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Detailing the day Leicester City (pretty much) won the title

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LEICESTER — The City of Leicester is home to the British National Space Center, it is where King Richard III is buried and soon it could be home to the Premier League champions.

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A city of just over 330,000 (think Pittsburgh, PA in size) in the Midlands, Leicester has a rich sporting heritage with the rugby, cricket and basketball teams in the city all winning major titles over the last few decades.

The Foxes were the odd ones out. Until this season.

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It has been well documented that Leicester were odds of 5,000-1 to win the Premier League at the start of the 2015-16 season. They were among the favorites for relegation after battling the drop successfully at the end of last season but then replacing popular manager Nigel Pearson with Claudio Ranieri over the summer.

Led by the creativity of Riyad Marez and the sublime finishing of Jamie Vardy, Leicester is now six games away from immortality. They lead the Premier League by seven points after clinching a fourth-straight 1-0 win, this time against Southampton on Sunday, as they made the most of Tottenham drawing on Saturday.

Only five teams have won the Premier League during its 23-year existence. Manchester United. Blackburn Rovers. Arsenal. Chelsea. Manchester City. Leicester look set to soon add their name to that list.

In a city which holds one of the biggest celebration of Diwali outside of India they are readying themselves for a party which could eclipse that annual celebration. A “Vardy Party” if you will…

Walking from the train station to the stadium in Leicester, even on a Sunday morning, the excitement was palpable among fans.

As soon as I stepped out of the train station this greeted me.

That’s right, a man selling scarves proclaiming Leicester as “Premier League Champions” despite their being seven games to go before kick off today. Of course, he was looking to make a quick buck, but I get the feeling he will be ordering, and selling, plenty more of those scarves in the coming days.

In pubs, cafes and at bus stops everyone was talking about the same thing: “We have a Championship team basically” said one fan. “It is just unbelievable,” said another.

Chatting to Southampton fans on the street outside the stadium, they told me they’d love Leicester to win the title and that view is echoed by pretty much every other PL club.

“It gives us all hope, really,” headteacher Kelvin Geary, a Saints fans, told me. “It gives us hope that if you’re a little club then you can go on to achieve great things. That is what is so exciting about it.”

Leicester’s fans are pinching themselves with many walking around with a huge smile on their face and the fans I spoke to were almost in a state of shock.

“Loving every minute of it,” said Martin Inwood, a project manager who is lifelong Leicester fan, before the game. “The last few weeks have been very nerve-wracking because as we get closer to it, most Leicester fans who have been supporting us for years know that we have a habit of throwing things away and making it difficult for ourselves.”

The King Power Stadium was primed and ready — free doughnuts and beer for every home fan courtesy of the Thai owners to celebrate the birthday of the chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, certainly helped generate even more of a party atmosphere — on a brilliantly sunny spring day in England’s East Midlands.

I spoke to former players in the stadium, who shared their disbelief. A choir outside added in “Go Vardy!” and “Come on Leicester!” to their songs and the KP was bouncing pregame as they knew a win would be the biggest step yet towards winning the title. Before the first kick the song of choice was: “We’re going to win the league!” and the fans, unlike in previous weeks, really believed it.

The game itself was a nerve-shredding encounter for Leicester’s fans.

They started brightly but faded as Southampton should’ve had a penalty kick and went close on three occasions but then captain Wes Morgan rose highest to power home a header in the 38th minute. Relief was the overriding emotion in the King Power as the place erupted. Morgan, 32, has been with Leicester for five years and the fact that the journeyman captain — who has played year-round due to his involvement in both the Copa America and Gold Cup last summer with Jamaica — headed home the winner summed it all up.

Leicester were denied insurance goals by the brilliant Fraser Forster in the second half, but Saints played their part as they piled on the pressure but couldn’t break through.

At the final whistle cries of “We’re going to win the league!” returned and now, on this day, Sunday April 3, 2016, it seems more likely than ever that the Foxes will seal one of the greatest Cinderella stories in sporting history.

“We saw the [Tottenham] game yesterday was a draw and wanted to make the most of our opportunity,” match-winner Morgan said. “We really wanted it today.”

The entire City of Leicester wants this, as huge cheers of delight could be heard in and around the KP long after the crowds had disappeared.

“The fans understood our difficulties and they pushed a lot,” manager Claudio Ranieri told me afterwards. “They were not nervous, they understood our momentum and they are pushing with us. It is a fantastic link. It is unbelievable. They are very, very close with us. They understand when we need support or when I asked for support… but I didn’t even ask today. They started early to help us.”

