kayode OGUNDARE @kaybabaa99:
With only seven games to go, the race for who wins the English Premier League in the 2015/16 season has somehow turned out to be the classical Bible case of David versus Goliath, a contest of willpower between a superpower with enough resources to blow opponents out of the water and a minnow struggling to keep its head above sea level in sharks-infested water.
The only twist in this (fairy)tale is that, instead of one giant in the original story, there are two hulking predators breathing down the neck of the ‘little’ David.
Such has been the extra-ordinary nature of this race that I’ve taken poetic license to stretch this phrase a bit further. It is now a battle between David and not one Goliath but two, both domiciled in the North London part of the British capital.
Leicester eked out a 1-0 win at Crystal-Palace on Saturday – their third successive single-goal victory in as many games – to underline a fact critics have refused to countenance all season long: champions sometimes win ugly and these Foxes have champions’ genes in their DNA.
There’s been a subtle disdain, contempt even, by the traditional big teams who still cannot believe that these usurpers with a miserly budget (the whole team is worth less than what Manchester City spent on Raheem Sterling’s transfer from Liverpool) who have continued to confound and shame those whose birthright it is to fight for and win the Premier League every season.
And, truth be told, Leicester have handled the pressure excellently. Rather than play the victims and blame every misfortune – perceived or real – as a gang up by those who feel threatened by their success.
Claudio Ranieri could have chosen to build a siege mentality in his players, whimpering about how decisions go against them and concocting conspiracy theory about how the rest of the Premier League cannot wait to see them fail.
Rather, like the seasoned campaigner that he is, the ‘Tinkerman’ has stoically gone about his business of building a closely-knit fighting unit of hardy warriors who fight for one another devoid of ego.
Now, with just 21 games left to play for, Leicester are within touching distance of the title and can literarily taste the Premier League so you can understand why they are unwilling to blink lest the dream is snatched away within the twinkle of an eye.
And the North London teams, sworn rivals that they are, are united in their mutual desire to see Leicester slump and fall out of contention. I suspect though that Arsenal would rather have Leicester win the title than let it go to their arch-rivals. I’m sure, also, that the feeling is mutual for Tottenham as far as Arsenal are concerned.
Luckily for Leicester, their only trip to London is at Chelsea and the Blues will undoubtedly be unwilling to do either Tottenham or Arsenal any favours.
Over five weeks ago, I wrote the piece below with 12 games left to play. Five games later, I’m still not convinced of the need to change my opinion of the destination of the Premier League title.
I’ve slightly edited the article to reflect the five games which have been played since it was first published but the essence is unchanged. Enjoy it…
WHY THE EPL HAS LEICESTER CITY WRITTEN ALL OVER IT
If you placed a N1,000 bet on Leicester City finishing in the top 10 when the league kicked off last August, you’re guaranteed to rake in N5m on that small investment.
If you believed, last August, that the Foxes will end up among the top four and backed up your belief with a token sum of N500, by now you should be expecting a bank alert that your bookmaker has credited with about N2.5m.
Again, if you wagered just N100 that Leicester City will win the Premier League and your friends looked at you as if you’d gone loco, it is becoming very possible that you could yet have the last laugh on May 15 by winning as much as N500,000. Exciting, isn’t it?
Its still one of the wonders of the new world that Leicester City which struggled to escape relegation by the skin of their teeth last season are now in pole position to win a first-ever Premier League title this term.
Its the stuff dreams are made off and I’m not sure there’s one Leicester City fan who’ll want to wake up until the morning of May 16 when the title would have been successfully captured and bagged.
You don’t have to be a Leicester fan to admit that the Foxes play a particular brand of football that’s at once exquisite and effective and it is worth remembering that Leicester aren’t a particularly big side: of their regular XI only the centre-backs are 6ft or above yet only one team – Arsenal – have been able to do the double over the Foxes this season so you can situate what Claudio Ranieri’s men have done in context.
To put things in better perspective, of Europe’s top five leagues, only Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain have lost fewer matches than Leicester this season.
And if you consider that all of these was achieved with a miserly £35m budget as against the seemingly bottomless pockets of their rivals, then you’ll admit, even if grudgingly, that they have over-achieved.
Looking at the remaining games left to play, you’ll be forgiven if you think the guy who made these fixtures is a Leicester City fan.
Ranieri’s men have a easier run of fixtures than any of their rivals and its not hard to see why bookmakers will keep slashing the odds on their winning the title.
The last four games against top 10 sides will include visits to Watford and the notoriously unpredictable Manchester United as well as home fixtures against West Ham and Southampton.
Good news for the Foxes, they’re not going to play against any of their direct rivals again this season but the last three games against Manchester United, Everton and Chelsea could dramatically impact the title race.
More importantly, to echo the words of Riyad Mahrez, Leicester “have nothing to lose. If we finish first, it’s a bonus. If we finish in the top four places, it’s still ok. A dream is better than an obligation.”
The rest of the league better beware of the Foxes because they have absolutely nothing to lose!
Sunderland (A); West Ham (H)
Swansea (H); Man United (A)
Everton (H); Chelsea (A)
Second-placed Tottenham are also on a fairy-tale run of their own and could have been the story of the season were it not for Leicester’s.
Half of Spurs’ remaining games will be against teams currently in the top half of the table but, more importantly, they face Liverpool, Manchester United, and Chelsea aside tricky games against Southampton, Stoke and West Ham.
You know Leicester are the team to beat when the League’s leading scorer Harry Kane all but prayed for the Foxes to stumble because, obviously, it would take something divine to stop them.
The Spurs striker said: “Leicester keep winning games but so do we, so we just have to carry on doing that and then when we get to the last few games of the season, see what happens. Hopefully they will slip up and lose a few points, but either way we have to carry on winning and we have got some big games coming up. I would rather have the five-point lead but with Leicester usually playing first we know what we have to do and there are still a lot of points up for grabs.”
If Mauricio Pochettino’s men could hold their own against these formidable opposition, and seriously I see no reason why they cannot, then they can stake a seriously claim to the title.
Man Utd (H); Stoke City (A)
West Brom (H); Chelsea (A)
Southampton (H); Newcastle (A)
If there’s one thing everybody is agreed upon, it is the fact that this season could be Arsenal’s best ever opportunity to win the Premier League since the Invincibles of 2014 and the Gunners have been at one of their most consistent best in years.
However a bad patch of luck and dropped points during the December period brought back the all-too familiar feelings that Arsenal could still bottle it when it matters most. Manager Arsene Wenger has been under the hammer with fans openly revolting against the Frenchman after the club lost valuable grounds in the title race as well as in other cup competitions.
Arsenal are now six points behind Tottenham in second place and a massive 11 behind leaders Leicester City. Only the most ardent Gunners fan will stake a three-dollar on Arsenal winning the title although, mathematically, it is still a big possibility.
On the flip side of that argument, arithmetically it is still possible for 9th-placed Liverpool to win the title. Yet, you cannot rule Arsenal out…just yet.
West Ham (A); C. Palace (H)
Sunderland (A); Norwich (H)
Man City (A); Aston Villa (H)
With the foregoing, and giving how they have played so far, you have a feeling that Leicester will limp over the finishing, if need be but certainly they would be lifting the title come May 16.
Besides, Sir Alex Ferguson, that wily old Scot who’s won more EPL titles than any other, has tipped Leicester to win the title April 24, with three games to spare.
Who will bet against Leicester or Sir Alex? Certainly not me
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