MANCHESTER, United Kingdom: All eyes will be on Stamford Bridge as the Premier League title race moves to the home of Chelsea on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) — except those of Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri.
Leicester, who drew 1-1 at Manchester United on Sunday, will complete their historic quest for the title if second-place Tottenham Hotspur cannot end a 26-year wait for a victory at Chelsea.
Ranieri, however, will be flying back from Italy, where he said he is due to meet his 96-year-old mother for lunch, and he is not sure if his players will be huddled around a television either.
Asked if the Leicester squad would be assembling to watch the game, Ranieri replied: “I don’t know. I didn’t ask. They are free. They have a day off.”
Should Spurs succeed in defeating Chelsea, last season’s champions, Leicester can secure the title in front of their own fans by beating Everton at the King Power Stadium on Saturday.
But even though Ranieri was sacked by Chelsea in 2004, becoming the first managerial casualty of Russian owner Roman Abramovich’s tenure, he is hoping that his former employers do Leicester’s job for them.
“I want to win. It’s not important when, believe me,” chuckled the 64-year-old Italian.
“If I have a chance to win tomorrow, for us it is important to win. Juventus won (the title) on Monday in Italy (after Napoli lost to Roma). Why not?
“In my mind Tottenham will win all three matches. I am now focused on the Everton match. When I was Chelsea manager, the true derby was against Tottenham. It’s a derby.”
Chelsea preventing Spurs from winning would allow Ranieri to return to Stamford Bridge in triumph for Leicester’s final game of the season, but he is keeping his mind firmly on the here and now.
“I don’t want to speak about so long (ago),” he said.
“I want to speak about the next match (against) Everton. I know all the city is blue, but we must continue to stay concentrated without special fireworks.
“We have to stay there, on the pitch, and think there will be another tough match.”
Whatever happens in west London, Leicester will be without Danny Drinkwater against Everton after the midfielder was sent off for two bookings on his return to his former club.
“I am very sad because he will [miss]the next game at home,” Ranieri said. “I hope I don’t miss him.”
It was an unwelcome novelty for United to be involved in a potential title-decider that did not directly concern them, but their manager Louis van Gaal did his best to steal Leicester’s limelight after the match.
Seeking to defend Marouane Fellaini, who is likely to face retrospective action for elbowing Robert Huth, Van Gaal went to great lengths to assert that Huth was to blame for pulling Fellaini’s hair.
To illustrate his point, the Dutchman grabbed a handful of a television reporter’s hair and in a subsequent interview he said that hair-pulling could only be permitted during what he termed “sex masochism”.
Anthony Martial rewarded United’s impressive start by giving the hosts an eighth-minute lead from Antonio Valencia’s cross, but Leicester equalised nine minutes later when Drinkwater crossed for Wes Morgan to head home.
The result left United four points off the Champions League berths, but with fourth-place Manchester City, on whom United have a game in hand, losing 4-2 at Southampton on Sunday ahead of their home game with third-place Arsenal this weekend, hope is not yet lost.
Speaking before City’s game at St Mary’s had finished, Van Gaal said: “I have said you have to win every game that we have to play, so now already we are not closing the gap.
“It is dependable on City, because Arsenal have won [against Norwich City], so that’s a big gap for three matches. Mathematically you can do it, but it shall be very difficult.”