THE BLOG

Leicester's Incredible Evolutions Will Make Them Worthy Title Winners

17/03/2016 20:39 GMT | Updated 18/03/2017 09:12 GMT

​Trying to pin a label on this season's Leicester City team is like sticking a load of dead fish in your pockets and jumping into the sea to try and swim with wild dolphins. It's messy, it's embarrassing, and it's ultimately pointless because probably they'll have moved on by the time you catch up anyway.

The Foxes are in their second or third distinct 'phase' of the season already, and it's only mid-March. The latest is possibly the most unexpected and remarkable, and it's left myself and a lot of other writers looking at each other nonplussed, wearing jeans that smell of herring.

At the start of the campaign, they were a viscerally exciting madhouse - scoring for fun and not even appearing to bother with the defending part of the game. Genuine "we'll score one more than you" football, played by a team largely consisting of - at the risk of sounding unforgivably patronising - journeymen and relative unknowns.

By the time they finally got their first clean sheet of the season in their tenth game, they'd already conceded 17 goals from their first nine. Only one of those games had ended in defeat, and they were three points off the top of the table.

That 10th game of the season, against Crystal Palace, was also the seventh game in a row with a Jamie Vardy goal. What had previously been universal praise for the team narrowed into a single beam pointed straight at the ex-Fleetwood Town striker's head. He couldn't have dealt with it better.

The madhouse morphed into Jamie Vardy's party, and the Foxes partied on. The Plan developed. Sit. Sit. Break with pace so obscene that Sky had to seriously consider only showing Leicester games after the 9pm watershed. Put a ball over the top for Vardy to race onto. Win. Win. Win.

When his record-breaking run finally ended in a 3-0 win over Swansea it looked like that was it for the season. A groin injury began to limit him. Pack up the fun little sideshow, let games against Chelsea, Manchester City and Spurs blow them away and allow the big boys to get into the real business of the title race.

If you're reading this, you know how the story goes. Not only did Leicester get seven points from a possible nine against those the three 'big sides' inside of a month, they only conceded a single goal while doing it. They walked away from a pair of games against the two highest scoring teams in the division with a pair of clean sheets. This was Leicester, but not as anyone had seen them before.

Through it all, Claudio Ranieri was busy charming the press and insisting that he was looking at the gap to the bottom of the table rather than the considerably smaller one to the top. His masterful management of the media meant that Leicester's stumbles over the festive season were noted with sympathy rather than evisceration as they picked up just two points from three games.

Even in their struggles, there were major positives flying under the radar for Leicester, which have since formed the backbone of their title run. In their run of a defeat and two draws, they conceded a just one goal. From being the team who defended like Sunday League no-hopers, the Foxes had built a blue wall - and for a while, nobody even noticed.

In 13 Premier League matches since Christmas, Leicester have conceded seven goals. Arsenal have shipped more than twice as many (16), with not a single one of the other title contenders in single figures.

Their strike force may have kick-started the push, but the Great Wall of Leicester is what will win this side their first ever English league title. It's a jaw-dropping turnaround, the kind of thing which usually takes two or three seasons and hundreds of millions of pounds to achieve. And they've pulled it off in a few months.

The team who delighted the world with their flair and near-reckless attacking intent at the start of the season has won three of their last four games 1-0. That's not a criticism, if anything it's the opposite. They've shown that they can play - and win - in exactly the way the situation requires. Few enough title-winning teams across history can claim that, never mind the current rabble trailing in their wake.

The same basic philosophy has been present throughout the season - and it's one of self-belief.

If somebody tells you that Leicester are winning the league because they're keeping things simple and working hard, slap them round the face and ask them if they've seen Riyad Mahrez do absolutely anything this season. A fortnight ago, he set up a goal with a first-time backheel volley. They might make what they do look simple, but it's borderline insultingly patronising to assume that it's all really that easy.

If Leicester win the Premier League this season - and it looks as though they will - it'll be because they've been the best team in almost every single aspect of the game, and they've adapted to each situation that's been thrown at them like a bunch of freaky human-chameleon hybrids.

So be it. All hail Claudio Ranieri and out new freaky lizard-people overlords.

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