Leicester City beat Manchester City 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, with the Foxes extending their lead at the top to six points.
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They are now the legitimate favorites to win the Premier League title this season. Think about that for a second.
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Here’s a look at what we learned from what could prove to be a pivotal moment in the title race.
LEICESTER’S CLINIC IN COUNTERING
They do it pretty much every game but nobody can handle it. Nobody. I’m talking about Leicester’s ridiculously efficient counter-attack. At the home of the title favorites — well at least until before this clash — Leicester struck early in both halves and never looked back. Ranieri’s side played like men without any pressure on their shoulders and at this point of this season they have none. Favorites for relegation ahead of this campaign, they now sit 13 points ahead of fifth-placed Manchester United as failure to qualify for the UEFA Champions League would now be hugely disappointing. How they’ve got there is by getting in-behind teams early and often. Whenever Marc Albrighton, N'Golo Kante or Riyad Mahrez got the ball their first instinct is to clip it over the top for Jamie Vardy or Shinji Okazaki to run onto.
It’s not just long-ball, it is playing into spaces defender don’t want to go in with a purpose. Vardy and Okazaki’s incredible work rate typified Leicester’s performance at City and with the center back duo consisting of an ageing Martin Demichelis and a battered and bruised Nicolas Otamendi, Leicester had the better of City’s defense all game long. The Foxes struck fast and hard at the heart of City’s defense and made the most of their set piece opportunities with Robert Huth showing his eye for goal.
This fairytale just keeps on getting more believable and now Leicester’s clash at fellow title contenders Arsenal next Sunday, Valentines Day, will be pivotal in proving whether or not the most romantic storyline in recent PL history will have the fairytale ending it deserves.
GUARDIOLA’S SHADOW LOOMS LARGE
City scrapped a 1-0 victory away at Sunderland in midweek but in all fairness they weren’t very good. On Monday Manuel Pellegrini announced he would be leaving this summer and it was also confirmed that Pep Guardiola will be arriving as the new manager at the end of the season. From the very start, the timing seemed odd.
Nobody was really pressing for the news to break, it was already basically accepted that Guardiola would arrive this summer but Pellegrini decided it was time to announce he was leaving. Talking of departures, most of his players should have joined the fans and left the stadium early on Saturday as they didn’t turn up for a key game in the title race. Win and they would’ve been top on goal difference but they look deflated from the start as Pellegrini’s tactics of playing Fabian Delph on the left and Yaya Toure alongside Fernandinho didn’t work. Toure and Delph were both hooked off in the second off and the former didn’t do his defensive work, as we should expect by now, with Kante and Danny Drinkwater dominating the center of midfield.
With Guardiola’s imminent arrival casting a huge shadow over the Etihad it’s only natural for a few of the players to be concerned about their future and feel a little uneasy. That said, they must be professional and are still in with a shout of winning four trophies during Pellegrini’s final months in charge. That said, they let a huge chance to boost their PL title hopes slip and Guardiola will not have been impressed with the lack of drive, spirit and energy omitted. Yes, City have injury problems with Kevin De Bruyne out and Vincent Kompany still struggling back, but the most expensively assembled team in the PL should be able to cope with these absences better. In a few weeks time the decision to announce the managerial switch at a pivotal stage in the season may seem like a very silly one if City don’t win the League Cup, fail in the UEFA Champions League and fall further behind the Foxes. It’s easy to point to Guardiola’s arrival as a determining factor in this loss, but in fact Leicester where better than Man City in every department.
HUTH AN UNSUNG HERO
When Robert Huth joined Leicester City on loan from Stoke City in January last season, the big German center back was no longer a regular for the Potters. The Foxes were starring relegation square on and looked doomed. At around this time last season I received a message from somebody who knew Huth and it read: “Huthy believes they will stay up, he’s certain of it.” That wry smile on my face reading the text turned into a head nod of appreciation after Leicester won seven of its final nine games last season to stay up. “Wow. He was right.” Now, Huth has become the leading man in Leicester’s defense and he put in an incredible display on Saturday at both ends of the pitch.
Huth, 31, swept home Leicester’s opener less than three minutes into the game and then preceded to pretty much block every City shot or cross which came into the box. He then headed home a looping effort after 60 minutes to score his second and Leicester’s third and the towering center back is proving to be one of the best bargains in a team full of incredible buys. Huth was bought for $5 million this summer from Stoke and his goals away at Man City and Tottenham over the past three weeks have helped Leicester knock off two of their title rivals. Scoring crucial goals aside, his first job is to defend and his partnership with Wes Morgan has been one of the less talked about success stories while Vardy, Mahrez and Kante are around. Now, though, Huth’s resurgence has coincided with Leicester’s dramatic rise to the top. I wonder what he’s thinking they’ll achieve this season…