Chelsea play­ers should not be back­ing Le­ices­ter

Haz­ard and Fabre­gas open can of worms by say­ing they want Ranieri’s men to win ti­tle


Here comes that ques­tion again. Who, or what, could stop this sen­sa­tional Le­ices­ter side turn­ing English foot­ball up­side down and wear­ing its crown in May? In a uni­verse that loves th­ese lead­ers, only Manch­ester United, Ever­ton and Chelsea can still change the story.

Chelsea? Hardly, if com­ments by Eden Haz­ard and Cesc Fabre­gas are any guide. Both Chelsea play­ers have said that they would like Le­ices­ter, and not Spurs, to win the cham­pi­onship. The com­pli­ca­tion with those in­ter­ven­tions from two mid-ta­ble play­ers is that Chelsea host Spurs next Mon­day night and face Le­ices­ter at Stam­ford Bridge on the sea­son’s clos­ing day (May 15).

This is what Haz­ard told the BBC af­ter Chelsea’s win at Bournemouth: “The fans, the club, the play­ers, we don’t want Tot­ten­ham to win the Premier League. We hope for Le­ices­ter be­cause they de­serve to be cham­pi­ons this sea­son.

“We have a good game next week against Tot­ten­ham and if we can beat them it will be good.”

Six days ear­lier, Fabre­gas was a guest of Sky’s Mon­day Night Foot­ball and said he would pre­fer to see no more twists in the ti­tle race: “Hope­fully not, I don’t want Spurs to win it to be hon­est. For what they’ve done through the sea­son I’d love Le­ices­ter to win the Premier League.”

Th­ese com­ments fall short of bring­ing the game into dis­re­pute but they bring a level of scru­tiny Chelsea, the club, could do with­out. Haz­ard, who has been in a kind of trance all sea­son but woke to make that provoca­tive re­mark, claimed to be speak­ing not only for the play­ers but the “club”, al­most sug­gest­ing it was of­fi­cial pol­icy to stop Spurs and help Le­ices­ter.

Haz­ard’s an­tipa­thy to Spurs is of the hand-me-down sort. He is sim­ply par­rot­ing a par­tic­u­larly fierce Lon­don an­i­mos­ity. As an ex-Ar­se­nal man and vet­eran of north Lon­don der­bies, Fabre­gas has the earache to un­der­pin his dis­like of Tot­ten­ham.

In Chelsea’s games against Spurs and Le­ices­ter it may well be that the per­sonal wishes of Guus Hid­dink’s team play no part. But taken at face value, th­ese dec­la­ra­tions by two se­nior Chelsea play­ers point to a smooth­ing of Le­ices­ter’s path, as­sum­ing they have not won the ti­tle al­ready when they travel to Stam­ford Bridge. Clau­dio Ranieri, re­mem­ber is a for­mer Chelsea man­ager, fondly re­mem­bered in West Lon­don.

Jamie Vardy’s ab­sence for the de­struc­tion of a Swansea side al­ready on one of the Gower penin­sula’s beau­ti­ful beaches – psy­cho­log­i­cally at any rate – proved that even Le­ices­ter’s set­backs can be re­framed as pos­i­tives. Clas­sic ex­am­ple: out goes Vardy and in comes Leonardo Ul­loa, who scores twice, be­fore stag­ger­ing off, clutch­ing his hip. Ranieri, the Le­ices­ter man­ager, asked his team to make a state­ment about what they were ca­pa­ble of, even with­out their strike run­ner.

“Not bad for a one-man team,” home fans teased af­ter Swansea had been pum­melled by a per­for­mance re­mark­able even by Le­ices­ter’s in­dus­tri­ous stan­dards. Three-nil up af­ter an hour, Ranieri’s team con­tin­ued to hus­tle and hound like a team fight­ing rel­e­ga­tion, which they were this time last year.

Some­times you won­der: are they stuck in a loop of think­ing they might go down and there­fore con­demned to run about for­ever as if the house were on fire?

No­body called Le­ices­ter a one- man team. To do so would have been ab­surd. They are an 11-man team who sup­plied half of the PFA Player of the Year short­list ( Vardy, N’Golo Kanté and Riyad Mahrez). This is a col­lec­tive, pep­pered with in­di­vid­ual match-win­ning ta­lent. So the crit­i­cal mass cre­ated in 34 pre­vi­ous league fix­tures car­ried Le­ices­ter right through the Vardy prob­lem to a 4-0 win.

Be­fore this game a non-Le­ices­ter player re­marked that no­body in the Premier League places any kind of ex­ter­nal pres­sure on Ranieri’s side. Usu­ally the front-run­ners are as­sailed by pro­pa­ganda; es­pe­cially front-run­ners who have never been in this po­si­tion be­fore. At the very least, the old pro ob­served, a ri­val man­ager might have ac­cused them of hav­ing ref­er­ees on their side, if only sub­con­sciously.

Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino, the Tot­ten­ham man­ager, shows no in­ter­est in mind games, and none of the other top six teams are close enough to make mis­chief-mak­ing worth the can­dle. In that con­text Jonathan Moss send­ing off Vardy for div­ing was a rare mo­ment of ad­ver­sity. It gave Le­ices­ter some­thing to kick against in a sea­son that is turn­ing into one long guard of hon­our.

“They de­serve to win the ti­tle be­cause they are a very strong team,” said Swansea’s man­ager, Francesco Guidolin. He said this af­ter a 4-0 de­feat.

Haz­ard and Fabre­gas threw their own bou­quets be­fore Chelsea have played the Spurs and Le­ices­ter games, which is rather dif­fer­ent.

Broadly, though, Le­ices­ter need no out­side help. Vardy had scored 22 times and earned his team 21 points, with his goals. But Ul­loa per­formed ad­mirably in his ab­sence. Ranieri left Marc Al­brighton on the bench and told his re­place­ment, Jef­frey Schlupp, to at­tack and de­fend with “power”. Again it went to plan.

Good for­tune in this King Power sta­dium is mostly self-made. Le­ices­ter write their own scripts. Which is why the in­ter­ven­tions of Fabre­gas and Haz­ard ul­ti­mately sound like van­ity from their side. But they need to be pro­fes­sional. They can­not be al­lowed to cast a shadow over Le­ices­ter’s big push.

Point­ing the way: Riyad Mahrez and man­ager Clau­dio Ranieri show Le­ices­ter are on the up

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