MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM (AFP) – Leicester may never again scale the heights of shocking the world to win the Premier League four seasons ago, but the Foxes are upsetting the odds once more as the closest challengers to Liverpool at the top of the table.
Brendan Rodgers’s men travel to Manchester City tonight four points ahead of the champions as the side in need of the victory to keep the title race alive.
Liverpool’s absence from league duty this weekend to compete in the Club World Cup gives Leicester the chance to cut the gap at the top to seven points.
Win their next two games and Liverpool’s advantage will be down to four points as the European champions then visit the King Power on their return from Qatar on Boxing Day.
Back-to-back wins against a side that have won five of the last six domestic trophies in England and a Liverpool team that has lost just once in their last 56 league games is a massive ask.
But the fact Leicester now believe it is possible is testament to how far the club have come since Rodgers took charge in February.
When the Northern Irishman returned to the Premier League after two-and-a-half successful seasons at Celtic, Leicester were languishing in 12th.
Ten months on, they are well on course for a return to the Champions League next season.
Leicester have a 13-point cushion over fifth-placed Tottenham as they look to become the first club outside Liverpool, City, Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal to finish in the top four since they last did it as champions in 2015-16.
Silverware could also be just over two months away as Rodgers’s men booked their place in the semi-finals of the League Cup on Wednesday.
“Everyone wants to win trophies of course. We have to fight, we are not entitled to win,” said Rodgers.
“We just have to fight and work very hard at our game, and if we can do it great, but as long as we can make progress and develop, then that will be great.”
The progress made is undeniable, but not a surprise to Rodgers’s opposite number tonight.
Leicester nearly halted City’s title charge on their last visit to the Etihad when Pep Guardiola’s men needed a late thunderbolt from departed captain Vincent Kompany to claim a 1-0 win in their penultimate league game of the season.
“Brendan shows his incredible quality as a manager,” said Guardiola that night.
Rumours this week have suggested Rodgers may even be lined as City’s preferred candidate to succeed Guardiola once the Catalan brings his time in Manchester to an end.
Leicester reacted quickly to the restoration of Rodgers’s reputation in England after a difficult end to his time at Liverpool in 2015 by handing him a bumper new contract to 2025 earlier this month.
That foresight is in keeping with an exceptionally well run club that has not been derailed by the death of owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha in a tragic helicopter crash in October last year.
Only Kasper Schmeichel and Jamie Vardy remain as regulars in the first team from the side that won the league three-and-a-half years ago.
Money from the sales of N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez has been wisely invested in the likes of James Maddison, Ricardo Pereira and Wilfred Ndidi, while England international Ben Chilwell and Harvey Barnes have come through the club’s academy.
A 12-game unbeaten run means Leicester have more points now than at the same stage of their title-winning campaign.
Liverpool’s relentless run means this season is unlikely to have the same fairytale ending.
But just splitting the two sides that combined for 197 points last season at this stage of the campaign is a remarkable achievement in its own right.