LONDON: Leicester City defender Danny Simpson insists the prolonged absence of star striker Jamie Vardy won’t stop the Premier League leaders clinching the most incredible title triumph in English football history at Manchester United on Sunday (Monday in Manila).
Claudio Ranieri’s side have the eyes of the world on them as they head to Old Trafford knowing a victory against United would see the 5,000-1 outsiders crowned champions for the first time in their 132-year history.
In an era where the greed is good mantra of the Premier League’s big spenders has proved a turn-off for many, Ranieri’s collection of unsung heroes have captured the imagination of fans across the globe by making the seemingly impossible into a reality.
Completing their astonishing charge to the title at the home of the 20-time English champions would be a fitting final chapter in the Leicester fairytale.
But the Foxes’ first shot at sporting immortality comes with leading scorer Vardy banished to the stands after the England international was this week handed an additional one-game ban for angrily confronting referee Jonathan Moss following his dismissal for diving against West Ham United earlier this month.
Although Vardy’s presence wasn’t missed as Leicester crushed lowly Swansea City 4-0 in the first match of his ban last weekend, the trip to United could be a trickier proposition.
Leicester last won at Old Trafford in 1998, each of their last six visits have ended in defeat and they take on a United outfit who are chasing a top-four berth with their spirits lifted by reaching the FA Cup final.
However, few teams epitomize against-the-odds success better than Ranieri’s men and, with Vardy’s replacement Leonardo Ulloa having scored twice against Swansea, Simpson sees no reason why Leicester’s coronation can’t come this weekend.
“I think we have just sent a message to everyone who has been a bit negative about us,” said Simpson, whose side have won seven and drawn two of their last nine matches.
“We have players who can come in and do well. Leo [Ulloa] was man of the match and Jeff [Schlupp] has come in and was excellent.
“Yeah, we have had a settled team but we have always known the players who are trying to get in the team can do well.”
Even if Leicester only draw on Sunday, they would take the title if second-placed Tottenham Hotspur, seven points adrift with three games remaining, fail to win at Chelsea on Monday.
Defeats for both Leicester and Tottenham, who haven’t won at Chelsea since 1990, would also mean Ranieri’s team are confirmed as champions.
Having harbored genuine hopes of a first title since 1961, Tottenham appear to have fallen short after a lack-lustre second half led to Monday’s damaging 1-1 draw against West Bromwich Albion.
With England midfielder Dele Alli now ruled out for the rest of the season following his three-match suspension for punching Albion’s Claudio Yacob, even Tottenham striker Harry Kane concedes Leicester look out of reach.
“It makes it a lot, lot harder now we haven’t won. It’s not in our hands, it’s in Leicester’s hands,” Kane said.
“They’d have to lose two and draw one and we’d have to win all three. It’s not impossible but it looks unlikely the way their season has gone so far.”
Tottenham can at least take encouragement from the fact United need the win almost as much as the north Londoners.
Louis van Gaal’s side are five points behind fourth-placed Arsenal and third-placed Manchester City but have a game in hand in the race for Champions League qualification.
Slumping Arsenal, with just one win in their last four matches, host third-bottom Norwich City, who are in the relegation zone on goal difference below Sunderland.
City travel to Southampton before focusing on next week’s second leg of their Champions League semifinals against Real Madrid.
Sunderland aim to maintain their climb to safety when they visit Stoke City.
Newcastle United, second from bottom and one point from safety, host FA Cup finalists Crystal Palace as Eagles boss Alan Pardew, an unpopular figure on Tyneside, makes his first return to St James’ Park since quitting in 2014.