Fairytale finish or not, Leicester City are outdoing themselves

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We’ve been down this road before. We’ve toyed with the possibility and brushed it off. A strong argument was made before being swiftly tossed out the window. But then, we also sat on the edge of our seats and watched in disbelief when Leicester City pulled off one of the greatest underdog triumphs in sporting history.

Three years later, and we’re being lured down the rabbit hole once more.

Just like in 2015, Leicester have no business even being in the conversation for the Premier League title. And yet, with defending champions Manchester City’s derby defeat to their neighbours over the weekend, it seems as if the Foxes are the only ones capable of hunting down league leaders Liverpool.

Jamie Vardy has been down this road before as well. Not only is he one of the few survivors of that title-winning team, but he’s – quite incredibly – replicating his stunning form from that 2015/16 campaign.

The striker’s record goal-scoring streak of netting in 11-consecutive games was one of the highlights of Leicester’s miraculous season. And now, at 32, he’s at it again.

Vardy’s eight-match scoring streak has put his own record in his sights, while also catapulting him to the front of the Golden Boot race. His tally of 16 goals so far puts him firmly in the lead with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Tammy Abraham among the chasing pack with 11 goals each.

The Englishman’s clinical nature aside, this is a very different team to the one Claudio Ranieri led to glory. And a very different league they’re operating in now as well.

The Italian recognised his side’s limitations and devised a 4-4-2 formation that they adhered to religiously. Their strengths were being compact in that shape and breaking with frightening pace on the counter-attack.

Their game plan was elegant in its simplicity and they were clinical in its execution.

They also featured several players who overachieved in the midst of a few truly world-class individuals. Vardy was naturally at the forefront of their attack, but Riyad Mahrez – the PFA Player of the Year that season – was the creative hub of the team. N’Golo Kante was just as integral to the side, as was Kasper Schmeichel.

This time around, the personnel is of an even higher grade and options run deep. Over the last couple of years, Leicester has recruited impressively and the quality of the squad was no doubt a major selling point for Brendan Rodgers when he abandoned the likely prospect of completing a triple domestic treble with Celtic to take charge of the Premier League club in February.

The likes of Schmeichel and Vardy have been restored to their very best while the creative responsibility doesn’t rest solely on one player. James Maddison is the creator in chief, but he’s ably complimented by the dynamism of midfielder Youri Tielemans and the guile of attackers like Ayoze Perez, Demarai Gray and Harvey Barnes.

Meanwhile, Wilfried Ndidi is proving to be the best defensive midfielder in the division, the central defence appears stronger than ever despite the departure of Harry Maguire and their full-back pairing is only second to the one at Anfield.

And with a renowned coach in Rodgers molding these ingredients into a highly-functional unit, the result is hardly surprising. Leicester boast the third-best attack in the league and the finest defence having scored 39 goals and conceded only 10.

Brendan Rodgers

They aren’t limited to playing exclusively on the break, either. They’re strong in possession and have the ability to break teams down through numerous avenues.

The truth is this team is already superior to the one that was crowned champions in 2016.

But while the traditional big guns inexplicably kept tripping over their shoelaces that season which allowed Leicester to march to the title, the landscape isn’t quite so accommodating this time. A near-perfect Liverpool side that is undefeated with 15 wins in 16 is setting the bar impossibly high.

And who can blame them? A stellar campaign last season was denied a first Premier League title only by an infallible Pep Guardiola outfit.

Leicester will continue to impress, but may need to settle for being worthy runners-up with Liverpool seemingly possessed by their drive to end a league title drought that has spanned three decades.

Any hope of the Foxes stopping the Liverpool juggernaut rest on their fixtures over the festive period when they face the Merseysiders and City in back-to-back games. The results of those encounters will truly reveal their title credentials.

But never mind all that. Look at where they are now. The absence of an extraordinary finish shouldn’t take away from the progress we’re witnessing before our eyes.

A fairytale ending may not be in store this time, but there’s still plenty of magic to enjoy.

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