It can’t last, can it? Leicester City right at the top of the league, after 13 games, and not by goal difference or sheer dumb luck. They’re top of the tree on merit, a whole point ahead of Manchester United and two ahead of Manchester City and Arsenal.
This isn’t just any old case of an un-fancied team making it up to the top of the table. Leicester aren’t simply in top spot after a couple of league games, they’re in top spot after a third of the season.
It probably won’t last right until the end of the season, but we’re at the end of November already and they’re keeping up with the big boys. It’s the next run of games that will decide whether or not they’re genuine Champions League contenders.
Next week the Foxes travel to Old Trafford to play Manchester United, and they also have to travel to Stamford Bridge to play Chelsea in a few weeks, too. The rest of the year is also daunting for Claudio Ranieri’s men. Manchester City, Liverpool, Everton and Swansea are other teams Leicester have to face between now and New Year’s Day.
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So although Leicester are doing very well to be where they are, the next month is going to show us exactly where they should be aiming this season. If they can stay in contention for a Champions League spot come the turn of the year, they should definitely start dreaming.
In the meantime, the Foxes – and the media – should be realistic. Leicester aren’t going to win the Premier League by being top in November. But they have created a base upon which they can build.
If you look at Southampton last season, they took a similar trajectory. They were fighting the big boys around Christmas last year, and they even managed some big results over the Christmas period that made it seem as though they could actually keep up in the title race, at least staying only a few points behind Chelsea and Manchester City.
They faded somewhat towards the end of the season, but held onto a Europa League place. At the start of the season, however, some even thought Saints would have to fend off relegation. They lost their manager, Mauricio Pochettino, they lost some very good players too, like Dejan Lovren, Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana, who all joined Liverpool.
But it turned out that Ronald Koeman could get the best out of the players he kept and the ones he brought into the club. Now they’re building for the future. They’re sitting nicely in the Premier League this season, and they appear to have found their level – alongside the likes of Everton, pushing for a European spot.
There are some similarities with Leicester this season, just because the Foxes got rid of a manager who many people felt was doing very well in the job, and replaced him with a man with name recognition who no one thought would do very well. Ranieri himself was a bit of a punchline when he came into Leicester, both for his eccentric demeanour and his failure with Greece – who lost home and away to the Faroe Islands in the Euro 2016 qualifiers.
Leicester are top of the league partly because there’s no pressure. They don’t expect to be there, the fans don’t expect them to be there and when they lose a game, it’s OK because they’ve won so many games already that they can afford to lose some. It’s a great position to be in, and they’re going from strength to strength because of it.
That’s why they need to go into the fixtures between now and the end of the season not fearing defeat. After all, even if they lose all of those games they’ll still be in a good league position. The pressure should still be off, and wherever they end up after the Christmas period, they can gear up for an assault on a European place for next season.
Leicester are going to find their level sooner or later, but they’ll have to go through the tough periods that will come eventually. For the moment, they’re doing a Southampton. If they finish seventh this season, as Southampton did last season, they’ll have had an excellent campaign, and will be able to build on it again in the summer.
But they can only do that if they keep their feet on the ground. Leicester can’t expect to win the league or even finish fourth, but they can expect to find their level among the European clubs and build even further. They should enjoy this success while it lasts, but it might last a while – after all you don’t win eight of your first 13 games by accident.