Football: Payet can bend it like Beckham, says Bilic

LONDON - West Ham manager Slaven Bilic believes Dimitri Payet's ability to produce sensational free-kicks like David Beckham will be one of the key factors in his side's bid to qualify for the Champions League.

Payet has enjoyed a memorable debut season in the Premier League and the France midfielder's penchant for scoring fabulous free-kicks has become his trademark following his move from Marseille.

The 29-year-old has netted with three spectacular efforts in the last month against Manchester United, Russia and Crystal Palace, prompting Bilic to claim Payet's free-kicks are the equal of set-piece specialist Beckham and should be crucial as the Hammers eye a top four finish.

"They are both great free-kick takers. You can't say that anyone was better than Beckham at taking free-kicks. But then again you can say the same thing about Dimitri this season," Bilic said.

"The tempo he is putting them in is amazing. Now everybody is expecting every time he shoots to put it in the top corner.

"Whenever he has a chance in training he likes to try to bend them." Bilic could do with more Payet magic on Saturday when third placed Arsenal, seven points ahead of the sixth placed Hammers, visit Upton Park in a crucial fixture in the battle for Champions League places.

Meanwhile, Kasper Schmeichel says Leicester's rock solid defence is the secret to the shock leaders' remarkable title charge.

Claudio Ranieri's side are within touching distance of becoming the most unexpected champions in English football history as they head to struggling Sunderland on Sunday and Denmark goalkeeper Schmeichel has no doubts he and the four men immediately in front of him will lay the foundation for another priceless victory.

Chelsea captain John Terry this week named seven Leicester players in his vote for the PFA's team of the year and three of those nominations were for Schmeichel and the club's centre-backs Wes Morgan and Robert Huth.

That trio, combined with full-backs Danny Simpson and Christian Fuchs, have proved an impenetrable obstacle to opposing forwards as the pressure of the title race has mounted, with Leicester grinding out five 1-0 wins in their last six matches.

"We defend as a team, we are tough to break down. They are an absolute privilege to play behind, those boys," Schmeichel said.

"They throw their bodies in the way of everything and give us the best opportunity to go and win games.

"Building a good foundation with clean sheets is obviously a great start. For me they are a pleasure to play behind." If the Foxes win at the Stadium of Light they will open up a 10-point lead over second placed Tottenham, who will then have to beat Manchester United at White Hart Lane later on Sunday to have any chance of remaining in the hunt.

Tottenham have no margin for error after last weekend's draw at Liverpool, which featured an exquisite equaliser from Harry Kane but also the frustration of failing to finish off the Reds.

Kane's 22nd league goal of the season set a new club record in the Premier League era, but the England striker would happily swap personal plaudits for a title winners' medal and he is determined to keep hunting the Foxes right until the end.

"Any day of the week you'd rather your team win rather than have personal achievements," Kane said.

"Anything can happen; Leicester will do very well to win every game until the end of the season.

"We have to focus on our next game against Manchester United and look for the win." Manchester City, clinging onto fourth place, will hope the confidence gained from their gritty 2-2 Champions League quarter-final first leg draw at Paris Saint Germain can provide the impetus to see off West Bromwich Albion at Eastlands.

Meanwhile, rock bottom Aston Villa's seemingly inevitable relegation will be confirmed if they fail to match or better fourth bottom Norwich's result at Crystal Palace.

Villa, who host Bournemouth, are 15 points adrift of safety with six games left and need an incredible combination of results to avoid a return to the second tier for the first time since 1988.