By: Alex Greenberg
Leicester City refuse to obey the traditional Premier League script, and the league is all the better for it. They sit atop the league table through 13 rounds of matches, leading more traditional title candidates like Manchester United, Manchester City, and Arsenal. Some of the most exciting league matches over the past two seasons, since Leicester’s promotion from the Championship, have involved the Foxes. And now one of European football’s most interesting story-lines is being driven by a man who plies his trade in Leicester.
Jamie Vardy, who started his playing career at Stocksbridge Park Steels in England’s eighth division, had scored in nine straight Premier League matches coming into the weekend’s match with Newcastle. Leicester won 3-0 and Vardy tied Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s record of scoring in 10 straight. As Vardy has been hot, so have Leicester. The Foxes haven’t lost since late September against Arsenal, and the question now is when they will next lose again.
Leicester can certainly push for European places, but they, like Jamie Vardy, will regress to the mean sooner or later. After the holiday season the Foxes may not be sitting as pretty as they currently are. Leicester take on United to end November, and then face a torrid December. They’ll have to go toe-to-toe with Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, and Manchester City, all teams expected to finish in the near the top of the Premier League table.
Arsenal fans hoped coming into the season that this would be their year to win the league, but a loss at West Brom has temporarily stalled their title push. The Gunners went ahead through Olivier Giroud, but were quickly pegged back twice within the following 15 minutes. Santi Cazorla had a chance to equalize from the penalty spot in the 84th minute, but instead provided one of the funniest moments of the weekend when he slipped and put his shot well over the bar. Steven Gerrard will never hear the end of it for his famous slip that partially cost Liverpool the title, can we do the same with the man now known as Slippy Cazorla?
The two most impressive results of the weekend were each 4-1 victories for clubs who are hoping this season brings a return to the Champions League. Tottenham beat West Ham, but we’ll start with Liverpool’s victory over Man City.
The blue half of Manchester just isn’t the same without Vincent Kompany. Their Belgian captain hasn’t played since the 8th of November, and the City defense has suffered for it. They previously conceded four goals to Spurs without Kompany at White Hart Lane, but this defeat at home was particularly disappointing.
From the opening whistle the Citizens just didn’t look up to the test. They were taken apart by the Brazilian combination of Coutinho and Firmino repeatedly, and found themselves down 3-0 inside of 35 minutes. The title race is still wide open, but City will need Kompany and David Silva back to health as soon as possible.
Liverpool on the other hand are much improved from their play in the early days of the season under Brendan Rodgers. Jurgen Klopp has improved their defending while also managing to get the most out of their creative players. If Daniel Sturridge and Christian Benteke can stay healthy up top, Liverpool will be a force to be reckoned with in the quest for the Champions League.
For Tottenham this year may represent their best chance of returning to the Champions League since they narrowly missed out on qualification by one point during Gareth Bale’s last season in North London. Spurs equalled a club record in going 12 games unbeaten by smashing London-rivals West Ham at White Hart Lane.
Harry Kane is showing once again why he should be in the conversation for best striker in the Premier League, with City’s Sergio Aguero. Kane scored for the fifth game in a row, putting two past the Hammers. Hopeful calls of “one season wonder” from Arsenal, West Ham, and Chelsea fans have fallen flat as Kane has found the form that helped him score 31 goals last season.
West Ham were as unimpressive as they have been this season. Their missing their best player in midfielder Dmitri Payet, but the Hammers will need to find other avenues of creativity and playmaking until the Frenchman can return.
Tottenham have a midweek trip of over 5000 miles round trip as they travel to Baku, Azerbaijan to take on Qarabag in the Europe League on Thursday. Then on Sunday they’ll welcome Chelsea back to White Hart Lane for the first time since that memorable 5-3 thrashing on New Years Day.
That January 1st encounter served as Harry Kane’s coming out party, and I wager he will get back on the scoresheet once more against the Blues. Kane has scored 12 goals in his 14 appearances in London derbies. Chelsea were victorious last weekend but still pale in comparison to the side they were last season. Tottenham will miss Dele Alli, who is suspended on yellow cards, but they will outrun and outwork Chelsea on their way to victory.
Man City vs Southampton and Leicester vs Man United are the two other most intriguing fixtures of the coming weekend. City could struggle against Southampton if they are still without Kompany, but I expect them to win a match that will probably feature a good amount of goals.
Like their fellow Mancunian rivals, United have title aspirations of their own, but Leicester City stand in their way. No one thinks Leicester can hold their position atop the table except for the Foxes themselves. They may get past an imperfect United team, but Leicester staying the course and qualifying for the Champions League would be one of the most stunning story lines English football has ever seen.