September 25, 2014

The title picture continues to come into focus as each round of matches passes, and what's clearly visible is Leicester City is determined to finish their title charge atop the Premier League.

Claudio Ranieri's Foxes head into Saturday's fixture against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park holding a five-point lead over second-place Tottenham with eight matches to play. However, all it takes is a slight dip in form - two or three matches without a victory - for Leicester City (18-9-3) to slide from the summit.

But the Italian manager knows his side will have to remain focused during the run-in if they are to be the most unlikely Premier League champion since Blackburn Rovers in 1995 and complete this most improbable run in English football history.

Once a 5,000-to-1 longshot for bettors in the United Kingdom, the Foxes are now prohibitive 5-to-6 favourites among oddsmakers after Monday's 1-0 victory over Newcastle United. Shinji Okazaki was the latest to symbolise the team effort that has propelled Leicester City all season, scoring the match's only goal on 25 minutes with a stunning overhead kick following a headed pass by Jamie Vardy.

Even the most seasoned title-chasing side feel some pressure when they get to the business end of the season, but defender Mark Albrighton says his club feels no extra stress despite standing on the brink of history.

"I don't feel like we've got any pressure," Albrighton told the club's official website. "We were tipped for relegation by a lot of people - pundits and media - so no matter what happens from now on in, we won't play with pressure.

"We're just enjoying every minute of it and whatever happens, happens. "It's brilliant (at the moment). ... The gaffer is animated on the side and you can tell the fans are animated. They can't believe what's happening this season. I think it's just important that in this moment we enjoy every minute of it because it's such a special achievement what we're doing."

Albrighton is one of a number of Foxes having outstanding seasons. Vardy is joint-Premier League leader with 19 goals, but his only goal in six matches was a penalty against Arsenal on Feb. 14.

Fellow attacker Riyad Mahrez is fifth with 15, and his 11 assists make him the only player in the league in double figures in both categories.

The key to Leicester's success has been starting quickly. The Foxes have struck for the opening goal a league-high 20 times, including each of their last two victories, and have gone on to win 16 of those games.

Crystal Palace (9-6-14) are in desperate need of three points to break a crippling 12-match winless run during which the club has plummeted to 15th place on 33 points. It is their longest top flight stretch without a win since going 15 straight without a win from Nov. 1997-March 1998, and the Eagles have been outscored 23-9 during their barren spell.

The struggles are all the more confounding considering they go directly contrary to their FA Cup form. Palace booked themselves a spot opposite Watford at Wembley Stadium next month with a 2-0 quarterfinal victory at Reading on Friday, with Yohan Cabaye's controversial penalty on 86 minutes providing the go-ahead goal before Fraizer Campbell added a second in stoppage time.

"It was very efficient, disciplined," captain Mile Jedniak told the team's official website. "Something that we've shown in our performances in the last couple of weeks but not got any rewards from it's great to get the victory."

The awarded penalty may have been good karma for coach Alan Pardew, who seethed after being on the opposite end of a decision that allowed 10-man Liverpool to escape Selhurst Park with a 2-1 victory after Christian Benteke converted from the spot in the sixth minute of second-half stoppage time.

Crystal Palace have dropped five on the trot at home, giving up two or more goals in each contest, and are winless in six there since defeating Southampton 1-0 on Dec. 12.

Leicester beat Palace 1-0 at the King Power Stadium in October and are seeking their first double over the Eagles since the 2011-12 season in the Championship. Vardy got the only goal of the game, assisted by Mahrez, at the hour mark.

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