For first time, Ranieri says Leicester can win Premier League

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It’s official, he’s actually said it.

Claudio Ranieri has admitted that Leicester City is challenging for the Premier League title.

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He may be the last man on the planet to admit this fact (seriously, he has to be) but the veteran Italian  manager spoke for the first time on Friday about how the Foxes are challenging for the PL title.

Up until this point Ranieri, 64, has stayed calm every step of the way.

First he wanted to just get to 40 points. Then to get to Europe. Then the UEFA Champions League. They’ve achieved all that and now there’s one more thing to do. Win it all for the first time in the clubs 132-year history.

They are five points clear of second-placed Tottenham Hotspur with four games to go. Now, finally, Ranieri is talking about the title.

“We are in the Champions League, dilly ding, dilly dong. It’s fantastic, terrific,” Ranieri said. “Well done to everybody, the owners, the fans, the players, the staff, everybody involved in it. It’s a great achievement. Unbelievable. And now we go straight away to try to win the title. Only this remains. Mauricio [Pochettino], keep calm!”

“I talked with my players: ‘Come on, now is the right moment to push.’ I believe. Always I believe. I am a positive man. If Tottenham go above us, congratulations. But I prefer to be five points ahead. I think they’ll win the final four games. But I also think we’ll win. If we win the title it will be unbelievable.”

If Leicester are to win the title, they’ll have to take a big step towards it in their next game against Swansea City (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) without star man and leading goalscorer Jamie Vardy.

[ MORE: Four Leicester, Spurs players in PFA Team of the Year ]

The 29-year-old striker was suspended for one-game after been shown two yellow cards and sent off against West Ham United last weekend. On Thursday Vardy accepted a subsequent charge of improper conduct from the FA after he reacted angrily and directed abuse at referee Jon Moss following the red card.

Vardy could be missing for maybe two, or even three of Leicester’s final four games, as the FA will likely hand him at least an additional one-game ban.

England manager Roy Hodgson claimed that Vardy was unlucky to be sent off and Ranieri agrees. He believes his player did not dive and shouldn’t have got a second yellow card against West Ham.

“I think it is not only sympathy but the true. He was going very fast and when you touch something you lose the balance,” Ranieri said. “Then maybe it is no penalty but sure it is not a yellow card. But football is football. Come on. I don’t like to speak about what happened. I forget and I think about the next day.”

Turns out Ranieri is now thinking about more than the next day. For the first time this season, at least publicly, he is talking about Leicester winning the title.