Mahrez magic puts Leicester 5 points clear in Premier League
Another goal for Riyad Mahrez. Another victory for Leicester in its bid to become the English Premier League’s most unlikely champion.
Hours after seeing fellow title rivals Tottenham and Arsenal draw 2-2 in the north London derby, Leicester beat Watford 1-0 away to extend its lead to five points with just nine games remaining.
Mahrez grabbed the winner with his 15th goal of the season, controlling the ball at the edge of the area, feinting to give himself extra room, and curling an exquisite shot into the top corner in the 56th minute. It was the 11th away goal scored by the Algeria winger, who could yet complete a breakthrough season at soccer’s highest level by winning England’s Player of the Year award.
A team that was almost relegated last season is showing no sign of slowing up in its charge to the title. The same cannot be said of the other contenders.
“It is one game at a time — that’s got us where we are today,” Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel said. “If we get too far ahead of ourselves, we risk blowing it.”
Alexis Sanchez scored a 76th-minute equalizer to earn 10-man Arsenal a point against Spurs, meaning both sides dropped two points on Leicester. Leicester has 60 points, Tottenham has 55 and Arsenal has 52.
Fourth-place Manchester City is the other team with a realistic chance of hauling in Leicester and a 4-0 win over Aston Villa ended a run of three straight losses. Sergio Aguero scored two of the four second-half goals and struck the post with a penalty to miss out on a hat trick.
West Ham scored three goals in the final 12 minutes to rally to a 3-2 win at Everton and keep in touch with the top four, which could now be out of reach for Chelsea after the soon-to-be-deposed champions drew 1-1 at home to Stoke.
Newcastle and Norwich both lost to stay in the relegation zone, with Newcastle manager Steve McClaren’s position likely under severe pressure following the team’s 3-1 home defeat to Bournemouth.
“No, no way,” said McClaren, when asked if he was going to quit. “That’s for other people to decide. I don’t do that.”
Leicester played almost three hours after the Tottenham-Arsenal game finished, and didn’t waste the opportunity to extend its advantage at the top.
Mahrez has made a habit of scoring breathtaking goals this season. This was another one and he was hoisted up by his teammates in front of Leicester’s jubilant supporters at Vicarage Road.
“Riyad has come up with a bit of magic,” said Schmeichel, who kept his 10th clean sheet. “We have always had the belief we had the players going forward to do something special.”
Arsenal was leading 1-0 through Aaron Ramsey’s first-half goal when Francis Coquelin was sent off in the 55th for a second booking, sparking an immediate turnaround in arguably the biggest match between the teams since the 1991 FA Cup semifinal.
Within seven minutes, Spurs had gone in front on goals by Toby Alderweireld and Harry Kane, but they couldn’t hang on.
“It was a missed opportunity,” said Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, looking to guide the club to its first league title since 1961.
Police said two men were arrested for separate public-order offenses ahead of the derby match as fans clashed with police near the stadium.
Yaya Toure and Raheem Sterling were the other scorers for Man City, which handed last-place Villa its 19th loss in 29 games. Villa is nine points off safety.
West Ham is provisionally a point behind City after its stunning recovery against Everton, which went into a 2-0 lead through goals by Romelu Lukaku and Aaron Lennon that sandwiched a red card to its winger Kevin Mirallas. Lukaku then had a penalty saved and West Ham fought back through goals by Michael Antonio and Diafro Sakho before Dimitri Payet scored in the 90th minute.
In the other game, Southampton scored in the last minute to draw 1-1 against Sunderland, which moved a point clear of the bottom three.