‘Relegation battle helped Leicester’

Riyad Mahrez

Riyad Mahrez scored one of Leicester’s goals in the 3-1 win at Manchester City last weekend

Riyad Mahrez says last season’s battle against relegation has helped Leicester in their challenge for the Premier League title this time round.

The Foxes were bottom with seven games to go last season but stayed up and now top the division by five points.

“When you go through a moment and you are down and losing your head, it gives you a lot of experience,” said Mahrez.

“Now we get to test for first place. The mentality is not the same. Now we have nothing to lose.”

The 24-year-old midfielder added: “Last season, it was very difficult with a lot of pressure. This year it is a positive pressure.

“If we finish first it is a bonus. If we finish three or four then it is OK. Last year, if we go down into the Championship we can’t do this, this year.”

‘A dream is better than obligation’

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A ‘Top’ five years for the Foxes

Leicester have defied all expectations this season, losing only two league games (they lost 19 in 2014-15) to lead the division ahead of Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester City with 13 games to go.

At the start of the campaign some bookmakers had the Foxes at 5,000-1 to win the title but they are now favourites.

“This is Leicester, it is not like Manchester City or Manchester United. They have an obligation to win things,” said Algeria international Mahrez.

“We don’t have an obligation, it is just a dream. A dream is better than obligation.”

‘There are no stars’

Between them, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have scored 32 league goals this season

Mahrez, who joined Leicester from Le Havre in January 2014, has excelled this season, scoring 14 goals and providing assists for 10 more in the league.

He is one of two players in the City side, the other being striker Jamie Vardy (18), who are into double figures for goals in the campaign.

“There is not one star, two stars, three stars – we play and work for each other,” continued Mahrez.

“Every team has to have two or three players who score and this year it is Jamie and me. People can say a lot about us but we are just the same, just two players from Leicester City.”

‘If I don’t work, I don’t play’

Claudio Ranieri was sacked as Greece boss before joining Leicester in the summer

In the summer, Leicester sacked Nigel Pearson, the manager who had overseen their impressive escape from relegation with seven wins from the last nine games of the season.

He was replaced by former Chelsea and Juventus boss Claudio Ranieri, who Mahrez says has brought a work-rate and tactical discipline to the side.

“We are together, very compact,” he said. “We think a lot about tactics.

“We do a lot of work defensively. Me, for example, if I don’t work, I don’t play. Two times this year he put me on the bench because I didn’t defend. I know if I don’t work for the team he will drop me to the bench.

“Maybe I will start, but if I don’t work, I will get taken off after 45 minutes.”

‘We don’t have pressure’

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Foxes play without pressure – Ranieri

Last Saturday, Leicester won 3-1 at one of their rivals for the title, Manchester City.

This Sunday, they face another as they travel to third-placed Arsenal, who are five points behind and whose boss says Leicester are favourites to win at Emirates Stadium.

“He is just saying that to take the pressure of his team,” added Mahrez.

“Arsenal have to win the title because it is an obligation for them. For us it is a bonus, a dream. It will be a very difficult game. They are a big team who play in the Champions League every year.

“We don’t have any pressure. We will just play how we do every game.”

Riyadh Mahrez was at the Wigton Academy supporting the PlayStation Schools Cup run in association with the English Schools FA.

The full interview will be on Football Focus on BBC One, Saturday 13 February at 12:10 GMT.

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