tab­lished, the team fin­ished third in 1986.

Le­ices­ter’s best fin­ishes were eighth in the Premier League in 2000, and be­fore that sec­ond in 1929.

Also, Manch­ester City, which reached the Cham­pi­ons League semi­fi­nals for the first time on Tues­day, wil l play at Chelsea on Satur­day, while f i f t h-place Manch­ester United hosts As­ton Villa. Third-place Ar­se­nal hosts Crys­tal Palace on Sun­day.Here are some other things to know about this week­end’s matches: Both Le­ices­ter and West Ham have play­ers named in the short­list for the Pro­fes­sional Foot­ballers’ As­so­ci­a­tion player of the sea­son award.

Vardy, Mahrez and N’Golo Kante are all on the list rep­re­sent­ing Le­ices­ter, while Dim­itri Payet is there for West Ham. The other two play­ers on the short­list are Tot ten ha m st ri ker Kane a nd Ar­se­nal mid­fielder Me­sut Ozil.

Chelsea winger Eden Haz­ard won the award in 2015.

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