Tuesday 20 March 2018

Foxes in no mood to let bubble burst yet

Jamie Vardy: suffering from 'fever'. Photo: Craig Brough/Action Images via Reuters
Jamie Vardy: suffering from 'fever'. Photo: Craig Brough/Action Images via Reuters

Tim Rich

There is only one question clubs in Leicester City's position are ever asked. When will your bubble burst?

It is put with a kind of glee, as if the Premier League can be taken seriously only when it returns to its 'big four' normality.

And when the final whistle went at Anfield on St Stephen's Day, perhaps those inquisitors could hear the gas escaping from the balloon.

Neither Jamie Vardy nor Riyad Mahrez, the two men most responsible for propelling Leicester to the summit of the Premier League, finished their 1-0 defeat at Liverpool. Vardy was unwell and Mahrez was exhausted.

The greatest enemies Leicester will face in the title run-in is weariness and nerves. Their manager, Claudio Ranieri, said they should "clear our minds and restart" before facing Manchester City tonight, adding they had been "nervous and anxious" against Liverpool. "It is important that we recover our energy and show our football," said the Italian.


Tonight, the Foxes may be without not just Vardy, who is suffering from what Ranieri called "a fever", but men like Jeffrey Schlupp and Danny Drinkwater, who have gathered fewer headlines this season but whose contribution to the team's position has been a solid one.

Every fairytale has a twist and it would be wishful thinking that Leicester would not suffer a blip.

No team since Nottingham Forest in 1978 have won a title so unexpectedly and Brian Clough's freshly promoted side faltered badly in November and faced their nearest challengers - Everton and Liverpool - over Christmas time.

They drew against both and ended the period five points clear of Everton and six of Liverpool in the years when a win bought just two points.

The other template Ranieri might examine is Norwich, who were eight points clear at the top of the Premier League at the start of December 1992 and then failed to score in any of their next five games. Manchester United finished as champions and Norwich ended up third.

Leicester have never had the luxury of those kinds of cushions but they can reassure themselves that every side bar one - Aston Villa - who led the Premier League on Christmas Day finished in what would now be a Champions League qualifying position.

Should Leicester achieve that, it would still make them the team of the season in many people's minds.

Vincent Kompany's withdrawal after just eight minutes of his comeback against Sunderland means that City will have to entrust their central defence to Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala - a combination that has seldom inspired confidence.

Bacary Sagna, who will start at right-back at the King Power Stadium, said Leicester's transformation from Championship to Champions League material did not come as quite the surprise it seemed.

"They have quality players and you could see that last season," he said. "They play as a team and they fight as a team and they are very dangerous. I heard about Mahrez in France when he played for Le Havre.

"Even then, he showed he had the ability to play for a top team. He enjoys his football and he doesn't think too much about it - he is a very instinctive player. We have to focus on the way we communicate with each other. We want to dictate the game and show that we are Manchester City."

Generally, Manchester City have not coped well with the big fixtures this season. Their effortless 3-0 demolition of Chelsea looks less impressive now than it did in August and since then Pellegrini's men have been beaten by Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal.

Sagna is sympathetic to the pressures faced by Mangala, who has yet to prove to anyone why he was thought worthy of a £42m fee.

"Of course, it is never easy to take criticism, but he is still young," said Sagna, who was the same age - 24 - as Mangala when he joined Arsenal from Auxerre.

"The club bought him for a lot of money and that is not easy to deal with because he is always going to have that image of the most expensive defender in the league, but he is working really hard.

"I stay with him after training to work on his position and control of the ball and he is doing quite a lot to make a difference and he is going to be a great defender one day." (© Independent News Service)

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