The Premier League is said to be the toughest league in the world with loads of physicality, emotion and intensity summing up every fixture. But what catches the eye of most, is that it is a level playing field for almost all the teams participating. Any side can beat the defending champions at their best. Anyone disagreeing can look at Leicester City Football Club. The unpredictable nature is what accounts for the thrill.
Last season and the one before that were claimed to be the the most enthralling campaigns ever witnessed. But this season, new standards have been set by the sides that have floated around the relegation zone in the past as well as the newly promoted sides making it the most unpredictable of seasons in the history of European football itself.
While New sides like Watford and Bournemouth have settled well in the league by beating mammoth sides so far, Leicester’s success story has been an absolute fairytale.
Having been 20th in the league last Christmas and poised for relegation they somehow managed a great escape on the back of some crucial results. This season under a different manager in Claudio Ranieri, they’ve done the unthinkable and after exactly 12 months on they found themselves at the top of the Premier League table.
Many consider the whole team to be dependent on two individuals alone – Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy. Up to a certain extent this argument holds satisfactorily because the two have scored 28 goals between them out of the total 37 Leicester have recorded in the Premier League this season. But a team would not possibly be on top of the league table on the back of two players alone, would it?
As the performance stats suggest, Leicester possess some of the most underrated players in their squad. Starting from the backline, where Kasper Schmeichel has been a good goalkeeper, it is Wes Morgan who has been a strong presence at the back keeping them organised. He also reads the game amazingly well, providing cover for the midfielders to venture forward.
His partner, Robert Huth is one of the best at dealing with long balls and prevents the opposition forwards from twisting and turning inside the box. All the outfield players lineup in a compact fashion and invite the opposition into the wide areas where they press them into losing the ball. While Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is said to use a trademark pressing style of play, it is Ranieri’s style that is a more intelligent one.
Leicester play a classic 4-4-2 formation with Vardy being partnered up front by Okazaki or Ulloa. Both are equally capable of getting on the the end of rebounds and blocks. While Okazaki offers trickery and stretches the opposition with his runs off the ball, Ulloa can do just that and has aerial presence to offer.
In the wide positions, Riyad Mahrez is a force to reckon with and has established himself as one of the best midfielders in Europe this season. But on the left flank Leicester possess one of the most underrated performers this season, Marc Albrighton. The former Aston Villa man, who has amassed six assists this season, is pivotal to their style of play and works incredibly hard on the flank.
Whenever the ball is won back, it is immediately fed to the flanks from where the likes of Mahrez and Vardy capable enough to create dangerous chances. Albrighton specializes in getting the ball to the final third of the opposition half.
Every side that just refuses to lose games has a formidable midfield partnership in the centre and with Leicester the case is no different. The Foxes have lost just two games this season in the Premier League and while some might say that their unbeaten streak is down to the fact that they outscore their opponents, the stats suggest just the opposite.
Leicester have made the most successful interceptions in the league this season and clearly possess the ability to grind results out. The midfield duo of N’golo Kante and Drinkwater has been nothing less than phenomenal. Both the players are midfield engines and have no qualms in charging forward to combine with the forwards. Though Kante is supposed to stay back and do the dirty work, he often finds pockets of space to run into and create space for other players.
Kante and Drinkwater act as catalysts to Leicester’s attack by winning the ball back and dishing a penetrative ball into wide areas. The involvement of both the central midfielders high up the pitch makes them vulnerable which is why they concede goals but the way they charge forward in numbers with the ball at their feet and the movement off it with clinical strikers like Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez by their side makes them and almost unbeatable side.
Simply put, Leicester have enough quality players in every part of the field and there is much more than what meets the eye. The club deserve to be where they are because of the eleven players that perform convincingly week-in week-out.
They currently sit second, two points behind Arsenal and are on a winless run of three games but they possess enough quality and tactical awareness to stay up there. Ranieri and his men are living a dream and the mood is positive at the King Power. Afterall, none of the teams in the Premier League era being top at Christmas have failed to finish in the top four.