Leicester are one of the bookies' favourites, are they yours too?
Can Leicester City’s dream continue? Few questions have been asked and answered by football pundits and fans in diverse, strange and even paradoxical ways. Can the Foxes win the EPL crown this season?
For a team that was rooted to the bottom of the Premier League at this stage of last season, it is a sensational turn of events as they now are at the summit of the Premier League. But the question that the entire football fraternity seems to be asking is, can they maintain the consistency? Do they have enough to go on and win the title?
Leicester City’s story so far
This season has astounded many fans and pundits alike and correctly predicting the outcome of a match has never been anywhere close to being as challenging as it is right now. Leicester City find themselves, and deservedly so, at the top of the table.
With a run of fine performances coupled with the goal scoring form of the formidable duo, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, the high flying foxes have comfortably seated themselves on a fantasy ride, which looks to continue with a fine victory at the Etihad Stadium.
The Foxes second as the bookies' favourites too. Sky Bet has Leicester City 9/4 to win the title, which is in contrast to the odds of 5000/1 in August to win the title, following their impressive win over Manchester City. And with just one-third of the season remaining, the Foxes seem determined to finish as champions.
Perhaps there would have been more conviction in this argument if the concerned team was Manchester United or Chelsea. But judging solely on the basis of performances, Leicester should be considered a title contender or maybe even the favourites.
They have won the fans' hearts with their spirit. There is a sense of exhilaration in seeing the underdogs win and now it seems to be as if everyone wants them to win the title as was manifest in the number of tweets for Leicester on the eve of their match with Manchester City (over half a million!).
The Foxes aren’t the first team to be in such a position
A few underdog teams have, in the past, been in promising positions at the turn of the New Year but did not go on to succeed. A prime example that comes to my mind is Aston Villa in the 2008/09 season who were, after 25 games, placed third with 51 points and just 3 adrift of the top.
They were considered to be a big threat at that stage. But what followed was total disaster, 11 points in their last 13 games meant that they finished 28 points behind the ultimate champions, Manchester United. While this record could be of little significance to the high flying Foxes, but it should nevertheless be seen as a warning sign.
Working with a relatively smaller budget means Claudio Ranieri does not possess the most talented squad at his disposal unlike some of his colleagues. He certainly did not have the luxury enjoyed by someone like Manuel Pellegrini (Manchester City splashed out over £150m in the summer).
With fatigue looming in as the recipe for a perfect disaster, the premature demise of a team seems but inevitable in the second half of a season. Players often fail to replicate their good form post the New Year, even individuals like Fabregas, Alexis Sanchez, etc. For instance Fabregas created 91 chances, assisted 18 and scored 3 in the 2014/15 season. It is perplexing that most of it (61 chances, 13 assists and 2 goals) came in his first 18 games!
Teams like Arsenal and Everton have been victims of fatigue and injuries too in the past few seasons. The last few games of the season or the business end of the season it is better known as, often tests the depth of a squad especially since there is no winter break in England.
With the big games coming thick and fast, it will be interesting to see how they cope with a situation like this. The players will have to be given timely breaks to keep them fresh. The key would be to keep key players injury free.
The title run-in is daunting
Playing against Liverpool and then against City and Arsenal, both away games, that too consecutively, is a big task both physically and psychologically. The consequences remain to be seen but with Ranieri at the helm, it is indeed probable that they will come away with a positive result.
While their title chances cannot out rightly be dismissed as they seem to have only grown stronger with the passage of every game so far in this season, from losing to Arsenal 2-5 at home in September to winning comfortably against Liverpool and Manchester City in February. It will nevertheless be a challenge for Ranieri and Co.
The second half of the EPL action promises to be fascinating. Will the Underdogs create history? Or will it be Manuel Pellegrini signing off in style? Can Arsenal finally end their EPL title hoodoo? Or will their rivals Spurs win it after over 50 years? Or who knows if the fortunes change at Old Trafford, will Van Gaal, after all, have the last laugh? As Sir Alex Ferguson says, "The ultimate judge of performance is Father Time".