Leicester City, founded way back in 1884, has only ended the season higher than sixth in England's top division once since a club best second-place finish in 1929 (the Foxes were fourth in 1963), so it should be no surprise that Leicester’s fans are living a dream alongside their players right now.
But can it continue?
The legend grows. “Everything I’m touching is going in. Long may that continue,” said Vardy. “That’s how every striker should feel otherwise there’s no point in being a striker, it’s as simple as that, that’s what I get paid for -- to put the ball in the back of the net.”
The speedy and relentless Vardy said that in early November, and it has continued, as the charmed existence of Jamie Vardy now includes a sizable lead in the EPL scoring race. Vardy has 14 goals, Romelu Lukaku is second with 10; no other player has more than eight. Leicester, tied on points with Man City, and second on goal difference, is still a long shot for a title run, but Vardy has a real chance at becoming one of the EPL’s most unlikely scoring leaders ever.
Vardy, now 28, started his professional career making about $50 a week. He was first sold in 2010 to Halifax Town in the fifth division, for less than $25,000. Leicester bought him for $1.5 million in 2012, when the club was in the Championship.
If the season ended today, Vardy would not only be the top scorer in the world’s richest soccer league, he would likely be the MVP, and a serious contender to start for the English national team at the European Championship next summer. This after debuting last August, and scoring just five goals in his first 34 EPL games.
With 13 scored in his last 11 matches, everything Vardy touches turns to goals.
Lightning strikes. In a league that prides itself on end-to-end action, Leicester takes a backseat to no one. Only Manchester City, with 30 goals, has scored more than Leicester’s 29 goals this season, and Leicester doesn’t need much time to be lethal. Sunderland and West Brom are the only clubs averaging less possession than Leicester’s 44.4 percent. On Saturday, the Foxes frantic style of play saw Manchester United owning the majority of (largely aimless) possession, with Louis van Gaal claiming his team dominated on the road, while most neutral observers saw the 1-1 draw as a fair result, as Leicester thrives in brief moments of chaos that seem to ensue after nearly every change of possession, while United leads the EPL in possession, at 57.3 percent, but has just 20 goals to show for it in 14 games.
Hired last summer for what is his 16th coaching stop, 64-year-old Claudio Ranieri has sought to emphasize his limited roster’s chief asset, speed. Utilizing quick strikes, by even quicker players. Leicester leads the EPL by a wide margin in shots created during moves involving two passes or less -- which is exactly how many it took to score off this corner against United, when Vardy broke Ruud van Nistelrooy’s Premier League record by scoring in an 11th consecutive game, off an incredible pass by Austrian left back Christian Fuchs.
Jamie Vardy's record-breaking goal vs. Manchester United (first player in PL history to score in 11 straight games) pic.twitter.com/ttWoL88CDZ— Est. ni994 (@XISVVCX) November 28, 2015
Partners in crime. Vardy’s amazing story has received tons of publicity, but almost as incredibly, the two highest rated players in the Premier League (according to WhoScored.com), are both playing for Leicester City. As Vardy is actually rated second behind teammate Riyad Mahrez, a 24-year-old Algerian winger who joined Leicester from France’s second division in Jan 2014, for less than $600,000, and now he’s the top rated player in the Premier League.
Mahrez, who has electric speed of his own, has completed more dribbles than any EPL player this season, his six assists have him tied for second behind Mesut Ozil, and the left-footed attacker, who plays primarily on the right wing, has also scored seven league goals, which finds him tied for fifth in the Premier League.
Vardy and Mahrez have combined to score 21 EPL goals, surpassing the total goals scored by 14 of the 19 other EPL clubs.
Premier League goals this season: 21 - Vardy & Mahrez 20 - Manchester United 18 - Liverpool 17 - Chelsea pic.twitter.com/NmGV3KCLBN— GeniusFootball (@GeniusFootball) November 30, 2015
The Foxes have also had solid contributions from midfielder Danny Drinkwater (what a name), and defensive midfielder N’Golo Kante, who cost less than $10 million this summer. The 24-year-old Frenchman has been outstanding, despite standing less than 5-foot-7, Kante leads the EPL in interceptions and ranks third in tackles, many of which were catalysts for Leicester’s lightning breaks.
These Foxes have run past and around many of their opponents thus far, although it must be said, the most difficult part of Leicester’s schedule is yet to come.
Reality check? Leicester’s game against Man United was the first in a brutal stretch of six matches to end the calendar year. Leicester plays host to co-leader Man City on Dec. 29 to end the season’s first half, but the Foxes will play at Liverpool and at Everton before that, after hosting defending champion Chelsea on Dec. 14. Which makes Saturday’s trip to Swansea City crucial to avoiding a December swoon.
The schedule may soon have its pound of flesh, however, unlike most top clubs, Leicester doesn’t have any European obligations, and it already went out on penalties to Championship club Hull City in the Capital One Cup, so, barring a deep FA Cup run, Leicester should be able to focus all its energy on its Premier League obligations. And even if a title chase is beyond the reach of these audacious Foxes, a top four finish may not be, and even top six would be a massive achievement, as Leicester hasn’t finished sixth in England’s top flight since 1993.
What Leicester and Vardy have already accomplished is simply incredible, having done so with a roster valued at less than 20 percent of those at either Chelsea or Man City. Fortunately for us all, Leicester’s players don’t seem to understand their bubble is bound to burst, and when you watch these Foxes racing around like they’re on fire (and you should look to do so if you haven’t yet), there’s little doubt you’re watching one of the most confident clubs in all of England.