Flashback to this time last year and it was far from a merry Christmas for Leicester City fans. The newly promoted Foxes were bottom of the table, with only three wins from 19 and relegation back to the Championship looming. Even the most avid a Leicester fan wouldn’t have dreamt of what would happen next.
Since Claudio Ranieri has taken over at the start of the season, Leicester have been transformed from a team fighting to stay in the division to league leaders, embarrassing former champions along the way. Many credit this success to Jamie Vardy, with the former Fleetwood Town striker breaking Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s record of scoring in 10 successive Premier League matches. His raw pace and strength is refreshing to see at such a high level of football, and has meant he is currently the Premier League’s top goal scorer and one of the most in form strikers in Europe.
Of course Leicester’s success cannot be associated with just one man. They have played a exhilarating style of football this season under Ranieri, with all of the players working in harmony with one another to break down and conquer bigger teams like Chelsea and Everton, as well as proving their worth against in form teams such as West Ham and Watford. Riyad Mahrez too has been in excellent form, scoring 13 goals so far this campaign and assisting seven, meaning the Foxes have scored 37 goals so far this season, more than any other team. In midfield N’Golo Kanté has been in inspired form also, offering a fast and powerful outlet to break down opposition attacks and helps to drive the ball up the field.
Whilst certain individuals must be applauded, one cannot help but admire the way in which Leicester have played as a unit this season, and so the efforts of Ranieri must be acknowledged. The Italian has injected a level of energy into the team, allowing them to play to their strengths to great effect. Recently, individuals such as Mahrez and Vardy have been unplayable, yet even after beating Everton 3-2, Ranieri insisted his main target was still to reach the 40-point barrier to ensure Premier League survival. What Ranieri has shown is the importance of having the confidence and support of the players, as he commented midweek that it simply wasn’t just Vardy and Mahrez pulling the strings for the Foxes.
‘When you do this kind of performance a lot of times, it is not only Vardy or Mahrez,’ said Ranieri. ‘Remember, even Maradona alone did nothing. He needed other players around him. Together, we are producing as a very good team.’
With the January transfer window approaching, Ranieri now faces the task of not only holding his best players, but also strengthening the squad without upsetting the perfect balance we have seen so far this season. Should Leicester hold onto Vardy and Mahrez, it is only a matter of time before they will begin to be considered as title contenders. One thing is for certain: Leicester City topping the table is much more than simply a Christmas miracle.
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