Editor’s note: This article was originally published on 4 February. In light of Leicester City’s Premier League triumph, it is republished.
Let's start talking about it. It's on everyone’s mind but we are scared to say it out loud. Leicester City can win the Premier League.
Now, let's take a moment for that statement to register. Let it sink in. Wow! Had someone said it six months ago, people would’ve called for the men in white coats. Now, it doesn't sound so ridiculous.
What Leicester did to Liverpool Tuesday night was a statement of intent. The club that was at the bottom of the Premier League table a year ago, is now three points clear at the top and on its way to pen the last chapter of what could be the greatest story ever told in modern football.
Leicester, powered by the prolific duo of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, have been better than others; they've been fast and fearless. They haven't let their league position overwhelm them. Most thought that by December their fairy tale run would inevitably come to a halt as lack of depth in squad would take its toll.
But it's February and Leicester are still on top as Arsenal falter and Manchester City fail to soar past the rest. It's too far into the season now.
Leicester, after a run of good results towards the end that yanked them out of the bottom three, finished 14th last season, their first spell back into the top flight.
No club wants to go down and miss out on Premier League profits. After a tumultuous spell with the Foxes, manager Nigel Pearson was fired in June and Claudio Ranieri, who had a taste of the Premier League with Chelsea before the Mourinho era, was hired. No one expected him to steer the club to where it is now.
Even though Leicester enjoyed a dream first half, Ranieri refused to be talk big and maintained that getting 40 points and avoiding relegation is the primary target. And he even got champagne for players when Leicester managed to do so on 2 January after a goalless draw against Bournemouth.
But now is the time for Leicester to spread wings and charge towards the title. Arsenal, who at the end of December had emerged as the chief title contenders, again look misfit as frontrunners.
A draw against Liverpool and Stoke, followed by a loss to Chelsea and another draw against Southampton on Tuesday has left the Gunners on fourth spot as Tottenham climb to third, riding a wave of excellent performances.
Manchester City, still favourites for the Premier League crown, are on second but will be missing Kevin De Bruyne, arguably their best player this season, for 10 weeks. City would love to send manager Manuel Pellegrini off on a high and welcome Pep Guardiola to a league winning side. But in a season where the Premier League's middle class has upset the established order, it won't be easy even with the squad depth and quality that City possess.
Leicester have a slight advantage over the other title contenders as well. They are out of all cup competitions and have only 14 Premier League games ahead of them. Arsenal are still in FA Cup and Champions League. Manchester City are in the Carling Cup, FA Cup and Champions League and Tottenham are in the FA Cup and the Europa League.
Cup competitions take their toll, and Premier League in its later stages gets intense. The lower clubs fight to stay up, the top clubs fight for top four and the mid level clubs challenge for a spot in Europe.
Leicester's 2-0 win over Liverpool should jolt the naysayers into giving the Foxes due credit. But the real test begins now. Ranieri's men travel to Manchester City and Arsenal, direct rivals for the Premier League crown, next. And they also have a stern test in Manchester United, Everton and Chelsea in the last three fixtures. But if Leicester manage to wriggle out a positive result in next two games, Ranieri can legitimately claim to be going for the title.
It's all on Leicester now to go out and change English football forever. They must believe that they can be the champions. They must finish what they've started. After all, every fairy tale needs a happy ending.
First Published On : May 3, 2016 10:23 IST