Leicester City Form Heralds Talk of ‘5000/1: The Sequel’

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The date: 15 May 2016, the venue: Stamford Bridge. Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri is given a guard of honour by opponents Chelsea, the very club that sacked him a dozen years previously. Just eight days prior, he – along with battle-hardened captain Wes Morgan – had lifted a Premier League trophy bedecked in Leicester blue, completing an underdog triumph of Brechtian proportions, and defying since-unparalleled title odds of 5000/1.

Naturally, the foundations of that dream had been laid months earlier, but it was not until the Foxes found themselves atop the tree on Christmas Day 2015 that people seriously began to consider Leicester as title contenders.

Flash forward exactly four years, and Leicester are (albeit very tenuously) in the title frame yet again. While Anfield seems to be a certain destination for the league title next spring, hope springs eternal down at the King Power Stadium.

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Tactics Eerily Similar to 2015/16

If Ranieri’s guard of honour at Stamford Bridge is worthy of the box office, the possibility of Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers stealing an apparently-unassailable title from his old employers certainly is.

The upturn in Leicester’s fortunes, and the shortening of their premier league odds and prices across the board, is all but down to the Northern Irish tactician. Rodgers alone has banished the inherent rigidity of predecessor Claude Puel’s game plan, instead utilising a dynamic midfield as the main strength.

That midfield can become a three-pronged attack during certain phases, and this fluidity often catches opponents unaware, forcing them to drop deep. It is a cornerstone tactic that proved vital in the triumphant title charge of 2015/16.

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Rodgers has utilised his personnel well in that regard, using Claudio Ranieri’s blueprints to great effect. In place of the livewire N’GoloKante, Wilfred Ndidi is a destructive stopper that enables Leicester to press in numbers. In lieu of Riyad Mahrez as a traditional midfield winger, Rodgers has his mind firmly on the relevant, giving Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira full license to roam as overlapping full backs.

What works for Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold at Liverpool also works for Leicester’s wingbacks, giving the outright attacking personnel a far greater sense of purpose and more time to think.

Jamie Vardy, meanwhile… is still Jamie Vardy, but now plays a greater role than ever, setting an example to younger attackers around him, particularly the emerging Harvey Barnes. Though four years older than his record-breaking self, the ‘yard of pace’ people expect all 32-year old strikers to lose is still as alive as ever, and his ability to pounce has put to shame many a prime striker in the top league once again.

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Vardy the Fuel behind ‘Incredible’ Stats

At the moment, Jamie Vardy is in a personal ‘title race’ of his own, and his opponent is his past self – a former non-league player smashing Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s existing record into oblivion, after eleven consecutive Premier League goals. Following his strike against Aston Villa on Sunday, Vardy remains on-course to match his record-breaking tally.

His chance, if it is still alive come Boxing Day, would be against none other than Liverpool. How very ‘Leicester’ it would be if the Foxes’ match winner was to be said goal, reducing the deficit to five (or less) points going into the final Premier League fixture of the 2010s.

Vardy is currently the Premier League’s top scorer with an average of one goal per-game following the win at Villa, which boosted Leicester’s hit-rate on the road over their previous 35 league away games to an impressive 71.4%. Overall, Leicester are currently on a nine-game winning streak, with the Foxes outscoring opponents on an average eight-to-one ratio across the eight wins prior to their Villa victory.

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Leicester’s ability to improve where necessary is an additional asset, demonstrating the same humility that served the Leicester side of 2015/16 so devastatingly well. Never ones to quit – especially in front of their own fans – Leicester have so far won on each of the three occasions where they have conceded the opening goal at home.

January to Prove Decisive

No matter how futile it may ultimately be, Leicester’s fight for a second Premier League title in four years will be reinforced by new additions in January, and the strong likelihood of Champions League football is a ‘pull factor’ for new blood.

So too is a return of 12 league wins after 16 games, which is better even than the tally Leicester held at the same point in 2015/16. While an eight-point gap going into mid-December appears mountainous in the context of Liverpool’s unbelievable form, Premier League history shows that it is not impossible.

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Indeed, the Reds blew a similar lead they held at the same time last campaign.

The potential effects of Liverpool’s jaunt into the FIFA Club World Cup are also difficult to chart via freshfootball, adding further to the bubbling undercurrent of excitement rightly flowing through Leicester City FC once again.

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