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Surprisingly, Leicester City are stealing the Premier League spotlight in 2015-16.

Sitting on top of the table after 16 games.

Who says Leicester City cannot win the Premier League title?Despite their impressive season to date though, few believe the Foxes are genuine title contenders – but why not?

It is an odd phenomenon that a team that has been the best in the league, first in the table approaching the middle of the season and are yet to lose an away game, can be given very little chance of winning the ultimate crown.

Such is the nature of the modern football landscape that teams with significantly less financial clout than the traditional (and recently rich) big boys, clubs such as Leicester City, are only expected to make up the numbers. When considering the preseason odds, the Foxes were, in some markets, 5000-1 to win the title. Conversely, they were one of the favourites to be relegated. The odds themselves, along with the expected pattern to the season, means many are understandably reluctant to show faith in a side which is no doubt over-achieving.

Despite what may have been predicted at the beginning of the campaign, the Foxes arguably boast the two best players in the league currently. The potent duo of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy boasts a combination of 26 goals and nine assists. Their goal tally alone is more than the entirety scored by Manchester United, (21) Liverpool (20), and Chelsea (18). As if to highlight the ‘David vs Goliath’ narrative, their combined cost to Leicester City was £1.4million.

Perhaps their biggest strength is also their weakness. Is it that such a large percentage of goals point to an over-reliance? If this is true, then no doubt there are many factors that can threaten the Foxes when considering their star duo.

The first obvious threat is injury. While the Foxes do have able deputies in Leonardo Ulloa, Shinji Okazaki, Nathan Dyer, Marc Albrighton and Andrej Kramaric across their front four, losing either of Vardy or Mahrez will leave a large void to fill.

The other looming threat is the January transfer window. Normally, if a team is leading the league as they approach the mid-season window, it is seen as a great opportunity to strengthen the squad, such is the allure of a team experiencing success. For those more cynical, those who are experiencing the success are also the ones with the bigger cheque books.

In Leicester’s case, the threat is two-fold. On one hand, they do not possess the same buying power as those who are chasing them to add some depth and quality. On the other, it is those same big clubs that will be enquiring about both Vardy and Mahrez, who now present an incredible opportunity for an impressive windfall, should either be sold. Chelsea and United in particular are in desperate need of greater attacking options.

A simple loss of form is also a real threat. No matter how good a player is, there is almost the inevitability that they will experience a dip in form. While goals have come from other sources, there is no doubt that Vardy and Mahrez are the driving forces in the Foxes’ success to date. If they drop their levels of performance, do they have the required flexibility to maintain a title tilt?

Tactically, the Foxes have been simple, yet very effective. The current recipe for success has included a basic 4-4-2 formation and an insistence on counter-attacking football. Despite ranking towards the bottom in terms of possession per game and pass completion percentage, the Foxes have managed to score an incredible 34 goals. This is because the focus is on quick ball movement and a direct route to goal.

Is the game plan sustainable though? One notable weakness is their inability to keep a clean sheet, having only done so twice this season. If the goals dry up at the other end, can they stay strong at the back? Not seeing the ball for large portions of games, it may be that some of the better teams will be able to apply sustained pressure to a team known to regularly concede.

The other potential flaw is that the tactics are predictable. Despite being known as the ‘Tinkerman’ in a past Premier League life, Ranieri has largely fielded the same XI with little variation in shape. While the plan has worked, how long is it before opposing managers figure the Foxes out? Yet again, if it is not broken, why fix it?

As has been shown this season, however, smaller clubs have been given a fighting chance in fending off the rich due to the revenue generated by the current broadcast rights. With the extra funding, teams have also managed to add significant quality (note Xerdan Shaqiri, Yohan Cabaye and Andre Ayew to name a few).

Furthermore, the Foxes have one of the most valuable weapons available – confidence. They fear nobody, and no matter where or who they play, they set up to attack and to take three points. Their home support is one of the best supporter bases in the league and has also bought into the positive, confident vibe on the pitch.

Most of the big teams expected to be fighting for top four positions have been inconsistent and far from convincing at times this season. This plays into Leicester’s hands, as others (aside from Arsenal) are yet to gain any momentum in their respective campaigns.

If they can survive the January window unscathed (while adding personnel of their own), and get through a tough run of fixtures, then they give themselves the best possible chance of achieving the unthinkable.

At which point does the football world start believing that the Foxes can indeed win it?

Originally published at outside90.com

Post written by Jamie Elkins, Twitter: @Elks2403
for Outside 90, Blog: outside90.com, Twitter: @Outside90

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