If Leicester City beat Liverpool on Boxing Day, they will surpass Claudio Ranieri’s 40-point target before the halfway stage of the season — an astonishing feat, especially for a side that was rock-bottom last Christmas. No wonder the Leicester boss has compared his troops to Forrest Gump; the run just keeps going.
Leicester would move to 41 points and Ranieri would be forced to reveal his new goal. Although City are two clear at the top, the Italian endearingly (but a little laughably now) maintains survival is still the sole aim. In reality, the Foxes are genuine Champions League contenders.
Since the Premier League started in 1992, no side that topped the table on Dec. 25 has failed to record a top-four finish. That stat is worrying news for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, who are 14 points adrift of Leicester and five shy of a Champions League berth.
The hosts are still arguably favourites for victory on Saturday, but Leicester relish being underdogs. Usually a trip to Anfield would be intimidating, but inconsistent Liverpool are winless in their past three, while City are unbeaten away in nine months. Their last defeat on the road was a 4-3 loss to Tottenham back in March.
The pair met at Anfield in January last campaign, with Nigel Pearson’s side battling to a credible 2-2 draw. It was a game City fully deserved to win and might well have done so had Steven Gerrard not dispatched two controversial penalties.
After beating Everton 3-2 last time out, the Foxes will be confident of ensuring a Merseyside double. Their last triumph at Liverpool came in May 2000, when Tony Cottee and Phil Gilchrist scored in a 2-0 success. This time around, Jamie Vardy (15) and Riyad Mahrez (13) will look to add to their 28 goals, especially with influential Reds defender Martin Skrtel sidelined.
Ranieri maintains the free-scoring duo won’t be sold in January, but given their current form, some astronomical offers could plausibly be tabled when the window opens — especially for Mahrez, who, at 24, has age on his side.
Vardy and Mahrez shouldn’t crave to leave the King Power Stadium. They, like the rest of the squad, must thrive on seeing how far they can take Leicester — and should they qualify for the Champions League, there will be no reason to move elsewhere.
Conversely, if Leicester plummet down the table, no one can blame either for switching to a bigger club in May. Right now, though, City should be intent on claiming 32 more points, which this season, like last, looks like being enough for fourth place.
January is a tricky month for Ranieri. He will want to strengthen, particularly at the back, but should also let the current squad see how far they can take this football fairytale. World-class players will be keen on joining the Foxes’ bandwagon, but as Switzerland captain Gokhan Inler has proved, even those with glittering reputations can’t just walk into the team. The core players, who have taken the Foxes this far, deserve the chance to see the season out even if results starts to wobble in the New Year.
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