Sunday 25 February 2018

Leicester proved against Man City that they have the resilience to stay the title course

Claudio Ranieri (Photo: Getty)
Claudio Ranieri (Photo: Getty)

Paul Hayward

Leicester City shirts are seldom seen in Hong Kong or Sydney, but the Foxes have done more to promote the Premier League than a hundred marketing departments.

Bottom of the table as recently as April 10 - but top on Christmas Day - Leicester have helped write a new jingle for England's top division: world's most competitive league.

It used to be "world's best", of course, but that became a big fib when Spain's La Liga pulled away. As a fall-back, "most competitive" is pleasing. The rise and rise of Leicester after a brush with relegation only nine months ago transformed the way we saw the Premier League. And below this stirring tale of great scouting (Riyad Mahrez), hyperactive running (the whole team) and spectacular upward mobility (Jamie Vardy), the top tier now hums with ambition. Think Spurs, Crystal Palace, Stoke or Watford.

Top at Christmas, Leicester strove to be top on New Year's Day as well after Arsenal deposed them with a victory over Bournemouth but head into 2016 in second place after this 0-0 draw. The obstacle was a Manchester City side who can be formidable or flaky, depending on their mood. Free beer for the fans and the traditional toot on a hunting horn heralded a clash of a team that cost around £30million against another worth the thick end of £300million.

Claudio Ranieri, who has built on the foundations laid by Nigel Pearson, confirmed his Italian ancestry by adding caution to Leicester's work. Specifically he deployed Danny Drinkwater, Gokhan Inler and N'Golo Kante in a strong midfield cordon. Ranieri must have sensed that City would come hunting for a big win that would make the title race look like a two-horse race between them and Arsenal.

A gulf in passing and movement was apparent for long stretches, but this is hardly news. The way some people tell it, Leicester have been an ejection waiting to happen: likeable interlopers at a party where only the rich and famous are still standing in April and May. Their defeat at Liverpool ended their 10-match unbeaten league run and brought only their third defeat in 27 fixtures.

They started this game with the same number of goals as City - 37 - and had scored in 14 consecutive home games. All across the side there are interesting talents and tales, with Vardy top of the bill, and Mahrez, a £500,000 buy, staking a claim to be the league's most instinctive ball carrier. Drinkwater, in central midfield, also catches the eye alongside king retriever Kante, another bargain.


Leicester have managed exceptionally well this season without the ball. They screen their own goal expertly and then attack with zest. We are approaching the point in the season when the counter-punching style of so-called lesser teams is put to the test.

Sergio Aguero leaving the field on 63 minutes looked like a boost to their hopes but City were besieging Kasper Schmeichel's goal. Ranieri then sent on Leonardo Ulloa, a striker, in place of Inler.

As the clock ran down it was City feeling the burden of expectation as Leicester showed why they will not fall away into the league's bottom half. In a remarkable year of near calamity and dazzling progress, they have acquired a tenacity that shapes their work.

The chances are that they will advertise the charms of the league again in 2016, just as they have this year. May richer predators steal none of these players in the January transfer window. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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