LONDON • In what will probably go down as one of the more unusual comparisons to be made by a manager when trying to pay a compliment to his team, Claudio Ranieri has likened Leicester City to Forrest Gump because of their stamina levels and his players' ability to "run, run, run".
Speaking before tomorrow's Premier League match at Liverpool, where Leicester hope to continue the extraordinary run of results that has taken them two points clear at the top of the table, Ranieri said his players would not come up short this season because of their spirit or fitness.
In addition to what he has seen since taking over as manager in July, he pointed to last season's great escape under Nigel Pearson as evidence of the energy levels in a squad who will no doubt find amusement in their manager's interesting analogy.
Leicester won seven of their final nine league games to climb clear of the relegation zone last term.
"Look, I am very confident because if Leicester last season saved themselves in the last two months, that means the stamina is fantastic," the Italian said.
NO DROP IN PACE
Look, I am very confident because if Leicester last season saved themselves in the last two months, that means the stamina is fantastic. Why can't we continue to run, run, run?
NO DROP IN FOCUS
We don't have the high quality like Manchester City and Arsenal but we fight together. Every ball for us is the last ball. That's what we believe. First minute or last minute, every ball is important.
"Why can't we continue to run, run, run? We are like Forrest Gump.
"Leicester is Forrest Gump.
"I give you the headline there."
Forrest Gump, a 1994 film, stars Tom Hanks who plays a character who is naive but athletic.
Forrest Gump or not, Leicester's recent victories over Chelsea and Everton have provided a measure of the growing confidence among Ranieri's players.
They have taken 26 points from a possible 30 in their last 10 league games. They are the highest scorers in the Premier League and possess its player of the season so far in Riyad Mahrez, as well as the leading scorer in Jamie Vardy.
Yet, it is the team ethic and camaraderie that pleases Ranieri most.
"It is important that they are very close together. They are friendly," he said.
"We don't have the high quality like Manchester City and Arsenal but we fight together.
"Every ball for us is the last ball. That's what we believe.
"First minute or last minute, every ball is important."
The Italian, 64, know his team are unfashionable but realises that people are starting to take them seriously with some believing Leicester can go on to win the title.
The bubble has not burst, as so many people thought it would have by now.
If Leicester win at Liverpool tomorrow, they will pass the 40-point barrier that Ranieri targeted at the start of the season.
It has remained the manager's only focus until now.
Once that landmark has been ticked off, he plans to sit down with the players and discuss what they think is achievable.
That Leicester have reached this far is by itself fascinating as well as refreshing to many neutrals.
One year ago, they were bottom of the Premier League, with 10 points from 17 games.
Today, they sit top, 28 points better off with 38.
Their odds to win the title have been slashed from 5,000:1 at the beginning of the season to 10:1 .
They have also recovered from an ugly pre-season tour incident in Thailand in May soon after the team arrived in Bangkok.
That was when three of their budding stars, including the son of their then-manager Pearson, took part in a vile orgy in which a Thai girl was racially abused.
The incident in the homeland of the club's proud Thai billionaire owners was an embarrassment on a major scale.
Father and son Vichai and Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha run Thailand's travel giant King Power International. They have ploughed millions into establishing the side as a Premier League outfit after taking over the club five years ago.
Pearson was removed from duty and Ranieri took charge.
Although the Italian comes with vast experience managing top European teams, he was still seen as a light-weight manager who over-rotates his squad - hence his nickname Tinkerman. Many believed he would drag the Foxes into another relegation dogfight.
Nowadays, they are proving that success does not necessarily come from passing and possession.
Leicester are the third-worst team in the league in terms of possession and second from bottom for passes completed.
Yet, they have scored 37 goals, which is the most .
With Leicester, it is all about penetration. Ranieri wants his players' first instinct to be to look forward and think about "breaking lines" rather than playing a game of keep-ball among themselves.
They often cut through teams quicker, especially with Vardy's pace and Mahrez's flair.
The question that many will ask is what happens if either of those two gets injured.
It is a valid point, and not something that Leicester fans want to contemplate.
Yet, at the same time, there is a feeling within the club that other players all over the first team deserve a share of the credit for what has happened.
Marc Albrighton, for example, has six assists to his name while N'Golo Kante has been a revelation in midfield.
As for Ranieri, he is taking it all in his stride and wants his players to feel exactly the same way.
"The pressure is on the big teams," he said.
"Leicester had pressure last season in this period - bad pressure - now they must enjoy, they must play free.
"Sooner or later, we will lose a match - I hope later - but we must continue to work hard."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE