Welcome to the Virgin Media Midweek Kick-off! As Leicester recover from their demolition of Man City and prepare to face Arsenal this weekend, we ask football writers Chris Forryan and Dan Masoliver whether it’s finally time to start taking the Foxes seriously.
Too right, the Foxes have it in the bag
“It’s not all about keeping the ball – it’s what you do with it that counts”
– Chris Forryan, blogger, Leicester Till I Die
Scared of no-one
‘#Fearless’ can be seen in huge letters adorning the outside of The King Power Stadium, but it’s more than a hashtag. It’s a word that, after last season’s great escape, Leicester have taken to heart. They do not fear anyone, as the away win over Manchester City last weekend definitively proves. The players themselves admit they felt more pressure during last year’s relegation battle than this season’s title challenge. If the worst happens and they do fall away from first and end up finishing fourth or fifth, it will still be considered an amazing season for Leicester City. Could Man Utd, Man City, Arsenal, Spurs or Chelsea say the same?
The numbers add up
Maths has never been my strong point, but when you look at the figures in black and white, they show why Leicester are top of the Barclays Premier League. They have the highest win percentage in the league (60%), the lowest loss percentage (8%), the joint-highest tally of goals scored (47), and the fewest games lost in the last 10 fixtures (1). With stats like that, would you bet against Leicester winning the league? The bookies certainly don’t think you should, having narrowed the Foxes’ odds for the title at 9-4. Though we’re all kicking ourselves for not putting a cheeky fiver on at the start of the season, when we were 5000-1 outsiders.
Who's the Tinkerman?
The Tinkerman – as Ranieri was rudely nicknamed while managing Chelsea – is no more. For the last three games, he has played the exact same starting line-up. In fact, the Foxes have made the fewest team changes of any side in the league – just 21, compared with Man City’s 62. The Tinkerman has finally left the building, proving that a settled squad in the hand is worth any number of Sergio Agueros in the bush.
Unlike Chelsea under José Mourinho, team spirit is something Leicester City have, and have in bucket loads. Whether it’s going out for a celebratory pizza for the first clean sheet of the season, or dressing up as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on a team weekend away, Ranieri has continued the strong bond within his squad that his predecessor Nigel Pearson started. In fact, he has actually improved it. Even when Vardy was going for the league’s consecutive goal-scoring record earlier in the season, his main focus was always on bagging the three points for the club. Team success above personal glory. How many of the so-called top stars can you say that of?
Possession isn’t everything
There’s an old footballing truism – as most coaches will tell you, from kids’ football right through to senior level – that the other team can’t score if you’ve got the ball. Well, Leicester City blow that particular coaching statement right out the window. They may be top of the league at the moment, but with an average of just 44.8%, they are third bottom of the Premier League’s possession table. So it's not all about keeping the ball – it’s what you do with it when you have it that counts, and Leicester do plenty.
Are Leicester now clear title favourites?
No way, Leicester’s fun is over
“The pressure will come, and when it does, they won’t know what hit them”
– Dan Masoliver, sports editor, Virgin Media
No such thing as fairies
Jamie Vardy’s spectacular journey from non-league football to the top of the Barclays Premier League table, and all within the space of just five years, is the stuff of fairy tales. It’s hardly surprising that plans are already afoot to turn his story into a feature-length film. The Hollywood ending, of course, would be for Vardy to stand in the centre circle at the King Power Stadium with the league trophy in one hand and golden boot in the other. Only this isn’t Hollywood, this is real life. Would it be nice for Leicester to win the BPL? Yes. Will they have their happy ending? Absolutely not.
Spurs’ top form
When you consider all the points amassed since the start of the season (aka the league table) then yes, Leicester come out on top. But the form table tells another story. If the season had started on Boxing Day, it would be Tottenham, not the Foxes, sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League. And with Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Nacer Chadli scoring for fun and contributing to the biggest goal difference in the league, it’s Spurs whose momentum looks most likely to carry them all the way to the title.
Bring back the Tinkerman
Leicester might regret Ranieri’s lack of tinkering. Having consistency within the starting XI has its obvious benefits, but as the season draws to a close, the Foxes’ unrelenting work rate will take its toll. With an average of 110.7km covered per match, only a handful of sides have covered more ground than Ranieri’s men this season – last weekend alone, Vardy, Shinji Okazaki, N’Golo Kante and the rest covered 4.5km more between them than City. Leicester’s last three games of the season are against Man Utd, Everton and Chelsea. Tired legs could cost them dearly in this tricky run-in. The top clubs use squad rotation for a reason.
No muscle memory
Leicester’s open, free-flowing style has been a pleasure to behold. But it’s been down, in part, to their luxurious underdog status, which has allowed them to float their way to the top of the table. As the season draws to a close, however, and the title race remains wide open, the pressure will come. And when it does, Ranieri’s men won’t know what hit them. It’s the cool head of experience that will best handle the frenetic run-in, and that head is on the shoulders of Manuel Pellegrini and his high-pedigree City squad.
The Premier League’s top scorer, Vardy, hasn’t missed a single league game this season. Riyad Mahrez, the second-most generous player in England – provider of 9 assists, behind Ozil’s 16 – has only been absent from one match. Together, they’ve been the driving force behind Leicester’s unprecedented success. But what happens if one – or worse, both – of them picks up a knock that rules them out for the rest of the season? With all due respect to Leonardo Ulloa, they’d dive off the top spot quicker than Ashley Young inside the penalty area.
Will the Foxes come a cropper?
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