London: Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has tipped Leicester as potential Premier League champions as record-chasing Jamie Vardy aims to fire the surprise leaders to another stunning victory on Saturday.
Leicester striker Vardy will make history at the King Power Stadium if he scores for a Premier League record 11th successive match and his prolific form has played a major role in the Foxes` remarkable climb to the top.
With 13 league goals this season, Vardy has scored more than all of United`s strikers combined and fittingly it is former Old Trafford great Ruud van Nistelrooy whose record he will break if he finds the net this weekend.
Leicester, with just one league defeat from 13 matches this season, are one point clear of second placed United.
And van Gaal knows a repeat of last season`s 5-3 win over the Old Trafford outfit would strengthen their chances of remaining in the title race heading into the new year.
"It is possible, I think," van Gaal said when asked about Leicester`s prospects of becoming the most unlikely English champions of all-time.
"Normally these kind of clubs can be a long time competing, but normally at the end it`s more difficult.
"But in England because of the quality of the teams, because every team has the money to buy players, and they have bought players, the difference in the Premier League between the clubs in level is not so high."
If Vardy does break van Nistelrooy`s record it will continue a remarkable rise for a player who was in non-league football with Fleetwood only a few years ago and last season scored just five goals for Leicester.After firing Leicester in contention for a European berth less than a year after they were battling relegation, Vardy is such a hot property that Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri this week felt compelled to plead with the forward to ignore offers from bigger clubs in the January transfer window.
"At the moment we`re very happy and also Jamie is happy with us and he can continue to show his strength with us," Ranieri said.
"Jamie is now a champion. He has to take confidence in this. He`s a strong character because he comes from non-league."
A win for United, who have failed to score in four of their last seven matches, would take them to the top of the table, but a draw would open the door for Manchester City to regain first place.
From a position of strength at the top a week ago, City suddenly face a test of their staying power against Southampton.
City`s shock 4-1 defeat at home to Liverpool last Saturday saw them surrender the lead in the title race, with manager Manuel Pellegrini admitting the performance was one of the worst of his reign.
Captain Vincent Kompany has been badly missed and faces another fortnight out with a calf problem, while David Silva and Samir Nasri are also sidelined and goalkeeper Joe Hart was injured in the midweek Champions League loss at Juventus.
But Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure is not looking for excuses.
"We have a fantastic squad. We had quite a lot of injuries from important players but we have to live with that," Toure said.
"We have to forget this game (at Juventus) and try to bounce back in the league."
Gary Cahill hopes Chelsea can take the momentum from two consecutive wins into Sunday`s London derby at Tottenham.
The spluttering Premier League champions followed up last Saturday`s 1-0 win over Norwich with a 4-0 Champions League victory at Maccabi Tel Aviv.
But a truer test of their resurgence will come at White Hart Lane, where Chelsea lost 5-3 on New Year`s Day.
"It`s important we keep this momentum going," Cahill told Chelsea TV. "We have to keep building and try to gather these wins to turn this around."
Chelsea`s cause will be helped by having an extra two days rest while Tottenham were making the long trip to Azerbaijan for Thursday`s Europa League win over Qarabag.
Fixtures (1500 GMT unless stated)
Aston Villa v Watford, Bournemouth v Everton, Crystal Palace v Newcastle, Leicester v Manchester United (1730 GMT), Manchester City v Southampton, Sunderland v Stoke
Liverpool v Swansea (1615 GMT), Norwich v Arsenal (1615 GMT), Tottenham v Chelsea (1200 GMT), West Ham v West Brom (1405 GMT)