Whatever happens as of now in this ludicrously interchangeable Premier League season verges on the immaterial, the overwhelming and at times emotional experience felt by Leicester City fans yesterday during the rain soaked ninety minutes at the Etihad cannot be diminished.
To witness your team go into a supposed title-decider and completely dismantle the favourites was astonishing and it was done exactly the way Leicester have done it all season. A probing, hustling approach that’s become synonymous with the side, defending with guile and craft, breaking at rapid speed and finishing clinically.
Less than a decade ago the foxes were playing at sparkling venues such as Glanford Park on dreary September Saturdays so to see them out battle, pass and score a £220 million assembled side like Manchester City in their back yard with consummate ease was a feast for the footballing senses that galvanised supporters whose club don’t have top-four ambitions to become quietly chanting members of the ever-increasing blue army.
That superb performance convinced the non-believing nation who have claimed for months that wheels will fall off that it can in-fact be done. The team labelled as certainties for relegation are now five points clear of their nearest rivals and it appears the not so aptly named ‘Tinkerman’ (Ranieri has made the least amount of changes of any Premier League manager this season) may have discovered the perfect formula that could potentially lead to one of the biggest upsets in footballing history.
Based on the solid foundation of rough, tough and experienced defenders that have learnt how to cut out costly individual errors (Thankfully Simpson’s dire back pass didn’t lead to an Aguero second). The central duo of Huth and Morgan have forged a formidable core of the back line, playing alongside other defenders they appear a little lost but together they’ve become a fearsome twosome, understanding each other’s weaknesses and knowing when to step back and cover. Despite his momentary lack of focus in the latter stages of yesterday’s game, Danny Simpson has been superb this year, hard in the tackle and pacey enough to support the droving pack-like counter attacks. He’s a fine example of why Leicester are doing so well, peripheral figures last year such as himself, Drinkwater (Who should most certainly receive an England call up) and Albrighton have come to the fore-front and gone from average players to very good ones. Ranieri seemingly having similar abilities to Martin O’Neill during the glory years of the late nineties, to inspire those who maybe don’t believe in themselves. Journeymen and injury plagued cast offs who have now become crucial elements of a league chasing side. Christian Fuchs, the Austrian captain is dare I say it one of the finest left backs in the league, an excellent tackler whose deadly from set-pieces, a curling corner providing for Huth’s towering header.
The relentless energy and desire of Kante spearheads Leicester’s midfield. Bought at what has transpired to be a mere pittance of £5.6 million from Caen he fights for every ball, wins it and then lays it off for the more skilful individuals such as Mahrez to provide the sophisticated and goal creating touches. Last season he was top of the statistics table across Europe for winning the most tackles and he comfortably sits aloft of the Premier League challenge tally for this year. When he first arrived in the East Midlands, to help settle him in, the club asked what car he would like and he very sincerely answered, ‘I don’t need one, I’ll run everywhere.’ He eventually subsided, realising that the training ground was too far to jog to every week day morning and got a Mini which he apparently loves, but that utterance embodies the work ethic and fitness the new Makelele has.
The two men in attack who have accrued the majority of headlines this year are of course Vardy and Mahrez, pacey, direct and lethal. The former’s rags to riches story is well documented, a real Roy of the Rovers who worryingly dropped off over the festive period, but having had a groin operation he claims to feel better than ever and the fortnight’s rest the minor medical procedure afforded him has paid dividends, culminating in a goal of the season contender against damp squibs Liverpool. Mahrez had started to take on the rather aloof, contemptuous, not tracking back air of a highly creative player during January but he too is re-discovering his fine mid-season form, providing a Messi-esque assist for Ulloa’s third against Stoke and he left heavy footed Demichelis for dead yesterday, defeated Hart in the battle of the eyes and finished beautifully for Leicester’s second.
The manager has enabled the team to play to its strengths, stay compact and disciplined, don’t keep hold of the ball for too long and do something important when you have it. This simple, fearless style has proved highly-effective.
Highly audible cries of derision from the furious tapping of keyboards and updating of Twitter accounts could be heard when Ranieri was first appointed, Leicester’s favourite son of a grocer, Gary Lineker being one of the most critical, he now looks set to do Match of the Day in his birthday suit if Leicester’s fairy tale continues. Having endured an abysmal tenure with Greece, including a humiliating defeat to the Faroe Islands, many were initially and rightly baffled by the Thai owner’s appointment. Derided as a lovable old buffoon who entertained journalists with his mispronunciation and offers of Sloppy Giuseppe’s for clean sheets, he’s proven himself to be an outstanding tactician and motivator in what maybe his managerial swansong. Belying his nickname he’s kept meddling to a minimum (in some cases not often enough when the team has appeared tired), keeping Nigel Pearson’s back room staff and only adding the odd player including two young and exciting prospects in the shape of and Daniel Amartey.
Like Claudio said in a post-match interview after the demolition of City, ‘This is a fantastic moment for the Premier League’. It was, but every moment of this season has been fantastic for a Leicester City supporter from the opening day pummelling of Sunderland where the optimism began to yesterday’s embarrassment of our supposed main rivals. And if it transpires that a youthful and talented Spurs pip us to the post or Aguero lead’s a Man City resurgence, this is a truly special time that can never be taken from us.