Match 16
Game Details
LIVE 76'
Match 15
Game Details
6:00 PM UTC
Match 17
Game Details
12:00 PM UTC Jun 20, 2018
Match 19
Game Details
Saudi Arabia
3:00 PM UTC Jun 20, 2018
Match 18
Game Details
6:00 PM UTC Jun 20, 2018
Match 20
Game Details

Can Leicester handle the pressure of the Premier League title race?

Will Leicester "bottle it?"

It has become the one big hope for the chasing pack in the Premier League title race and the last true test for the leaders.

Will the fact that they have no collective experience of challenging for a title actually prevent them from winning this one? Will the nerves of never having been here get to them? It is a factor that has finished many other challenges. Newcastle suffered in 1995-96 and even Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United were afflicted in 1991-92.

Jim Beglin won the 1985-86 title as part of a Liverpool side that had won it all and then, four seasons later, just about got over the line in the second tier with a hugely-inexperienced Leeds United. He puts into the starkest terms what will come next for Leicester.

"They're about to experience something they've never been hit by before," Beglin tells ESPN FC.

With just seven games left, Leicester are five points clear of Tottenham and their challenge will take on a different psychological feel. Having played freely without considering the consequences, now they will weigh on every mind and every kick, with every match a huge event. Beglin points to the fervour around Liverpool's failed challenge in 2013-14.

"Pavements were full with people just applauding the team into the ground," he said. "That will happen now, especially with Leicester's story this season. It's been happy-go-lucky up to now. It's been an upbeat atmosphere, incredibly relaxed. Now it takes a different tone. It becomes something much more nervy. On match day, you feel it. That's when teams can get affected."

Chris Sutton was twice in a similar situation to Leicester, finishing third with relegation-favourites Norwich in 1992-93 and then winning it with Blackburn Rovers in two seasons later.

"At Blackburn, we started to doubt ourselves," Sutton tells ESPN FC. "Somebody misses a chance, there's a poor back pass... and you can feel the pressure builds. Because you haven't been there and done it, people hide that little bit more. You don't play the same way."

Beglin concurs, having seen it "time and again".

"Like any job, if you all of a sudden tense up, you're not your natural self. You become hesitant, tentative, you start thinking about things too much. You're not playing with your usual abandon. That's the difference. You know it's now become a much bigger deal. If that spreads through 11 guys on the pitch, there's cause for error."

Experience is crucial because it means situations are not a shock to players and they know how to shut things out, as Beglin's Liverpool displayed.

"That Liverpool team were very good at maintaining a focus," he says. "All the guys in there were intent on keeping calm: 'Just keep doing what we do and it'll happen again'. There was a great concentration in that team: 'Keep all that nervousness to one side, let's let all the fans deal with that'. We had that belief we'd pull through. It was almost like the crowd had that belief in us because they'd been through it too."

Curiously, this season, none of the clubs that have such experience are showing it. Champions Chelsea have abdicated and Manchester City have been a mess, meaning it might not actually matter if Leicester start to show nerves. There's no "big juggernaut breathing down your neck", as Sutton puts it. His Blackburn had to hold off one of the biggest, in Ferguson's United.

"Those sides were relentless," he says. "If someone is coming up on the rails really strong, win after win after win, that puts more pressure on you as a player. We knew it at Blackburn, when they'd win. Imagine the effect of that on us as players. It was devastating, deflating. We became so desperate for them to blow up. It kills you.

"People say 'concentrate on your own game' but you're always looking, and it's draining," Sutton continues. "But that's where Leicester must be getting belief. It's up to Tottenham to really push them. You'd still say Arsenal have a slight chance in terms of the points they can gather... but this is Arsenal. That's the difference [from] previous seasons: Other teams don't look like pouncing. That would galvanise you as a Leicester player."

So far, that has been the case and there have only been glimpses of nerves from Ranieri's men, such as tentative play late on against Newcastle and the way Damien Delaney hit the bar for Crystal Palace in the 90th minute on Saturday. Leicester won both games 1-0.

Perhaps one other problem is Ranieri's own history in title races, with history showing he has failed to win a championship with his six previous chances. That is very different record to that of Kenny Dalglish, who managed both Beglin and Sutton to glory at Liverpool and Blackburn, respectively.

"We were looking to Kenny really, to drag us over," Sutton says. "Him and someone of the character of Alan Shearer. We got over the line playing some of the ugliest football. It was quite incredible really."

It still wouldn't be as incredible as Leicester winning the league and Sutton has one piece of advice if they do start to feel it.

"My thinking at Blackburn, when the wheels started to come off, was 'we can't lose this, what if we lose this?' and that's probably the wrong way to think about it."

Leicester have to look at things in the right way and remain focused, despite the fervour.

"They're just about to experience something that is completely new territory," says Beglin.

How they handle it will decide whether the Premier League has unprecedented new champions.

Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.


Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.