Premier League 2019-20: Why it is time to include Leicester City in the title conversation
There is something special brewing at Leicester again. The Foxes resumed normal service in the league after the international break as they consolidated their second place in the table with a comfortable 2-0 win against Brighton Hove and Albion. Goals from Jamie Vardy and Ayoze Perez secured all three points for Leicester City.
While the title discussion has largely centred around champions Manchester City and their prime challengers Liverpool, Leicester City have quietly gone about their business away frm the limelight and climbed up the table. They are now eight points behind the leaders Liverpool and given their current form and upcoming fixtures, look set to close the gap soon.
Brendan Rodgers has transformed the fortunes of the Foxes since coming in as their manager in February. Under his tutelage, Leicester have made their best ever start to a top-flight season. And there are a few very good reasons for Foxes fans to feel optimistic about Rodgers repeating the 2015-16 fairy-tale.
The Jamie Vardy factor
Let's face it, Vardy has been one of the best and most consistent strikers the Premier League has seen in recent years. Still, very few would've predicted his blistering start to the 2019-20 campaign.
The 32-year-old has been indispensable to this Leicester team, scoring 12 goals in the first 13 games for the Foxes and moving to the top of the Golden Boot race this season. Vardy is one of just five players to have played every minute of the season so far; it is not only his goal-scoring but also his amazing work-rate that has been vital to his team's splendid start.
The average age of the Leicester lineup in their opening 13 matches has been 25 years and 5 months; that's the second youngest side fielded by any club this season. Brendan Rodgers' faith and belief in his young players have paid him rich dividends this season.
Wilfred Ndidi has been a rock in the Foxes midfield. The Nigerian has been pivotal in his role as a defensive midfielder, making the most interceptions (36) and tackles (59) in the league so far.
While Ndidi's ball retention has helped stop the opposition in their tracks, the creativity and flair of the attacking midfielder trio of Harvey Barnes, James Madison and Youri Tielemans has been crucial in providing assists at the other end.
They have racked up a combined total of nine assists in 13 games, which have helped their side to a goal tally of 29 goals this season - nine of which came in their record-breaking win against Southampton.
When Harry Maguire left Leicester City for Manchester United for a record fee of £80 million in the closing days of the summer transfer window, there were growing concerns in the media about the Foxes being unable to find a replacement in time for the English centreback.
But instead of taking a shot in the dark by buying a new player and inducting him into the team, Rodgers introduced an existing one in Caglar Soyuncu. And Soyuncu has repaid his manager's faith with some stellar performances.
The Turkish international has been a vital cog in the Leicester backline and has formed an indomitable partnership with Johnny Evans in the heart of the defence. Their centreback pairing has been a vital part of the Foxes defence which has conceded only eight goals - the lowest of any team in the league so far.
Liverpool have been nothing short of perfect this season so far, winning 11 of their 12 matches of the season. Their run has seen them race into an eight-point advantage over second placed Leicester City.
While some may consider this a substantial margin, the history of the Premier League suggests otherwise. There have been four instances in the league where a team with an eight-point lead has been overtaken.
Heading into a tumultuous phase of the season where Liverpool will probably be required to play three games in a week with their Champions League and other engagements, there will inevitably be room for their rivals - specifically Leicester City who have no continental distractions - to make up ground.
Leicester City's upcoming run of fixtures pits them against some of Premier League's prime strugglers in Everton, Watford, Aston Villa and Norwich. These are games you would expect the Foxes to win.
And with Liverpool's fixture congestion problems, Leicester could well be knocking on the Reds' door by Christmas, which will possibly make their Boxing Day clash all the more riveting.
Modified 21 Dec 2019, 01:01 IST