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Leicester City v Manchester United: Will history repeat itself for the high-flying fantastic Foxes?


Leicester City v Manchester United: Will history repeat itself for the high-flying fantastic Foxes?

Leicester City host United at the King Power on Boxing Day as both sides look to mount a Premier League title challenge.

IT is entirely understandable why Manchester United have received infinitely more press coverage than Leicester City this season. An opening day loss to Crystal Palace led soon after to a 6-1 capitulation to Spurs on home soil and with subsequent results and performances hopelessly erratic it looked to all the world like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was about to buy a one-way ticket to Sackville.

Only then came the transformation, a stunning one no less, that has seen the Reds string together a seven-game unbeaten run and not to put too fine a point on it they have been the absolute business of late, barely recognisable from the side that meekly surrendered to Arsenal – Arsenal! – at the start of November. In their resurgence United’s creator-in-chief Bruno Fernandes has scored every 107 minutes while their formerly maligned defence has developed Scrooge-like tendencies just in time for Christmas. Throughout their hapless period Harry Maguire and co were conceding 2.1 goals per game. That’s now down to 1.1. The team’s attacking instincts meanwhile have made them thoroughly entertaining to watch and has duly rocketed them into the title reckoning. The Portuguese schemer is 11/2 to break the deadlock and continue his fine scoring form.

So, from chumps to possible champs in a short space of time: that’s been the story arc and for a club of United’s standing that’s one hell of a tale. Yet that’s where our interest in the 13-time Premier League champions should end, for the time being at least. Because now they have their house in order Manchester United are a very big club with some very good players who are winning regularly and beyond that there is little to see. For the time being at least that’s a story as old as the hills. Whereas genuine fascination lies with their opponents on Boxing Day, with the timing of the fixture as relevant as Leicester’s terrific form that has lifted them to second spot.

This time last year the Foxes resided in the same lofty position, having been a revelation for the first half of the campaign. In their opening 17 games Brendan Rodgers’ men lost just twice and proudly boasted the meanest defence by some distance and the third best strike-rate. Consequently and inevitably, they were widely regarded as the only team capable of putting a spanner in Liverpool’s relentless machine.

A defeat away to Manchester City just prior to Christmas however bled into a 4-0 reverse to the champions elect on December 26th and these set-backs had a profound impact on a side that had been fluid, lethal and self-assured to that point. In their remaining games Leicester lost ten and picked up a costly habit of drawing too against opponents that were there for the taking.

It was in essence a season of two halves and though Rodgers deserves some of the blame for unnecessarily tinkering with a tried and trusted system his reasons for doing so was to minimise the substantial loss of Wilfred Ndidi to long-term injury. These were the two main factors but bluntly speaking there is always factors.

But here they are again, dramatically over-achieving given that Leicester have the eighth highest wage bill in the top-flight. Granted, on this occasion they have already lost five times but inconsistency is okay in this crazy year so long as you win on your good days and they have certainly done that. Only Leicester and Liverpool have nine victories to date. Leicester are 19/10 to prevail. Couple that with both teams to score at 8/15 to maximise value.

Elsewhere Vardy is still scoring because not even 2020 can alter that constant and the veteran forward is also largely responsible for winning his team more penalties than anyone else. While this week’s visitors to the King Power get flak for supposedly gaining spot-kicks at the drop of a hat, Leicester have benefited once every 157 minutes.

Special shout-outs are warranted for James Justin and Wes Fofana who have both been quietly brilliant this term and Rodgers deserves a large slice of kudos too of course for ensuring last year’s early charge was not a one-off.

It’s a feat made all the more remarkable when Leicester’s recent injury plight is acknowledged. Last season the losses of Ndidi and Ricardo Pereira hurt and contributed to a prolonged decline. This time out an impressive set of results has been managed despite key absences and it bodes extremely well for the Foxes that most of their personnel are fit for action again ahead of a hectic festive schedule.

It's also interesting to note that this season Rodgers has changed his approach to last. No goals have been scored so far on the counter while only two sides have converted more from inside the box. With the Foxes mid-table for crosses this illustrates they are playing through the opposition more, making them harder to negotiate and less of a straightforward proposition.

All of which suggests there will be no 4-0 hammering to knock the stuffing out of high-flying Leicester on this particular Boxing Day. It suggests too that Leicester’s fascinating story has many more chapters still to be written.  

With Leicester having scored 38% of their league goals in the final 20 minutes of games this season the 41/20 on the home side winning the second period jumps out as a great punt.

Latest odds: Leicester City 19/10, Draw 13/5,  Man Utd 7/5

Tips: Bruno Fernandes first goalscorer 11/2, Leicester to win 19/10, Leicester to win the second half 41/20

 

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