There are stories, and then there are stories we will always remember. Leicester City’s rise from the bottom on the Premier League is becoming the latter. From the start of the 2014-15 season to this point, 13 rounds into the campaign, the Foxes have played as title contenders do. It should be no surprise to see them at the top of the table. With week after passing week, they are getting better, showing no signs of slowing down. Their fearless approach is working.
Credit where it’s due, manager Claudio Ranieri — formerly known as the Tinkerman — has done a great job. He hasn’t just titivated. He has transformed this squad by instilling an ideology, one that his side reflects well on the field by playing with a definite intent to win the game. For much of last season under Nigel Pearson, the side seemed more concerned with avoiding a defeat. See the change?
Perhaps more importantly, he’s made Leicester more organized. Under Ranieri’s predecessor, that standard of organisation was missing. You could always see some bit of indiscipline in the team’s style of play, and while they were an attack-minded team back then as well, they never looked too difficult to run over. All of that has changed since Ranieri has arrived. Leicester now appear to be a totally different side – a side that can dominate opponents.
What is more fascinating about the Foxes this season is their calmness and strength of mentality under pressure. Whenever they have fallen behind, except for the odd occasion, they have come out on top, or at least rescued a point from unbelievable situations. Rather than giving up when the heat is on, they take the game to the opposition, attacking with absolution and murdering with disdain. It’s quite merciless stuff.
But when talking about being merciless, Jamie Vardy is the one man that comes to mind. Algerian international Riyad Mahrez has also been important to Leicester throughout this surge, but Vardy has become the team’s driving force. The haughty Englishman has arguably been the league’s best player this season, and there’s no doubting he’s the major reason why Leicester are where they are. An intense, industrious character who, with all his verve and zest, performs above his ability every time on the field, the Englishman sets the right example for his fellow teammates, who themselves have raised the bar to play beyond expectations. Vardy makes this team tick.
Perhaps his presence explains another reason Leicester have been so overwhelmingly excellent: their cohesion. It’s important for any squad to share a bond and play as one –not as individuals looking for personal glories — but Leicester City look like a group of true friends – players who are united by a common goal, not personal interests. They belong to different nations, but what brings them together is a hunger we don’t see in many teams, seemingly willing to give everything for the club and the fans who pay to come and see them every week.
It’s hard to predict what awaits the brave Leicester City, but this weekend’s match shapes up as a litmus test. Manchester United, second in the league, visit the King Power Stadium and are set to give the Foxes their first major test since Arsenal drubbed them 5-2 earlier this season. This game is extremely vital to Leicester City’s this season. They’ll know this is the start of a phase where they’ll face top opponents, one after the other. To send a message right away by beating a title contender is what they’ll dearly love.
Regardless of this weekend’s result, Leicester have made a jaw-dropping start to the season, so much so that questions of whether they are serious title contenders are being thrown their way. Now, Ranieri’s men have embarked on their most difficult test, with the pressure to perform coupled by these new, loftier expectations.
There may be a dip. Stories like this rarely persist as we’ve seen in the previous seasons when an unexpected side worked its way to the top, falling right back as and when the pressure rose. However, one would like to believe there’s something different about Leicester’s rise. Unlike many others, they do back themselves to pull of miracles, and to do what has never been done. It’s what sets them apart from many of their ilk.
Come what may, the Foxes are giving English soccer a reason to celebrate, and a story to cherish.
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