Blog Written by Liam Stewart (@stevenstewart56):
Wouldn’t it be amazing if Leicester won the Premier League this season? Well, no, but I’m only saying that because I’m an Arsenal fan. But in a world where I wasn’t an Arsenal fan, yes it would be amazing if The Foxes maintained their remarkable rise.
Certainly Claudio Ranieri isn’t dreaming just yet. After their impressive 1-0 win against a sprightly and rather scary Tottenham side, the former Roma and Juventus coach was animated in his cautiousness. “I laugh, it’s January. What a pity! If it was May, maybe. We must continue to work hard, to keep our feet on the ground. It is a crazy, crazy league this year and we must continue.”
Despite their manager’s conservative attitude, nothing has been able to really slow the Leicester train down. Goals have dried up of late, just two in their last five league games, but Ranieri has made up for this by improving The Foxes defensively. Since November, the defense led by the experienced Wes Morgan and the wily Robert Huth has conceded just seven goals in their last 11 games. Considering that they conceded 19 in their first 11 games of the season, this is a remarkable improvement.
But can The Foxes really continue their hunt for the Premier League title? Logic says no, and my Arsenal driven heart also says no. However, Champions League qualification is certainly not out of their reach.
A 2008-09 Hull City collapse is extremely unlikely, firstly because of the sheer quality of Leicester’s players. The qualities of the rambunctious Jamie Vardy and the virtuoso Riyad Mahrez are there for all to see. N’Golo Kante’s energetic and hectic style would be a welcome presence in pretty much every Premier League side (including Arsenal, Arsene…), as would the increased penetration of Danny Drinkwater. Even the rather technically limited and awkward looking Marc Albrighton, is an extremely effective presence on Leicester’s left wing.
However, Ranieri’s low-risk, yet, clearly high-reward style is what I think will secure Leicester City a top-four finish. The Foxes, like Albrighton, play to and maximize their strengths. The pragmatic, yet effervescent Italian, is not interested in getting his side to play silky football. That’s not to say his players aren’t capable of playing in such a way, they have the technical ability. But what would be the point of taking the risk when their direct and, honest hard-working style gets the best out of his players.
However, fatigue and injuries could be a worry as the season end draws near especially considering Ranieri has only included 17 of his players in starting lineups this season. The ‘Tinkerman’ tag he used to be labeled with in his Chelsea days really is no longer apt.
Yet, Leicester’s impressive comeback in their 2-2 draw with Tottenham in their FA Cup 3rd round tie shows Ranieri has depth in his squad. The likes of Gokhan Inler and Yohan Benalouane have been underused this season, but their quality could become important later in the season. Furthermore, the additions of exciting winger Demarai Gray and highly-rated Ghanaian youngster Daniel Amartey, will excite and enthuse Leicester City fans, as well as further add to the strength of Ranieri’s options. If The Foxes could maybe find another striker to help take the weighty goal scoring load off Vardy, Mahrez and Shinji Okazaki, then Leicester would really have a squad capable of Champions League qualification. Leonardo Ulloa was useful last season but is increasingly looking out of his depth in this much-improved squad.
In response to my earlier question, yes it would be amazing if Leicester City won the Premier League this season but they won’t, sorry Leicester fans. However, Champions League is seriously not out of reach for this so-called ‘overachieving’ Foxes side. If Leicester really go all 1970’s and rise from last seasons admirable 14th place finish, to a top-four finish this season it would be an achievement unparalleled in Premier League history and one, in an age of financial heavyweights in football, that will be remembered for many years to come.