Leicester City: contenders or pretenders?

Written for Exepose: The University of Exeter’s student newspaper.

Leicester City’s remarkable rise to the summit of the Premier League will undoubtedly be the story of the season. Five of the last six teams that have been top on Christmas Day have go on to lift the coveted title; but can the Foxes really breach the recent dominance of teams such as Manchester City and Chelsea by being crowned champions?

For

Although Leicester have failed to find the net in their last three matches, they still possess a potent threat going forward. Little needs to be said about Vardy and Mahrez: combined, they have scored 28 goals in the Premier League, accounting for 76% of Leicester’s goals.

They have the second best goal-scoring tally in the league, behind a Manchester City side that boasts the likes of Aguero, De Bruyne, Silva and Sterling. The Foxes’ ability to turn defence into attack is among the best in the league; they thrive on the counter-attack, relying on the pace of Mahrez and Albrighton on the wings and Vardy up-top.

Ranieri is an astute tactician and can sense what is needed to achieve the desired result. Knowing when to tinker with your team’s style of play both before and after a match is a quality which will serve the Foxes well: of course, he is known as ‘the tinkerman’. His wealth of experience will assist Leicester in their aim to maintain their current form.

Leicester have also proven that they can compete with the so-called ‘big boys’. Winning against Chelsea and drawing to Manchester United, Manchester City and Spurs display how Ranieri’s significantly cheaper squad are capable of grappling with the top teams. As we know, Championships are invariably decided in big games and Leicester’s record in such games deserves consideration and credit.

Although not known for an intimidating atmosphere, the King Power Stadium could be crucial to Leicester’s hopes of a title challenge. Invariably, fans have an enormous effect on the performance of their team: a charged atmosphere can result in that extra surge of adrenalin, or apathy from the crowd can lead to an abject and dismal display. Thus, if Leicester are to have a chance in causing one of the biggest shocks in Premier League history they will need unrelenting support of the crowd. It seems as though this is the case, currently, as Jamie Vardy told the BBC that “hearing the roar from the crowd makes us believe anything is possible”. Confirming the importance of the fans, Ranieri stated that “without [the fans] we are a normal team”, as per the same BBC report.

Lastly, the usual title-contenders constantly slip-up: the two most likely teams, Manchester City and Arsenal, have a proclivity to ‘self-destruct’, for want of sophistication. Indeed, Arsenal took a battering at St. Mary’s, losing 4-0 to a Southampton side sitting 13th in the league; hardly the stuff of champions? With surrounding teams struggling, there is no reason why Leicester cannot take advantage and steal the title from Stamford Bridge.

Against

It is easy to become washed up in the wave of optimism that flows from the King Power stadium; one must escape such frenzy and look at the Foxes’ faults.

Defensively, Leicester are relatively poor for a top six team: conceding 25 goals, you would have to go all the way down to 13th placed Everton before you find a side that have let in more goals. This vulnerability at the back may cost Ranieri’s men; it certainly did when they were thrashed 5-2 by an exploitative Arsenal side. As the football platitude goes, ‘matches are won by goal, but titles are won by defence’. Such defensive frailty will have to be addressed if Leicester are to mount a serious attack on the title.

Much has been said of the dynamic duo, Vardy and Mahrez, but Leicester’s heavy dependence on the pair may prove detrimental. Apart from the aforementioned players, Leicester have an average set of attacking players. If even one of Vardy or Mahrez were to drop in form or face a spell on the side-lines with injury, then the Foxes would face difficulty in finding another resource for providing goals.

With opposition sides wising up to their threat on the counter-attack, it remains doubtful as to whether Leicester can produce an alternative, but just as effective, way of hurting teams.

Ranieri’s managerial record in delivering major trophies is not exactly impressive. He has only ever won three league titles, and they were in the second tiers of Italian and French football. Consequently, Ranieri’s ability to win a title in a highly competitive and skilled league comes under doubt.

The vastly inexperienced nature of Leicester’s squad coupled with an absence of depth are two stand-out reasons as to why they probably won’t win this year’s title. Despite Vardy and Mahrez’s sensational form, the title appears to be beyond the Foxes’ paws. Having said that, in a season where the unpredictable is becoming increasingly predictable, perhaps Leicester can defy all odds and become Champions.

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