It has not been the worst of weeks for Danny Drinkwater.
On Thursday, the Leicester City midfielder was rewarded for his superb from this season with a first ever England call-up for the upcoming friendlies with Germany and the Netherlands.
At Selhust Park two days later, he played a starring role as Claudio Ranieri’s charges secured a 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace to move eight points clear at the top of the Premier League table.
“I’m very happy for him because he has worked hard from the beginning,” Ranieri said of Drinkwater in his post-match news conference. “It’s a great honour to be called for the national team. Maybe if he plays I’ll go to watch the match!”
Leicester started brightly at Selhurst Park, Riyad Mahrez tormenting Pape Souare on the right and Jamie Vardy’s speed causing problems for centre-backs Scott Dann and Damien Delaney through the middle. Palace struggled to build any effective attacks of their own, even if Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie showed flashes of their ability out on the flanks.
As is customary, the visitors’ forays forward generally came on the counter-attack, with Drinkwater and midfield partner N’Golo Kante – who is also set to earn his first international cap when France travel to the Netherlands on Friday – moving the ball on quickly whenever it came their way.
The former’s distribution was particularly impressive, Drinkwater playing a number of incisive balls into the path of his teammates to set Leicester on their way. A fine reverse pass put Mahrez through one-on-one with Wayne Hennessey, for instance, while it was Drinkwater’s first-time ball to Vardy that led to the Algeria international’s decisive strike in the 34th minute.
No-one on the pitch attempted as many passes in the opposition half as Drinkwater – interestingly, Kasper Schmeichel was Leicester’s second-most prolific player in that regard, which illustrates their intent on going from back to front as quickly as possible – and only Damien Delaney had more touches of the ball.
There was plenty of industry to go with the invention, the 26-year-old star winning possession back on eight occasions and regularly driving forward with the ball at his feet to relieve some of the pressure on his side. Leicester were forced to dig in at times in the second period as Palace came on strong, but their ferocious work ethic and organisation ensured Alan Pardew’s men were unable to find a much-needed equaliser.
Leicester have had great success using a 4-4-2 this term, a formation that was considered unsuited to the modern game not too long ago. Their compactness from back to front has allowed them to flourish despite routinely being outnumbered in the centre of the park, but Drinkwater and Kante’s tremendous ability to cover large amounts of ground and break up opposition attacks has been equally important.
“I think they showed in the first half why they’re top of the league,” Pardew conceded afterwards. “They were strong, disciplined and hard to get through, and we couldn’t make much of an impact on them.”
The pressure is now on second-placed Tottenham Hotspur to respond when they face Bournemouth at White Hart Lane on Sunday, when any sort of slip-up would leave Mauricio Pochettino’s outfit with an awful lot to do.
“We’re going to win the league,” the visiting supporters sang non-stop for almost 15 minutes after the final whistle, by which point Palace’s PA announcer was forced to kindly ask them to depart.
Ranieri has continually spoken of his desire to keep those fans dreaming this season. In the week that Drinkwater was named in the England squad and their side moved eight points clear at the summit of the Premier League standings, followers of Leicester City will continue rubbing their eyes and wondering if they are ever going to wake up.
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