It can sometimes be easy to forget amongst all the consternation, euphoria and general astonishment at Leicester’s seemingly unstoppable rise to the top of the Premier League this season that they are more than a one or two man team.
Last night’s match against Chelsea illustrated why many might think that way, with the dynamic, refreshing and thoroughly enjoyable duo of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez taking all the headlines after the Englishman scored one and the Algerian scored the other – the latter also teed up his partner in crime – in a famous 2-1 win. However, I believe that focusing on these two and ignoring the other vital cogs in this team is to do a tremendous disservice to the others in blue, who have played their own integral roles in the Foxes’ hugely impressive start to the season. They should not be overlooked.
First of all, it must be pointed out that Claudio Ranieri deserves a huge amount of credit for marshalling what is still by and large a squad that finished in the lower reaches of the league last year and getting them playing what has been, for the most part, attractive, free-flowing football. His commitment to attacking play could be seen in Monday’s victory over Chelsea, when Vardy and Leonardo Ulloa remained on the pitch together up front long after many managers would have sacrificed one of them for an extra body in midfield. His philosophy and its success can be seen in how many goals they have scored and shots they have taken this season – Vardy has roughly tripled the amount of efforts on goal he’d had by this point last term.
However, we should also remember to give huge credit to the goalkeeper and defence, who have provided a solid base from which razor-sharp strikers and forwards like Mahrez, Vardy and Marc Albrighton have sprung. Kasper Schmeichel has been an excellent, solid ‘keeper for three or four years now, both in terms of shot-stopping and commanding his area (wonder where he picked that up from?), while the back four in front of him have dealt with basically everything that’s been thrown at them so far (apart from a rampant Arsenal side in September). Robert Huth, Wes Morgan and the full-backs have turned into a simple, but highly effective, defensive unit that takes no prisoners and must be considered to have a strength greater than the sum of its parts. With all due respect to Morgan, Huth, Danny Simpson et al, they are not household names as defenders and were all considered to have found their level at the lower end of the league table, but the way Ranieri has turned them into a cohesive unit that regularly shuts out the Premier League’s best has been extraordinary.
The midfield unit must also receive just recognition. Ex-Manchester United man Danny Drinkwater is an all-action central midfielder and has been complimented by new signing N’Golo Kante (he was particularly impressive in their win against Chelsea). The strength in depth provided by Andy King (one of their longest serving players and a real asset from the bench) and Gokhan Inler is most impressive. When you add Albrighton, given a new lease of life after his transfer from Aston Villa, into the equation from the opposite flank to Mahrez, it adds up to a midfield that has just the right mixture of tenacity and quality.
I don’t want to diminish the massive contributions Vardy and Mahrez have both made to what has to be one of the most startling success stories in the history of the Premier League – Leicester City, promoted in 2014, now sitting top of the table in mid-December – my point instead is simply that suggestions they are a one/two-man team in my opinion fall wide of the mark, and are unfair on the other players in the side, who have all contributed massively to their incredible season so far.