Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City side continue to defy the odds and are still very much in the hunt to become the unlikeliest of champions. With just 12 games to go, in spite of their last gasp defeat at the hands of title rivals Arsenal, they remain two points clear of the Gunners and Tottenham at the top of the table. An amazing 35 points and 19 places better off than this time last season, the Foxes have acquired 53 points and set the tone for this wonderfully unpredictable season with their title odds being slashed from 5000/1 to just 15/2.
At 64, ‘The Tinkerman’ is still searching for his first title as a manager but that was surely not on his mind as he acted quickly and decisively in the summer transfer market, signing N’Golo Kante from Caen and Shinji Okazaki from Mainz. At just £5.5m Kante has proved to be one of the signings of the season and his tireless regaining and retaining of possession has been at the forefront of his team’s success, allowing the likes of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez to be so devastating on the counter attack. The Paris-born midfielder’s industrious approach to midfield play has been instrumental in Leicester’s shock title bid and he has racked up more than 100 interceptions and tackles – the most in the league.
There is also no denying that Ranieri was left an excellent platform on which to build – eight out of the starting eleven from their famous win at the Etihad were from his predecessor Nigel Pearson’s reign – and most of the plaudits this season have been, quite rightly, reserved for two of Pearson’s signings: Vardy and Mahrez. The pair epitomise the rags to riches story of Leicester City and have been in unstoppable form this season, scoring an astounding 33 goals between them. Vardy leads the scoring charts with 19, while Mahrez’s ten assists are second only to Mesut Özil.
But there has been more to Leicester this season than just their blistering attack. Wes Morgan, long thought to be nothing more than a brute at the back, has found the best form of his career and produced a formidable partnership with Robert Huth. Kasper Schmeichel’s commanding presence and immense shot stopping in goal has been key in Leicester’s rise and Danny Drinkwater’s midfield exploits have put him on the verge of an England call-up.
Leicester lost only their third game this season it has placed the spotlight firmly on the players’ resolve. They had been playing like a side devoid of tension but now, with Tottenham and Arsenal breathing heavily down their necks, questions about how they will handle the pressure have appeared. But after their performances so far this season, and with seven of their final twelve league games coming against teams in the bottom half, what reason do we have to doubt their title credentials? Their three title rivals have much tougher run-ins and face tricky away trips in Europe – as well as the FA Cup quarter-finals – whereas Leicester can focus all of their energy on the Premier League.
What Leicester lack in terms of squad depth is more than made up for by their spirit, desire and resilience that were showcased so brilliantly during their defeat to Arsenal. And with Ranieri, a cool, composed and massively experienced manager, there is no reason why Foxes fans should not still be dreaming of a fairytale ending to this extraordinary Premier League season.