Leicester City quieted the doubters even more with a stunning 3-1 win at Manchester City. Avi Creditor's three thoughts on the one-sided battle for first place.
NOW do you believe?
Leicester City went into the Etihad on Saturday and extended its lead at the top of the Premier League table, beating Manchester City 3-1 on the strength of defender Robert Huth's two set-piece goals, which sandwiched Riyad Mahrez's strike in the 48th minute. The result comes days after a spirit-lifting win against Liverpool sparked by Jamie Vardy's wonder-strike, and it gives Leicester a six-point edge over Man City through 25 games.
At this point last season, Leicester, with just 17 points, appeared certainly headed for relegation. Now? A very real contender to lift the Premier League trophy in one of the most remarkable stories ever.
Here are three thoughts on the match:
Leicester is comfortable in its own skin
Leicester makes no secret of what it's trying to do when it takes the field. While the visitors were aggressive from the opening kick and won the chance necessary to take the early lead, they reverted back into their defensive shell, looking to strike with the opponent committing numbers forward. Leicester doesn't want the possession battle, nor does it care if it's even close, as SI's Liviu Bird wrote in his tactical breakdown of the club's approach. What the Foxes do is defend cleanly, possess with a purpose, counter as well as anyone in the league and be efficient on set pieces.
The biggest question has been whether Leicester could sustain its success given its style of play, which isn't typically conducive to such an elongated run. Yet the club has answered every question it has had to, no matter if the doubters will still linger. Perhaps it's time to stop questioning how this is all happening and start marveling at why.
Consider this: In 180 minutes against Manchester City, the league's most prolific attack entering Saturday's action, Leicester conceded just once, to Sergio Aguero in the 87th minute Saturday with the game's result long decided.
Huth the unsung hero
For all of the plaudits thrown–deservedly–at Vardy and Mahrez for Leicester's success, there's been a vital piece of the puzzle in the back, and that is Saturday's two-goal scorer, Huth. The 31-year-old German has been steady as they come in marshaling Leicester back four, and he's come through in the clutch against top competitors with six points against Manchester City and Tottenham coming at the direct result of his goals.
Leicester has given up two goal in six games in 2016–the first oddly enough to woeful Aston Villa in a surprising 1-1 draw, the second with Saturday's result decided–and it's about time Huth and his back line mates Wes Morgan, Danny Simpson and Christian Fuchs (who, to be fair, was on the right end of a controversial call that could have seen Man City awarded a first-half penalty) get their due for their role in Leicester's success.
Huth had not scored multiple goals in a game since doing so almost five years ago to the day for Stoke City against Sunderland, and he'd only scored more than twice in an entire season three times in his 12-year career. Is there a more appropriate symbol for Leicester's achievement on the day?
Leicester's very real title chance
Leicester plays at Arsenal next week with all of the pressure solely on the Gunners, regardless of their result Sunday against Bournemouth.
After that? It's a relative cakewalk on Leicester's fixture list, with seven of its last 12 games coming at home and the degree of difficulty not really being ramped up until the final stretch of games at Manchester United, vs. Everton and at Chelsea.
At this point, the question isn't so much whether Leicester will finish in the top four and reach the Champions League–it is now 13 points clear of fifth-place Manchester United–but if Leicester can do the unthinkable and win it all.
The Foxes also have the advantage of not playing in any other competitions this season. Manchester City still has the Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup. Tottenham has the Europa League and FA Cup. Arsenal has the Champions League and FA Cup. While they might have deeper squads on paper than Leicester, they're going to be stretched thin. At what point do Manuel Pellegrini, Mauricio Pochettino and Arsene Wenger put their focus in the league?
That's not a problem for Claudio Ranieri, and as he has for most of the Foxes' magical season, he can just sit back and smile.