The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Leicester City are not falling yet, but by God people are having a right good go. Earlier in the season when it was assumed Leicester’s top-of-the-table antics would soon come to an end, particularly when they were approaching three games in 12 days against Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal at the beginning of February, it was all a bit of a laugh for everyone.
We didn’t hear any negativity about little old Leicester and the amusing and amiable Claudio Ranieri pulling down the trousers of the establishment for all to see. However, now a title win becomes an ever increasing reality for the Italian’s side, the home truths about their own teams are hitting the supporters of those clubs hard.
Naturally, fans of the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool are getting noticeably jealous of the sight of a guy in a blue, black or white shirt (depending on who they’re playing) with the famous red fox on his left breast lifting the Premier League trophy, thinking ‘that could have been us; we’ve been in this division for longer challenging for the Champions League for years and have never won the Premier League, how could this be?!’
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Most football fans and media alike are in raptures at the rise of a club like Leicester breaking the mould, but there are some bitter souls out there who say the Foxes don’t deserve to be champions because of the style of football they play.
What would that be, then? Stout defensive organisation? Constant pressing when losing the ball? An unbelievable work ethic to get back into position and win the ball back? Silky, slick football that has seen Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy score some of the best, spectacular and great team goals of the season? Sensible, no-nonsense defending, hoofing it away when they have to (take note, John Stones)? Quick, one and two-touch passing that would raise the eyebrows of the most staunch Barcelona fan?
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Broadcasters such as Liverpool fan Mickey Quinn have slated the east Midlands outfit. Speaking on Talksport he protested that it’s good to see them up there, but feels that too often they just whack it up to Vardy, are boring - owing much to their recent spate of 1-0 wins - and have had their fair share of good fortune, particularly in the 1-0 defeat of Southampton.
People seem to be getting confused with hit-and-hope balls and passes of pinpointed precision. Leicester participate in the latter. Like Paul Scholes and Steven Gerrard of yesteryear, if Danny Drinkwater sees a ball on that needs to come off the grass, he will go for it.
Pep Guardiola - one of the architects of the tika-taka football style that has turned so many ‘fans’ into snobs, who feel that executing a pass more than ten yards away is not ‘proper’ football - was well known in his playing days for hitting long balls with purpose. Quinn need only have watched his own team being treated like ‘piggies in the middle’ as Leicester’s one and two-touch passing dominated the Reds in their 2-0 defeat to the Foxes back in February.
Not comparing Kasper Schmeichel to his dad Peter, but like his dad, if he catches the ball from a free-kick or corner and sees a player free, he will not hesitate to throw it to him. The goal that stands out is Jamie Vardy’s against Manchester United back in November when Schmeichel caught the ball from a corner, threw it to Christian Fuchs who then ran 30 odd yards before setting Vardy through on goal to inevitably score. And we saw it again for his side’s first goal in Sunday’s 2-2 draw with West Ham United. Too often goalkeepers dwell in those situations, let the opposition get back into position and spurn the chance to counter-attack their depleted rivals.
Like Leicester’s aforementioned game with Southampton, Man United were under the cosh from their title rivals Newcastle United on March 4, 1996 in one of the most one-sided first halves in history – possession and shots wise – but United still managed a 1-0 win. That’s what title winning teams do: win games when they are not playing their best.
Alex Ferguson’s side won nine matches by a one-goal deficit in their last 18 games of that 1995-96 season, with seven of them ending 1-0, and the great man himself has said "Those 1-0s are really important because it points out to me that they are a unit, they're not going to lose," when discussing Leicester's title bid.
Some fans of the league leaders’ only realistic challenger for the title, Tottenham, say the fact that their club are playing after them in every remaining game of the campaign apart from the last one is unfair because there is ‘‘no pressure’’ on the Foxes. But then this works both ways because Spurs should be spurred on whether Leicester win or lose.
If Ranieri’s team win then Tottenham have to win too, while a loss for Leicester gives Mauricio Pochettino’s men belief that they can catch up with a win themselves should they take any notice of the table toppers.
The old adage ‘the league table doesn’t lie’ is a cliché for a reason: because it's true. There will undoubtedly be decisions that go against every club during the season that they could blame on why they lost, but Leicester are seven points clear of their nearest challengers, so unless they’re on performance-enhancing drugs and the games are fixed, there can be no doubt that they’ve deserved it.
We’ve seen the games and there’s definitely nothing whiffy going on; incidents such as the recent handball appeals against them are contentious, none were obviously wrong or right, and opinions were split evenly for and against them. And Sunday's match against West Ham was proof that they don't get everything their own way.
Football incorporates many styles of play and Leicester have employed all of them to get where they are today. They have the ability to be skilful and ‘easy on the eye’ and have been when they’ve wanted and needed to be; when they’ve needed the basics in defending, Wes Morgan and Robert Huth have been tremendous at the back blocking, clearing and heading away most chances other teams create; and the most underrated characteristic that every team should abide by - working hard to get the ball back, a feat they accomplish so quickly. As soon as they lose the ball their minds are focused on winning it back rather than strolling around or mulling over a miss or failed pass like so many players do.
They’ve been pretty, ruthless, hardworking, ugly, stoic, devastating, spectacular, sensible and any other useful adjective you can think of. All hallmarks of a deserving champion.
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