Leicester’s title credentials on show against champions
LONDON: It is still easy to squint at the Premier League standings and assume you are reading them upside down but Leicester City’s title credentials would be difficult to mock if they beat reigning champions Chelsea on Monday.
Going into the 16th round of fixtures, Claudio Ranieri’s vibrant side are two points clear of Arsenal at the top and brimming with confidence.
Such has been the remarkable transformation that Leicester, who spent 140 days at rock bottom last season, could justifiably be regarded as favourites to beat a struggling Chelsea side and retain their lead.
When the sides met at the Kingpower Stadium on April 29, Chelsea won 3-1 to all but clinch the title and stall Leicester’s ultimately successful relegation escape bid.
Rewind back to the identical stage of last season, after 15 games Chelsea were top with 36 points while Leicester were marooned on 10 and apparently doomed.
Now, Leicester have 32 to Chelsea’s 15.
A Leicester win on Monday would mean a 49-point swing in their favour compared to Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea after 16 games of the previous campaign.
And Leicester’s form is clearly no flash in the pan either.
In the last 24 Premier League games, stretching back to last season, they have 54 points, four more than Arsenal and Manchester City during the same period. Chelsea have 35.
Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson believes Leicester, 2000-1 shots before a ball was kicked in August, can sustain their form and become champions.
And the belief is evident throughout a squad which, in Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, boasts the most prolific duo in the top flight, with 24 goals and eight assists between them so far.
“We always think we can score,” winger Marc Albrighton said. “I think teams fear us a little bit going forward so we know we have that security.”
“We try to keep a clean sheet but, if we can’t, then we know we will go up the other end and score.”
Chelsea’s defence, which has leaked 24 goals so far, will be in for a busy night in the Midlands as Mourinho’s side try to rescue a season that reached a new low when they lost 1-0 at home to Bournemouth last weekend.
Their eighth defeat in 15 league games left them two points above the bottom three and their position could look even bleaker after the weekend, although they did beat Porto 2-0 on Wednesday to reach the Champions League last 16.
Bournemouth will be hoping to build on their win at Chelsea by turning up the heat on another manager, Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal who saw his side eliminated from the Champions League on Tuesday with defeat at VfL Wolfsburg.
Second-placed Arsenal can go top with victory at bottom club Aston Villa on Sunday while title favourites Manchester City, humbled by Stoke City last weekend, host sliding Swansea City, who sacked manager Garry Monk on Wednesday.
There is every chance Leicester could be fourth by the time they take on Chelsea, but as the league table proves this has been anything but a predictable season so far.