Leicester City continues to confound experts with play
Every single one of the so-called experts who are lucky enough to earn a living from giving opinions about football called it badly.
Leicester City, we said, would be relegated. At best, narrowly escape the drop.
Because it had narrowly escaped going down last May and then appointed Claudio Ranieri to succeed Nigel Pearson, a manager with more sacks than a decent defensive lineman.
It is time to wipe the egg off our faces before the main course of humble pie. Leicester has been arguably the most exciting team in the Premier League and it is an unlikely (we predicted) third, three points behind leader Manchester City.
So where did it all go right for Leicester, which should keep its impressive run going Saturday when it hosts Watford?
The Foxes looked nailed on for relegation last season, but despite some bizarre off-the-field behavior by Pearson, the team pulled together and stayed up. In fact, Leicester has lost just twice since April so its current form is really a follow-on from how it finished last time around.
Most of the side currently playing so well emerged under Pearson. Claudio Ranieri, a calm Italian replacing an angry Englishman, is ensuring the smoothest of takeovers at King Power Stadium, where supporters are enjoying the most entertaining side most can remember.
Under former Chelsea manager Ranieri, Leicester has placed the emphasis on attack, throwing caution to the wind this season and has really gone for the opposition in every game.
Inevitably this means it leave itself open defensively, though Leicester’s spirit has made it the comeback king — it has earned a league-high 10 points from losing positions this season, coming back from a two-goal deficit three times in six matches.
Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and defenders Wes Morgan and Jeffrey Schlupp have shown their qualities, while new signings Gokhan Inler (£5 million from Napoli) and Japan’s Shinji Okazaki (£7 million from Mainz) have settled in well.
But it is Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy in attack who have stolen most of the headlines, helping the Foxes to be the second-highest scorers behind Manchester City.
Algeria international Mahrez is one of a rare breed, a player who can dribble effectively, and he has made some of the Premier League’s top defenders embarrassed as he waltzes past them.
At 28, success has come late to Vardy who is the league’s leading scorer with 11 goals, more than double his tally of five last season. Pearson tended to use Vardy in a wide position, but as the central striker under Ranieri he has added clinical finishing to his blistering pace and prodigious work-rate.
As he was slowly climbing the league ladder Vardy was charged with assault after becoming involved in a fight in a pub to protect, he claimed, a friend. He had to wear an electronic tag and was often forced to dash back from games to beat a curfew.
“I did get into a bit of trouble back then,” he said. “I am obviously not proud of what happened but it happened so I think things happen for a reason and I have turned my life around now and I am happy the way I am.”
Four years ago, Vardy was a part-timer with FC Halifax Town in the Northern Premier League, which has helped him to appreciate the lifestyle he can now enjoy.
He said: “It isn’t easy when you are younger. You’re working full time and you see the players on Match of the Day and you want exactly the same boots they’ve got.
“Then you face up to having to fork out £130 or £140 for a pair. So you get a rip in yours and you think ‘I’ll tape that up a bit.’
“Now I’ve got a boot deal which is brilliant because as soon as the new ones come out or there’s a new color, the boots just get sent to me.”
His goal exploits have seen him win four England caps and Vardy has justifiable hopes of being part of the Euro 2016 squad even if the more experienced strikers with fitness concerns — Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck — are available.
In the meantime, Ranieri and Leicester continue to confound those who doubted them with a brand of football that has lit up the Premier League. They are 11 points ahead of his former club, Chelsea, but gloating is not part of the Italian’s DNA.
We are delighted to have been proven wrong about one of the nicest managers to grace English football.
Cynical reaction: The smile on Jose Mourinho’s face was sarcasm personified. Diego Costa went over in the penalty area against Dynamo Kiev, but the referee waved play on. The Chelsea manager’s expression told its own story: what more proof do you need that referees are afraid to give Chelsea penalties?
Quite a lot, actually.
Hopefully, when Mourinho saw the incident again he would realize the reason no penalty was awarded was because Costa dived. The Spain striker was fortunate not to be cautioned for simulation. It must also be hoped that Mourinho would have told Costa not to cheat.
Similarly, Ashley Young, a serial diver, was at it again against CSKA Moscow. It wasn’t even a good dive by the Manchester United player. In the interest of fair play, Louis van Gaal should have told Young not to cheat, too.
If and when an opponent is awarded a penalty kick after diving against Chelsea or United, the reaction of the respective managers will be significant.