Leicester City’s continued good form in the Premier League should have pundits and fans alike recognizing them for what they are, genuine title contenders.
Instead, they are often overlooked in favor of bigger teams struggling lower down the table. In some quarters, there is an expectancy that the Leicester bubble will burst eventually, and the old order will be restored with Liverpool, Man Utd, Man City, Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea all overtaking them.
For the last five years now, people have expected the Leicester story to conclude. They may have shocked the world by winning the title in 2015, but surely that was the end of their adventure? Not so. After two ninth-placed finishes, they missed out on a Champions League spot last season by just four points and went into Valentine’s weekend this year three points ahead of reigning champions Liverpool. As we passed the midway point of the season, they remained third, with fans wondering if perhaps this year, they might once again qualify for Europe’s elite club competition by finishing fourth or higher.
Manager Brendan Rodgers is no stranger to success, having won multiple trophies during his time with Celtic, and he is building a legacy of his own that he hopes will match that of Claudio Ranieri, who won the title for the Foxes. Rodgers’ men are certainly impressing experts and pundits alike this season, and Bwin list them as likely to finish in the top four. Even with that combination of expert confidence and previous managerial success, some fans still cannot see them as challengers.
It is a fallacy to rule them out of the race not only for a top-four spot, but maybe even top two. Yes, they rely on Jamie Vardy still, the forward whose story has inspired every non-league forward to tread the same path. His footballing odyssey has taken him from the scruffy pitches of Stocksbridge Park Steels and Halifax Town to the opulence of the Premier League. He still grabs the headlines, which takes the pressure away from a collection of incredibly gifted players.
Two of those, Harvey Barnes and James Maddison, are outside bets for England’s European Championship squad later in the year. 23-year-old Barnes is a homegrown winger with 11 goals from 31 outings this season, and his electric pace in the channels is a real threat to opposition defenses. Maddison plays a little deeper, pulling the strings with intelligent passes and chipping in with goals too, nine in 29.
Youri Tielemans is the midfield anchor, the N’Golo Kante figure for a new generation. The Belgian international dictates play from deep and springs many of those quick attacks which teams have come to expect. Expecting the attack is one thing, stopping it is another, and many teams have struggled to deal with Leicester City’s shape, pace and devastating moves into forward areas.
One aspect that characterized their title win was smart recruitment, with Riyad Mahrez and Kante two who stood out in 2015. That has not changed one bit, with Timothy Castagne, Wesley Fofana and James Justin the latest exciting prospects to have been shipped in from elsewhere. All three are playing a crucial role this season and could be worth significantly more than the Foxes paid for them, with both Castagne and Fofana brought in for less than they earned selling Ben Chilwell to Chelsea. Clever transfer business, indeed.
With such an array of talent at their disposal and an approach that brings plenty of goals and a good number of clean sheets too, there is no reason why Leicester City cannot finish fourth or higher this season. The big question is this; if they do, will Premier League fans finally begin to realize the Foxes are here to stay?