Eye On EPL

Wily foxes taking league by storm

Jamie Vardy celebrates with team mates after scoring the second goal for Leicester from the penalty spot in the game against Watford.
Jamie Vardy celebrates with team mates after scoring the second goal for Leicester from the penalty spot in the game against Watford.PHOTO: REUTERS

When the next round of English Premier League (EPL) fixtures come around, we could have a new leader should Manchester City or Arsenal falter.

It is such a nice surprise to see Leicester City in third place, just one point behind the Citizens and the Gunners. Cynics can say all they want about the Foxes but they are up there purely on merit.

Claudio Ranieri's team deserve all the credit and praise they have received. They are third in the table because they play without fear. They are not scared of the big boys and they have achieved these good results by playing beautiful attacking football.

It is such a nice surprise to see Leicester City in third place, just one point behind the Citizens and the Gunners. Cynics can say all they want about the Foxes but they are up there purely on merit.

When the season started, the biggest name in their team was actually their manager, who previously managed Chelsea.

Some sections of the media poked fun at the Italian as the "Tinkerman" for his squad rotation policy but he has shown what a wily old fox he is.

He took over Leicester at the right time. Nigel Pearson left behind a team with a strong work ethic. Most importantly, Ranieri inherited forwards Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez.

Vardy is leading the EPL's scoring chart with 12 goals while Mahrez is joint second with seven, alongside Watford's Odion Ighalo and Everton's Romelu Lukaku.

What these two earn in weeks or months is probably what Wayne Rooney makes in a day. It is little wonder that Vardy will be the hottest property in the January transfer window and Mahrez is already linked with Manchester United.

Vardy's humility comes from his early days in non-league football. He has been outstanding, a really hard-working striker who has the hunger and desire to fight for his team. It is even more difficult for a striker from a small club to score against a big team but there he is on top of the scoring table.

He has formed a telepathic understanding with Mahrez and as a unit, they are so difficult to stop.

But they flourish because of the manager. It has been said that it is difficult for promoted clubs to stay in the EPL and there is a temptation to play safety-first football.

Instead, Ranieri gave his players the full freedom to express themselves, to show what their talent can really do. As a former player, I know this is music to the team's ears. Nobody likes to be told to keep rehearsing ultra-defensive tactics and man-marking.

It is still too early to say if Leicester have the staying power. Maybe a clearer picture will emerge after the Christmas period - when injuries and suspensions start to take their toll on their squad, which is small compared to the big boys'.

But I would absolutely love it if the Foxes can go all the way.

The EPL is certainly more equal these days. The likes of Arsenal and United cannot run away any more. Even league leaders City were held to a 0-0 draw by bottom club Aston Villa on Sunday.

Much will depend on whether Leicester can hold on to their leading scorer.

Vardy will easily cost £30 million (S$64 million) in the January transfer window. If he has scored 20 goals by then, he will be worth even more.

But I hope he stays. And if he continues this form, I am certain Leicester will be in the top six at the end of the season.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2015, with the headline 'Wily foxes taking league by storm'. Print Edition | Subscribe