Can Leicester City mount a title challenge?
Photo: Pioeb, CC BY-SA 4.0
In 2016 under the guidance of Claudio Ranieri, Leicester City shocked the footballing world to claim their first Premier League title despite coming in at 5000/1 underdogs. Fast-forward four-and-a-half years and Brendan Rodgers’ iteration of The Foxes are once again rubbing shoulders with England’s elite, disrupting what was widely predicted to be a firm two-horse race.
As a result of their defeat in Saturday’s Manchester derby, Manchester City now resides in third place, with a fourteen-point gap opening up between themselves and the Premier League summit. Many critics have now written off the Citizens' chances at defending their league crown for a third consecutive year, and it seems Leicester have instead been designated the most likely candidates to prevent another Merseyside trophy parade taking place in May.
Despite a brilliant run of form, catalysed by Jamie Vardy’s impressive efforts to emulate the consecutive goals in games record he currently holds, Leicester does still remain adrift of a Liverpool team that currently just doesn't know how to lose.
Leicester’s 4-1 away triumph at Villa Park on Sunday means they sit eight points off the Red’s tail, and host Jurgen Klopp’s men at the King Power Stadium on Boxing Day. Should Rodgers’ squad overcome Norwich and Manchester City in the meantime, a result against the current European Champions will open the title race right up heading into the new year.
Following their early kick-off against Watford this weekend, Liverpool are scheduled to fly out to Qatar to contest the Club World Championships, during which a youthful reserve team will represent the Anfield outfit in their league cup semi-final meeting with Aston Villa. Liverpool’s clash with Leicester could potentially be their seventh competitive match in a 22-day period (excluding the league cup game) and will come following the league leaders returning from their 6600-mile round-trip to Doha.
Leicester will look to take advantage of any fatigue present in the legs of Virgil van Dijk, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and co, yet this may prove easier said than done when the Foxes themselves will be recovering from an intense contest at the Etihad just days before. Rodgers’ time in the Premier League suggests it is improbable he will simply set up to absorb pressure and defend against attacking-minded teams such as City and Liverpool, instead preferring his players to take the game to the opposition.
Leicester City defender Jonny Evans speaks to @skysports_PatD about the Foxes' Premier League title hopes after today's 4-1 win at Aston Villa. 🏆
Are they now Liverpool's main challengers? 💪 https://t.co/qs1vZlCSrF
Leicester’s contention in the title race this season is even more impressive considering the high-profile departures that have been made from the East Midlands club in recent seasons. In the years after the club’s league win, star-men such as N’Golo Kante, Danny Drinkwater, and Riyad Mahrez, have all made big moves to other English top-flight sides. Last summer, centre-back Harry Maguire joined Manchester United in a mega-money £80million deal which saw him claim the title of the world’s most expensive defender, eclipsing the sum paid by Liverpool for PFA player of the year Van Dijk.
Each time the King Power loses a talisman, questions are asked as to how the void will be filled and debates whether big clubs use their financial capability to extort their smaller counterparts are reignited. However, Leicester continually appear to defy the odds and refuse to let the poaching of their biggest talents set the club back. Twenty-three-year-old defender Caglar Soyuncu’s rise to prominence this term epitomises that mindset perfectly. The Turkish centre-half’s performances this season have earned him plaudits from around the world, and the former Freiburg man has arguably looked more impressive this year than his predecessor Maguire over in Manchester...
Is there still an active title race in England this year? Or have Manchester City’s woes all but handed Liverpool their first league title in 30 years? Can Leicester maintain their form throughout a tough spell of games and close the gap on the top spot? Or have Klopp’s men reached a level in which they are simply too good to be caught? Whatever happens, the Premier League is set to showcase an extremely competitive, season-defining winter period which will likely set the pace for the rest of the campaign...