The enduring appeal of the unpredictability of sport is reflected in the fact that the fixture between Manchester City and Leicester could have a massive bearing on who wins the Premier League and the Chelsea and Manchester match has no bearing on the title. Southampton and West Ham are also playing and the result will go a long way in deciding who plays in the Europa League next season.
On the start of the season Leicester’s projected position at the end of the 2015-16 season in the Racing Post preview was 19th. Mark Langdon is a respected tipster and pundit but had an Alan Hansen “you can’t win anything with kids” moment when writing:
“You will have to have had your head buried in the sand like an ostrich not to have noticed the trouble at Leicester this summer and last season’s spectacular survival mission may prove to be worthless with City fancied to slip out of the Premier League this time” Leicester are currently league leaders having won 50 points in 24 matches, scoring 44 goals and conceding 26. They are 31 points ahead of the team in 19th place.
In the assessment of Leicester’s prospects for the season there was no mention of Jamie Vardy or Riyad Mahrez and they have scored 31 league goals in total. Langdon is not the only so-called expert to get things hopelessly wrong with Leicester this season as they were my tip for relegation. They were 5000/1 to win the league in August and they are now a best priced 5/1, just one thousand times less!
The Jamie Vardy story has interested Hollywood and he scored a Hollywood goal against Liverpool in front of prospective backers and writers. The last eleven teams to be at the top of the table at the start of February have won the league. Leicester are now 10 points ahead of Manchester United in fifth place and just about certainties to qualify for the Champions League and give Vardy an incentive to stay as well as almost doubling his money.
Claudio Ranieri has found a team formation that suits the players at his disposal. Leicester are playing as a team and that spirit can achieve great things but usually the cream comes to the top in the Premier League but this season could be a glorious exception. If Leicester beat Manchester City at the Etihad on Saturday they will be six points clear and even the biggest doubters will start believing.
City have the best home record in the league but have lost two matches at their own stadium. They have won 9 of 12 home fixtures, scoring 33 goals and conceding 12. City are solid but not unbeatable at home and Leicester will not be timid in going for the jugular and winning the biggest match of the season so far. Sergio Aguero is a predator and the best striker in the league. If he outscores Vardy City should avoid defeat but something remarkable could transpire.
One subplot with Manchester City is the announcement that Pep Guardiola will replace Manuel Pellegrini in the summer. In those circumstances players may lose some focus but City were committed to the cause in beating Sunderland on the road on Tuesday. Pellegrini could win four trophies this season but that won’t save his job. Guardiola has been recruited to take City to the next level but losing at home to Leicester is not part of the story but that could happen.
The fixture between Chelsea and Manchester United has often been a top of the table clash in recent seasons but this time the battle is for mid-table superiority. It would be a great story if United sacked Louis Van Gaal and appointed Jose Mourinho before the match on Sunday. However, Van Gaal has bought some time with two reasonable performances in the Cup at Derby and at home in the league against Stoke.
United are five points behind Arsenal in the fight for Champions League qualification. They cannot afford to drop points or they will drift out of contention for making the Holy Grail of European football next season. Missing out on the Champions League cost David Moyes his job and a similar conclusion awaits the Dutchman but it won’t be his fault. The Special One would walk up the motorway barefoot to take over at Old Trafford.
Southampton and West Ham are vying for sixth place and Europa League qualification. Liverpool and Watford will still have a say but the Hammers and Saints look the most likely teams to be playing in the secondary European competition next season. However, the result of their match will not get on the back pages which will be dominated by Leicester’s win at Manchester City!