Tuesday 21 November 2017

Leicester finally earning some trust

Robert Huth celebrates after scoring against Manchester City. Photo: Nigel French/PA Wire
Robert Huth celebrates after scoring against Manchester City. Photo: Nigel French/PA Wire

This column used to feature a section called 'Bet You Should Have Done' which told readers the odds of a result happening after the event, mainly with the purpose of annoying them.

It was dropped with neither fanfare nor phone calls querying its demise but, had it still been going, Leicester City would have been the headline almost every week.

The 5000/1 odds of Leicester winning the Premier League before the season started are widely reported, but despite proving their credentials on a weekly basis, bookmakers are still happy to price them generously enough that they know they're unlikely to lose money.

On Saturday, the team that was top of the league and who had the best away record in the division travelled to face a team with a lame-duck manager and a batch of players who know that, with Pep Guardiola's arrival, their days are probably numbered. Despite that, Leicester were 5/1 to beat Manchester City.

It's obviously easy to be wise after the event but there can't have been many occasions in Premier League history that a team with just two defeats in 24 games has been such long odds against to win a game, albeit against a team which, on paper and in the transfer market, are superior.


And yet, it's part of the pattern of Leicester's season that, despite continuing evidence that they are worthy of it, supporters, pundits and punters just don't seem to trust them.

So far in the league this season, Leicester have been priced at better than odds on just four times - in other words, they were given a less than 50-50 chance of winning 21 of their 25 matches.

Those four games were against Sunderland at home on the opening day (10/11); Aston Villa at home (19/20); Watford at home (5/6) and home to Bournemouth (9/10) and they justified the favouritism by taking 10 points from the 12 on offer.

It's understandable that they wouldn't be expected to win at the likes of Manchester City (5/1); Tottenham (4/1); Everton (27/10) or at home to Chelsea (11/5) - even though they won all four - but it's a testament to just how little respect they have earned before games kick-off that they were priced at 11/10 last month to beat Stoke before winning 3-0 or 11/5 win at Norwich, back in October.

The odds for the game at Carrow Road were probably framed by the previous week's defeat against Arsenal which many expected to be the starting point for a bubble bursting. After Saturday, people are still waiting.

There aren't too many punters with the 5,000/1 docket and 'Premier League winners: Leicester' written on it but, already, the measure of their achievement can be measured by the 15 games they have won for which a rolling €1 accumulator on these games alone had odds of 5,757,678/1.

If you had it, and wanted to get closer to €20million, you could lump it all on them to beat Arsenal next Sunday at 7/2.

That said, most bookmakers would have offered even greater odds were anybody to have asked what price they could have got on a team containing Wes Morgan, Marc Albrighton, Danny Simpson, Danny Drinkwater and Jamie Vardy winning the league given their career paths until this season.

And that's the real beauty of Leicester's story, that they are showing up the rest of the Premier League with players that were available to any club in the competition and they are doing it with a spirit that was absent in a quite pathetic Manchester City performance.

There has been no huge investment in a youth programme that has produced players who would be ripe for poaching by bigger clubs, nor has there been a big-name signing around which the team has flourished.

Instead, they have picked up a collection of journeyman players with whom the manager has put 'spirit' as the most important criteria.

They have defenders who like to defend, midfielders who strive to win the ball back and are comfortable when they get it and, in Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, two players who have been given the freedom and a platform to prove a point. They aren't doing anything special which couldn't be done by other clubs which is what makes their season all the more extraordinary.

The €520,000 that Leicester paid for Mahrez is roughly what Manchester City pay Yaya Toure every 12 days or so but, in virtually every incident during Saturday's game, Leicester made things happen while Manchester City waited for them to happen.

For Robert Huth's opening goal, there was no City player with enough desire or positional acumen to position himself in the way of what was a relatively straightforward cross from Mahrez.

A few minutes later, at the other end, Aleksandar Kolarov drilled a free-kick across the box which Huth put his head on to deflect over for a corner. The power of the cross was such that the man who describes himself as having a square head almost had it turned into a pentagon as he stumbled across the box following the impact but, like most of his team-mates, he was happy to put his body on the line. Or, to put it another way, the players were willing and able to do their own jobs.

Kolarov was again involved later in the half when he went into a tackle with Morgan and then landed several feet behind the defender while the ball went in the opposite direction.

It was a tackle that Morgan would expect to make but was conspicuous given Nicolas Otamendi's effort in a similar part of the pitch to stop Mahrez in the lead up to Leicester's crucial second goal.

With the Manchester City defender barely up off his backside, Mahrez swept towards goal and finished with a panache which was a perfect metaphor for Leicester's game and season. It even made them favourites to win the league.

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