When we look back at this season, we will likely look back on today as the defining moment in Leicester’s title win. If they’d lost, they would’ve been just four points clear of Spurs with six games left. Now it’s seven and the whole of Leicester is in heaven.

Fans of the Foxes can smell the Premier League title and their season-long party is going to have a fitting finale.

Serie A: Leaders Inter Milan open door for Juve by drawing Roma

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MILAN (AP) Italian league leader Inter Milan was held by Roma to 0-0 on Friday, giving second-placed Juventus a chance to return to the top.

[ MORE: Chelsea transfer ban reduced; can sign players in January ]

The home draw left Inter only two points ahead of Juventus, which can regain the lead when it visits third-placed Lazio on Saturday.The result also wasn’t good for Roma, which moved from fifth to fourth place in the standings but remained nine points off the lead after 15 matches.

Inter forward Lautaro Martinez had one of the game’s best chances when he got past a defender and entered the area in the 68th minute, but his shot was blocked at the last minute. He called for a handball by the defender but the referee let play continue.

[ MORE: Brendan Rodgers signs new contract at Leicester ]

Inter was coming off five straight wins in the league, with its last setback in all competitions last month against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. Its last league loss was against Juventus in October, nine matches ago.

Roma was seeking its third straight league win. It had won five of its last six matches since last month.

Inter visits Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Premier League Preview: Man City v. Man United

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  • Man City (3rd) trail Liverpool by 11 points
  • Man United (6th) eight points out of 4th
  • Last meeting: Man United 0-2 Man City

For the first time in recent memory, Manchester City and Manchester United each find themselves failing to meet expectations — by their own respective standards, at least — as they prepare to meet at the Etihad Stadium in the 179th Manchester derby on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Man City, the two-time defending Premier League champions, are looking increasingly unlikely to retain their crown for a third straight season but look a surefire bet to finish in the top-four, which is a place for which Man United would bite your hand off as they currently trail leaders Liverpool by more points (22) than they have points of their own (21).

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The struggles for United have been all about consistency as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side hasn’t won back-to-back games all season. The Red Devils haven’t won two in a row in the PL since March. On the bright side, United turned in one of their complete performances of the season on Wednesday, spoiling Jose Mourinho’s return to Old Trafford and beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-1. Marcus Rashford scored both goals and Solskjaer couldn’t rave enough about his 22-year-old forward after the game. From start to finish, United were the better team and looked in majority control, which isn’t something they’ve been able to say often in 2019.

As for City, they’ve simply been “not good enough” without ever actually being “bad” this season, given Liverpool’s scintillating form (14W-1D-0L thus far). Realistically, City likely need to pick up all 69 remaining points this season, and even then they might still come up short.

Injuries/suspensions

Man City: OUT – Sergio Aguero (thigh), Aymeric Laporte (knee), Leroy Sane (knee), Oleksandr Zinchenko (knee)

Man United: OUT – Anthony Martial (hamstring), Eric Bailly (knee), Marcos Rojo (undisclosed); QUESTIONABLE: Paul Pogba (ankle), Nemanja Matic (groin), Diogo Dalot (groin)


Projected lineups

Man City: Ederson — Walker, Otamendi, Fernandinho, Angeliño — Rodri, De Bruyne, Silva — Bernardo, Jesus, Sterling

Man United: De Gea — Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Young — Fred, McTominay, James, Mata, Lingard — Rashford


What they’re saying

Pep Guardiola, on the derby: “It’s Man United. I respect what they’ve done for English football, European, and world football. United have huge history and their quality is always there but we must try to beat them. We play against a good team, try to follow the performances we’ve put in and try to win the game. You know my opinion on the title race.”

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, on his derby memories: “It took many years before I played a Manchester derby myself. Of course, Man City are a better team now than when I was playing. … Confidence is a strange thing in football; you can get performances and results like Wednesday night and it boosts it so much. And I know our boys will be up for it. 24 hours less recovery time [than City] shouldn’t matter, you go on adrenaline.”


Prediction

The win over Tottenham was impressive, no doubt about it, but City remain a challenge of an entirely different class, no matter what their points total says. If the title is well and truly gone for Guardiola’s side, then retaining superiority in Manchester will have to suffice. City 3-1 United.

