Can Leicester win the Premier League?

20 January 2021 02:30

On 14 December 2015, Leicester defeated Chelsea 2-1 at the King Power Stadium, thanks to fine goals from Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy.

The victory strengthened the Foxes' hold on the top of the table and led to onlookers finally taking their title chances seriously. It also proved to be the final nail in the coffin for Jose Mourinho, who was dismissed by his employers soon after.

Little over five years later, history seems to be repeating himself. Leicester's 2-0 win over Chelsea on Tuesday night was every bit as impressive, if not more so, than their 2015 victory. The result could also lead to the sacking of another Blues manager, with Frank Lampard's future looking increasingly insecure.

Vardy featured in both victories over Chelsea | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The parallels are eerie, but is this really the moment when Leicester's current title charge becomes more than a fanciful daydream? It feels that way, definitely.

The Foxes have now played 19 games and have racked up 38 points, only one fewer than they had accrued at the halfway stage of the impossible 2015/2016 campaign. Extrapolating their current points out, they are projected to finish on 76, a total that has been enough to ensure a top four finish in each of the previous six seasons.

This suggests that in the second half of the campaign, the Foxes will need to find a few extra points in order to finish top of the pile. Fortunately, doing this looks achievable. During their first 19 games, Leicester faltered against some sides they should be beating. Fulham and Crystal Palace have both taken points off of Brendan Rodgers' charges, and on current form, avoiding defeat in return fixtures against West Ham, Aston Villa and Everton is not unrealistic either.

Liverpool are the only one of Leicester's 'big six' rivals that have beaten them so far, with the Foxes securing famous wins over Manchester City, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea, as well as a draw with Manchester United. This ability to mix it with the elite will be important as the campaign draws to a no doubt, dramatic conclusion.

While all of the above is promising, one thing that will be tempering the Leicester faithful's expectations is the harrowing, self-inflicted collapse they experience during the back-end of last season. At the halfway mark last term, they had racked up 39 points. After that, only 23 more arrived, with their post-lockdown form being particularly disastrous.

At first glance, this does not bode well. However, early signs suggest that the experience has in fact made the squad mentally tougher. Many expected Rodgers' side to struggled with their additional Europa League commitments this season, but this has not been the case at all. According to multiple players, the squad discussed their capitulation at length during the summer, focussing on drawing lessons from it, as opposed to dwelling on the failure.

Rodgers has earned plaudits for the fine job he is doing | Pool/Getty Images

A renewed mentality is not the only improvement Leicester have showcased. Tactically, Rodgers has tweaked a few things, introducing a 3-4-2-1 and 4-2-3-1 to complement his go-to 4-1-4-1, which grew worryingly stale and predictable last season. As a result, his side are now comfortable playing multiple systems depending on what is required for a specific game.

On an individual level, a remarkable proportion of his squad have also developed personally, with flexibility being a buzzword.

This was evidenced clearly against Chelsea. Initially, Youri Tielemans was given the freedom to roam forward, but after Leicester's goals Rodgers dropped him back to form an impenetrable double pivot with Wilfred Ndidi.

The Foxes' full-backs, James Justin and Timothy Castagne, followed a similar trajectory, providing a potent, attacking threat in the first half, before focussing on keeping out Chelsea's lukewarm attackers after the break.

In fact, across the whole side, their did not seem to be a single Blues player who would force their way into Rodgers' team on current form. Despite Chelsea spending over £200m in the summer, plus plenty more on wages, there was little doubt as to who was better both collectively and individually.

Justin looked far more comfortable than former Fox Ben Chilwell and must be considered a contender for Chilwell's place in the England team. Castagne, who most would agree is not even Leicester's best right-back, looked leaps and bounds ahead of Reece James defensively, and in midfield Tielemans and Ndidi were sensational.

Justin has been a standout performer was Leicester this season | Michael Regan/Getty Images

Goalscorer James Maddison also played £72m Kai Havertz off the park, while Harvey Barnes and even unappreciated (and uncapped) workhorse Marc Albrighton were far more dangerous than Chelsea's conveyor belt of attacking talent.

Even more promising was the amount of talent that Leicester had on the bench. 2018/2019 Player of the Season Ricardo Pereira and 2019/2020 PFA Team of Year inductee Caglar Soyuncu were the standout names, but Ayoze Perez and Cengiz Under have both shown their ability to contribute in the past. All of these players will get their chance to impress as the Foxes' congested season progresses, in what is one of the strongest squads Leicester have ever possessed.

In short, despite struggling at home so far this season, the Chelsea win represented close to the perfect performance from Rodgers side. Although they are nowhere near favourites for the title, with both Manchester clubs and Liverpool likely to constitute the top three, this is a properly special team and, as Foxes fans know, stranger things have happened in football.

Source: 90min