By Rob Harris ,AP
LONDON — Leicester’s first target was exceeded long ago: Premier League survival. Another landmark was achieved Sunday: Champions League qualification for the first time. By the end of the month, Leicester should have secured the prize once simply unthinkable for such a team: the Premier League trophy itself.
Jamie Vardy’s double at Sunderland sealed a 2-0 victory that guaranteed a coveted top-four finish. Leicester remains seven points clear at the top and is starting to resemble a Premier League thoroughbred with its effortless march to a first title.
This isn’t what a title run-in should look like for a team yet to win the league title in its 132-year history and was in a relegation scrap this time last season.
Tottenham is waiting to pounce on any slip-up by Leicester. The second-place London club responded to Leicester’s Sunderland success by ending a 15-year wait for a home win over Manchester United. A 3-0 victory was secured by Dele Alli, Toby Alderweireld and Erik Lamela scoring within five minutes, 46 seconds in the second half.
It pushed Tottenham a step closer to joining Leicester in the Champions League next season, having only featured in Europe’s top competition once before.
United looks unlikely to be with them, given that crosstown rival Manchester City is four points ahead in fourth place.
As things are progressing, record 20-time English champion United could see Leicester guarantee the title by winning at Old Trafford in three games time.
Leicester is in unfamiliar territory but not showing it. There are no nerves, no sign of anxiety from Claudio Ranieri’s team. Some observers suggested the manager was crying when he entered the field after Sunday’s fifth successive win.
“It’s fantastic when you see before the match a lot of old ladies with Leicester shirts outside the stadium,” Ranieri said later. “I said, ‘Unbelievable, they came from Leicester to support us.’ That is emotional; that is fantastic; that is football.
“I want through you to say thank you for the support. It’s unbelievable. They are amazing. They are dreaming and we want to continue to dream. But to do this, we must be concentrated.”
It’s looking bleak for Sunderland, which is four points from safety but with a game in hand over Norwich.
There was little at stake in Sunday’s third game apart from Liverpool gaining confidence ahead of its Europa League quarterfinal second leg against Borussia Dortmund, which is locked at 1-1.
Liverpool dislodged Stoke from eighth place by beating the Anfield visitors 4-1. Alberto Moreno’s fine Liverpool opener was canceled out by Bojan Krkic in the 22nd minute. But Daniel Sturridge restored Liverpool’s lead before halftime and substitute Divock Origi netted twice after the break.