Premier League Preview: Everton v. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea sit 4th, with 29 points
  • Everton sit 18th, with 11 points
  • Last meeting: Everton 2-0 Chelsea

Everton’s start to the 2019-20 Premier League season has been beyond woeful (4W-2D-9L in 15 games) for any club, let alone one that had dreams of breaking into the top-six this season, resulting in manager Marco Silva losing his job on Thursday. Now, fewer than 48 hours later, the Toffees have to pick themselves back up and face a top-four side for the third straight game when Chelsea visit Goodison Park on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Having lost three straight PL games, including defeats to second-place Leicester City and leaders Liverpool this week alone, the next few weeks will go a long way toward seeing Everton leave the relegation zone in the rearview mirror or sink deeper and deeper into the muck of a season-long relegation battle. A piece of potentially positive news for Everton ahead of Saturday’s game: they are currently three games unbeaten against Chelsea (1W-2D-0L).

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As for the Blues, this could turn out to be a decisive week in their season. After losing to West Ham United last weekend, Frank Lampard‘s side bounced back with a win over Aston Villa on Wednesday. Then came the best news of all on Friday: Chelsea’s transfer ban has been cut in half and they will be able to sign players in January, meaning their young, thin squad can be bolstered as the look to solidify their Champions League place for next season.

With a floundering side like Everton next up on the fixtures list, the chance to move further clear of the Champions League chasing pack is perfectly ripe. Tammy Abraham (hip) returned for the game against Villa and scored the opening goal to take is season’s tally to 11 (second, behind Jamie Vardy). The 22-year-old has benefited more than anyone from what turned out to be Chelsea’s one-window transfer ban, doing more than enough to secure his place for the second half of the season, no matter what business they do in January.

Injuries/suspensions

Everton: OUT – Andre Gomes (ankle), Jean-Philippe Gbamin (thigh), Fabian Delph (hamstring), Cuco Martina (knee)

Chelsea: OUT – Ruben Loftus-Cheek (achilles), Antonio Rudiger (groin)


Projected lineups

Everton: Pickford — Sidibe, Keane, Mina, Digne — Schneiderlin, Davies, Sigurdsson — Iwobi, Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison

Chelsea: Kepa — James, Christensen, Zouma, Azpilicueta — Kante, Kovacic, Willian, Mount, Pulisic — Abraham


What they’re saying

Interim Everton boss Duncan Ferguson: “I’m a coach at the moment so I don’t think that is something I am considering at this time. It is my dream to be Everton manager but I am also realistic. Who wouldn’t want to be manager of Everton? There will be many top managers who want this job.”

Frank Lampard, on the new-manager bounce: “[Marco] Silva tried everything for the club and I’m sure that he will go on to manage well elsewhere. They might have an extra energy tomorrow as they rally.”


Prediction

Chelsea have far too much balance between defense and attack to hand Everton the glaring opportunities they will need to beat a genuine top-four side. That said, there’s far too much talent in that squad to continue to get beaten every time out, and perhaps seeing someone else take the blame will lift the burden off them and allow them to perform. Everton 2-2 Chelsea.

Klinsmann gets first point as Hertha Berlin manager

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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) Jurgen Klinsmann claimed his first point since returning to coaching as his Hertha Berlin team let slip a two-goal lead to draw with Frankfurt 2-2 in the Bundesliga on Friday.

[ MORE: Chelsea transfer ban reduced; can sign players in January ]

Hertha was clinging to a 2-1 lead in the 86th minute when Sebastian Rode hammered the ball in from a corner for Frankfurt to deny the Berlin team the win.

Hertha is in the relegation playoff spot in 16th and winless in its last six league games, while Frankfurt is 10th.

Dodi Lukebakio gave Hertha the lead with a shot through Frederik Ronnow’s legs. That goal was assisted by Marko Grujic, who later made it 2-0 with a header from a free kick.

However, Frankfurt almost immediately replied with a header of its own from Martin Hinteregger, the Austrian defender with five Bundesliga goals.

[ MORE: Brendan Rodgers signs new contract at Leicester ]

Frankfurt’s fans expressed their disapproval of the video assistant referee after it ruled out two goals for the hosts. There was a rare disallowed own goal when Hertha goalkeeper Thomas Kraft palmed a cross into his own net but was found to have been pushed while jumping.

Klinsmann took over Hertha last week on a temporary deal until the end of the season, after Ante Covic was fired with the team under threat of relegation. Klinsmann hadn’t coached since being fired in 2016 by the United States, and last worked at a club in 2009 at Bayern Munich.