- Associated Press - Thursday, April 14, 2016

LONDON (AP) - Leicester’s next hurdle in its unexpected run to the English title is against the Premier League’s other surprise package.

In the league’s most unpredictable season since its inception in 1992, Leicester will face sixth-place West Ham on Sunday with both teams seeking their highest finish in the Premier League era.

Leicester will be looking to maintain its seven-point lead over Tottenham at the top, while West Ham tries to close the gap on fourth-place Manchester City. A loss for Leicester could see Tottenham, which plays at Stoke on Monday, cut the lead to only four points with four games remaining.

Leicester’s rise to the top of English soccer is widely regarded as one of the league’s most surprising events since Blackburn won the top division in 1995. Like Blackburn, Leicester’s success has been largely because of its attacking prowess, although instead of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton, it’s Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez.

Vardy has scored 21 goals this season, including two against Sunderland last week, and trails league leader Harry Kane by only one.

“He deserves everything he gets,” Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel said of Vardy. “He works so hard and he’s a top lad around the dressing room. He’s a good influence on everybody.

“Even balls that are put into areas that some strikers maybe wouldn’t go for them, he runs them down. He makes bad balls into good balls and good balls into great balls.”

West Ham also has plenty to play for in its first season under manager Slaven Bilic. The team is still fighting for a place in next season’s Champions League, a vast improvement on last year’s 12th-place finish.

“He’s a great manager and a great bloke, to be honest,” West Ham striker Andy Carroll said of Bilic. “You can talk to him about football or not about football, and when it comes to games his tactics are spot-on. Every game, he takes each game as it comes and it’s different tactics, different set-ups and different formations.”

West Ham’s best finish in the Premier League was fifth place in 1999. Before the Premier League was established, the team finished third in 1986.

Leicester’s best finishes were eighth in the Premier League in 2000, and before that second in 1929.

Also, Manchester City, which reached the Champions League semifinals for the first time on Tuesday, will play at Chelsea on Saturday, while fifth-place Manchester United hosts Aston Villa. Third-place Arsenal hosts Crystal Palace on Sunday.

Here are some other things to know about this weekend’s matches:



Both Leicester and West Ham have players named in the shortlist for the Professional Footballers’ Association player of the season award.

Vardy, Mahrez and N’Golo Kante are all on the list representing Leicester, while Dimitri Payet is there for West Ham. The other two players on the shortlist are Tottenham striker Kane and Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil.

Chelsea winger Eden Hazard won the award in 2015.



Seventeenth-place Norwich hosts 18th-place Sunderland in a must win game for both sides in the battle for Premier League survival.

Norwich has 31 points with five games left, while Sunderland is four points behind.

A Sunderland win would leave it a point behind Norwich with a game in hand, and could cause problems for 19th-place Newcastle.

Newcastle faces Swansea on Saturday in a game that it has to win to have a real chance of avoiding relegation.

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez, who took over last month, is still without a win. But a victory on Saturday could give the club encouragement for the final few games.

Last-place Aston Villa, which plays at Manchester United, will be relegated if the team fails to win or if Norwich draws or wins against Sunderland.

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