Football

Jamie Vardy will play in the Champions League next season.

Jamie Vardy names Pepe the Champions League defender he fears playing

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Imagine a world where Leicester City are taking on Real Madrid.

Imagine it, because it might well happen.

The Foxes are riding high atop the Premier League table and, with 12 games remaining, only a massive collapse would prevent them the top four finish they need to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

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Claudio Ranieri’s team are the feel-good story of the season - they have shown that money isn’t the only root to success - and have Jamie Vardy to thank for much of their fortunes.

The non-league striker turned England star leads Sergio Aguero and Harry Kane in the race for the Golden Boot having scored 19 times this season.

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As incredulous as it sounds, European football beckons for Vardy and co.

And the 29-year-old is already looking forward to it after naming the one Champions League defender he fears playing against the most.

FBL-ENG-PR-LEICESTER-MAN UTD

There are a host of centre-backs who would provide a stern test for the striker, including Raphael Varane, Giorgio Chiellini, Vincent Kompany, Gerard Pique and Mats Hummels.

But he didn’t name any of those.

When asked the defender he would least like to come up against, he told Betfair (as quoted by Goal): “That’s a toughy. If we got there I’d probably say I wouldn’t like to play against Pepe.

“You see some of the tackles he flies in with, not for me that.”

Before digesting Vardy’s selection, you’ve got to admire his choice of words. Despite having a 12-point cushion over fifth-placed Manchester United, the forward saying “if we got there” proves he realises there’s still work to be done to qualify for the Champions League.

Pepe v Vardy

It would certainly be an interesting battle between Vardy and Pepe. The former Fleetwood Town player has overcome the best defenders in England this season but he hasn’t faced one as tenacious as Pepe, who wouldn’t be afraid to ruffle Vardy’s feathers with some contentious tackles.

Then again, what’s to say Pepe won’t be sent off and Vardy will score a hat-trick in the Portuguese’s absence?

Title race

Leicester’s pursuit of the Premier League title continues on Saturday with a home game against strugglers Norwich. It’s a game Ranieri will be fully expecting to win and, given that the Foxes haven’t played since February 14, there is no excuse for tired legs.

That could be the deciding factor in the title race. Unlike Leicester, their nearest competitors Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City all have European commitments - although Arsenal, two points behind the table-toppers, probably have just one Champions League game left - and the ability to focus solely on one tournament should play into Leicester’s hands.

Manchester City v Leicester City - Premier League

On the other hand, Ranieri’s men have never been in this situation before and could succumb to the mental pressures of a title hunt, just as Liverpool did two seasons ago.

Vardy should use the dream - or perhaps nightmare - of lining up opposite Pepe to spur him on.

Would Vardy get the better of Pepe? Let us know in the comments section below!

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Topics:
Manchester United
Leicester City
UEFA Champions League
Barcelona
Premier League
Real Madrid
Football
Pepe

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