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Even though I’d presumptuously handed over the title to Leicester in this piece written on February 21, I somehow contrived to leave the door open by unwittingly admitting here in this other article that there could be an off-side chance that North London’s two teams may not just be willing to roll down and cede the title to the Foxes.
Now, with just four games to go, 12 points left to fight for and five points between the top two, I’ve chosen Sunday’s game between history-chasing Leicester and West Ham to highlight how Claudio Ranieri’s men have fought to deservedly be where they are today.
The five proofs why Leicester have garnered 73 points from 34 games, scored 59 and conceded 33 are all evident in that game which ended in a thrilling 2-2.
Let’s see the ‘proofs’ of how Leicester’s season was embodied in just one match —
- LUCK: Though you may argue that it is scientifically not possible to prove the phenomenon called ‘luck’ in football or any sports or even in life itself, but there are some ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ moments in the game that could have gone either way in a hair’s breath.
Every great team in history, and the not so greats, has had their lucky breaks at pivotal moments in the course of making history and each team can look at some specific points in their season when they knew the fruit could have fallen on either side of the fence.
One of such ‘ooh’ moments came in just the second minute of the game when Jasper Schmeicel, in goal for Leicester, punched Chiekh Kouyate’s header on to the post from an angle where it was easier for the ball to just roll into the net but, amazingly, it rebounded off the other upright and rested in the grateful hands of the goalkeeper. DailyMail’s Martin Samuel reckoned it was ‘the law of Physics’ that was responsible for that mini-miracle.
If that goal had gone in, as early as the second minute, you could be sure that it would have changed the total complexion of the game and this is a reflection of the kind of breaks the Foxes have gotten, sometimes inadvertently, in the course of their title-chasing season.
2. TACTICS: Everybody has marveled about the kind of system Claudio Ranieri employs which has been very effective in terms of goalscoring as their 59 goals in 34 games (third-best in the Premier League).
The Tinkerman has perfected the art of rapid transition from defence into attack once the Foxes are in possession and they have honed this skill to devastating effect.
This was displayed in Leicester’s first goal of the match which was produced in just 10 touches from one end of the pitch to another. It began when the ball fell to goalkeeper Schmeicel who punted it forward to Riyad Mahrez. The mercurial midfielder trapped the ball on his left foot and moved it forward twice with the right. The fourth touch was a cross-field pass to N’golo Kante who also made two touches before releasing striker Jamie Vardy.
The hitman collected the ball on his right leg and eased it to the left before releasing a cannon of a shot that flew past goalkeeper Adrian in goal for West Ham. From start to finish was less than 90 seconds and the goal highlighted the speed of light with which the Foxes have obliterated teams all season long.
3. CONSISTENCY: There is a consistency that comes with stability and that is one factor which has helped this small squad of players to punch above their weight all season long.
The line-up that started the game against West Ham was the same that started 12 of the last 14 games and, of the small squad of players, only 12 have started 25 games or more this season to show how compact the team has been all season.
This has turned out to be a source of strength for the Foxes, rather than a burden, as the players have an almost telepathic understanding of the location of their teammates at every point in time.
4. TERRIFIC TRIO: Even as much as been made of the compactness of the Leicester team, yet there are still individual players who have stood out for their outstanding contribution to the team’s cause.
Captain Wes Morgan and Robert Huth stand solidly in front of goalkeeper Schmeicel and, together, the three have formed a defensive solidity which has seen the Foxes concede the third fewest number of goals in the League.
In the middle, Danny Drinkwater has been phenomenal and in such scintillating form that he’s been able to play his way into the England team.
However, it is the trident of Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N’golo Kante who embody the Leicester City ethos, having scored 39 Premier League goals and 21 assists between them. They were the only outfield players on the pitch who touched the ball after it left the keeper’s hand until it rested in the opposite net.
Needless to say, the three are on the shortlist for the PFA Player of the Year award.
5. SAVVY LEADERSHIP: If Leicester City go on to win this title, it will be down to the effort of the players as much as the ability of the manager.
Ranieri did not get here by happenstance. Having managed at Napoli, Fiorentina, Valencia, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea Parma,Juventus Roma, Inter Milan and Monaco, the 64-year old Italian is battle-hardened enough to know that each match has its own individual dynamics and experienced enough to know what is required for each situation.
Take that epic moment when Jamie Vardy was shown the red for a second yellow card. With his team ahead by a lone goal in the 57th minute and his star striker given an early shower, one would have expected the manager to try and sit on the one-nil scoreline by immediately sacrificing an attacking player for a defender.
Not the man called the Tinkerman. He hauled off Shinji Okazaki but promptly brought in another attacker Leonardo Ulloa who helped maintained an attacking threat all through the game and who, as it transpired, scored the late minute penalty goal that tied up the match at 2-2 for a potentially very important point.
Ranieri’s experienced enough to navigate this four last games, seeing how hard they promise to be what with Tottenham breathing down their necks.
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