Leicester City continue their once unlikely quest to win the Premier League title on Sunday with Alex Ferguson among those backing them to be crowned champions.
This weekend sees the Premier League resume after the international break, with Leicester currently five points clear of second-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
Claudio Ranieri’s men, 5 000/1 title shots before the season started, are next at home to Southampton.
For weeks now pundits have been asking when Leicester will slip-up but the long forecast collapse has yet to come and, with seven matches remaining, former Manchester United manager Ferguson does not expect the Foxes to falter.
“Leicester have got the bit between their teeth, they’ve been the best team without question throughout the season and they deserve to win it,” Ferguson, who won 13 English championships during his trophy-laden reign at Old Trafford, told Sky Sports.
“You would think their inexperience would count, but Leicester have unbelievable energy and togetherness that suggests they’re going to see it through.
“For instance, they’ve won their last few games 1-0. I had a season at United where we had eight 1-0 victories and that won us the league.”
Ferguson also praised the contribution of Italian manager Ranieri.
“I don’t see any nerves and that’s down to the manager, he’s brought a calming influence. It’s fantastic, they are a breath of fresh air and it’s great for the game.”
Leicester’s Jamie Vardy scored his first international goal as England came from 2-0 down to beat world champions Germany 3-2 in a friendly in Berlin last Saturday, although the national side were brought back down to earth with a 2-1 defeat by the Netherlands at Wembley on Tuesday.
Tottenham, the Foxes’ nearest pursuers, had five players in Roy Hodgson’s squad — Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker — and Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino said: “The generation of players England have now they are in a position to achieve big things and good things for England.”
Spurs can cut the gap to two points before Leicester play if they win away to Liverpool on Saturday.
This will be the last time Spurs will kick-off before their title rivals and Argentinian manager Pochettino said: “We cannot guess whether it is better to play before or after.
“It is like in penalties, some people say it is better to shoot first than second but you never know.”
England striker Kane, who has scored 21 goals already this season, will hope to play without his face mask at Anfield after recovering from a broken nose.
Third-placed Arsenal, currently 11 points adrift of Leicester, are still just about in the title race but Arsene Wenger’s men face Watford on Saturday knowing that any more dropped points are likely to spell the end of their hopes.
“Looking at our season so far, we have to be honest and admit that we screwed up ourselves,” said candid Gunners playmaker Mesut Ozil.
West Ham will continue their push for a top-four place at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday while Manchester United, who also have 50 points, are at home to Everton on Sunday.
Manchester City, clinging on to fourth place, travel to Bournemouth on Saturday.
At the other end of the table, basement club Aston Villa welcome Chelsea to Villa Park in their first match since sacking French manager Remi Garde.
Second-bottom Newcastle are at Norwich, just above the relegation zone, in a crunch match for both clubs while Sunderland, also in the bottom three, face West Bromwich Albion.
Arsenal v Watford
Aston Villa v Chelsea
Bournemouth v Manchester City
Liverpool v Tottenham
Norwich v Newcastle
Stoke v Swansea
Sunderland v West Brom
West Ham v Crystal Palace
Leicester v Southampton
Manchester United v Everton