A look at how Leicester City find themselves leading the race for the title.
At the start of the season, Leicester City were many people’s pick for relegation. 26 games into the season, they sit at the top of the Premier League, two points clear of their nearest challengers. It is an incredible story, one that will be remembered for a long time, regardless of whether they go on to win the title. There is no doubt that Leicester have punched above their weight this season. It was unthinkable at the beginning of the campaign to imagine a club with a small budget like Leicester to be leading the Premier League table in February. How have they managed to achieve so much in such a short space of time?
The appointment of Claudio Ranieri as Leicester City manager was given a mixed reception. No doubt he is an experienced coach, who has managed numerous top clubs in different countries. But his time at Chelsea, which began 16 years ago, produced mixed results. The general feeling was that he was a likeable manager, one who got along well with his players, but he would never be a world class manager.
At the beginning of the season, I fully expected Leicester to struggle. I didn’t believe Claudio Ranieri was the right man for the job. Ranieri has a reputation for constantly changing his team, from one match to the next, which is why he is referred to as ‘the tinker man’. Leicester needed stability for the coming season, not endless changes. This is why every football fan is shocked at the position Leicester find themselves in. Ranieri has certainly silenced his doubters, in spectacular fashion.
Ranieri has rebuilt his reputation as a top-class manager, after his disastrous spell in charge of Greece. He is the man responsible for finding the formula which has taken Leicester City to the top of the league. He has molded together a fantastic team, in little more than seven months in charge of the club. Can he take Leicester all the way to lifting the title? Whatever happens in the coming months, one thing is sure. Ranieri has to be the big favourite for claiming the Premier League manager of the year.
Kasper Schmeichel has always been a good goalkeeper. This is the first season where he has shown that he can follow in his father’s footsteps, and become an exceptional goalkeeper. He has produced some outstanding displays this season, and he is a major factor as to why Leicester find themselves at the top of the table.
The partnership at centre-back between Robert Huth, and Wes Morgan, has had a steadying effect on the whole team. Both are strong, imposing figures at the back, who have kept Leicester in many games this season, due to their willingness to fight to the end. Full backs Danny Simpson and Christian Fuchs have also contributed massively. The solidity of the back four has helped the team to remain secure at the back, especially in the last few months. If Leicester are to go on to win the league, the back four will have to keep producing like they have been recently.
N’Golo Kante is the engine room in the Leicester midfield. The tough tackling midfielder has been a massive success this season. He is without doubt one of the players of the season. His strength on the ball, and eagerness to win it back, have made him the best defensive midfielder in the country. Danny Drinkwater is one of the team’s most improved players, and has formed an excellent partnership in midfield with Kante. Drinkwater epitomises what Leicester are about. Hard work, energy, and a never say die attitude.
Riyad Mahrez and Mark Albrighton play on either side of midfield. Albrighton’s pace and energy has contributed to Leicester’s fortunes. This season, Mahrez is one of the most improved players in world football. He has been the best player in the Premier League all season. Not only does he possess incredible talent, he also has a fantastic attitude, and shows time and again that he is a team player. His ball control and dribbling is at times out of this world. If he carries on in this form, he should win the Premier League player of the year award. Maybe he could also be the catalyst in helping Leicester win the title.
Jamie Vardy has been sensational this season. He currently leads the goalscoring charts, with 19 goals to his name. A place in the England squad is a real possibility, if not an almost certainty. Without Vardy’s goals, Leicester wouldn’t find themselves where they do. His ability to play on the last defender, and spring the offside trap, is second to none. His finishing has improved massively, which is why he is now one of the most deadly strikers in the league. If Vardy continues to put the ball in the back of the net, Leicester City will have a great chance of doing the unthinkable, and winning the title.
The rise of Leicester City has been the biggest talking point in the league this season. What they have managed to achieve is incredible, especially in such a short space of time. How far will their current form take them? Can they complete mission impossible by winning the title?
At the start of the season, I predicted Leicester would struggle, and would go on to be relegated. I couldn’t have been more wrong! They continue to prove people wrong, and still sit top of the table with only 12 games to go. I am now convinced that they will finish in the top four, qualifying for next season’s Champions League by doing so. The recent victory over Manchester City made me realise that not only do Leicester deserve to be in this season’s top four, but they belong in the top four based on their performances.
If Leicester do go on to win the title, it would be one of the biggest shocks in English football history. Without doubt, it would go down as the best achievement by any club in the Premier League era. It has been refreshing to see a different club battling it out at the top. I am certain Leicester will finish in the top four, but I don’t think they will win the league. The closer they get to it, the greater the pressure will be on them to perform. It will be a closely fought contest until the end, with Leicester just missing out. But that shouldn’t detract from what Leicester City have already achieved this season.