Dubai: Manchester City’s Premier League title defence may now be over after their derby loss to United on Saturday night, but runaway leaders Liverpool cannot start the party celebrations just yet.
Lurking in second place, eight points back, are Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City — the unlikeliest of Premier League champions back in 2016.
If anything this side look even better than the side Claudio Ranieri took to glory three years ago. Sunday’s 4-1 demolition of Aston Villa set a club record of eight league wins on the trot to keep Jurgen Klopp’s all-conquering just in sight.
While all the talk is about Liverpool ending their 30-year wait for a league title, City’s slump and the state of affairs at struggling United, Chelsea’s upturn under Frank Lampard and the woes of Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, Leicester are content to fly under the radar despite their lofty league position.
Just like that famous 2015-16 season when nobody gave 5000-1 shot Leicester a realistic chance until the closing weeks of the title race, again they are being congratulated for their form but are not being taken seriously for top spot come May.
And that is just how manager Rodgers likes it.
“I don’t think anybody expects us to be anywhere near the top,” Rodgers said after the win over Villa. “It doesn’t really rile us, it’s part of the game I suppose.
“After Manchester United won at Manchester City, a caption came up after the game about how far Manchester City are away from Liverpool. We respect that and we just get on with our job.”
Despite the low profile, Rodgers himself knows a good thing when he sees it, having been Liverpool boss and also taken Celtic to countless trophies in Scotland before moving to Leicester.
“It’s just natural — Manchester City and Liverpool are both incredible teams in the league and have shown last year how good they were,” he said.
“For us, we know that we are constantly trying to improve and look to close the gap. But I thought today we looked like a top team.”
The Foxes have the Premier League’s top-scorer in their ranks — as Jamie Vardy has rediscovered his killer instinct that propelled them to global fame when they triumphed in 2016 — and have the most clean sheets of any team in the league with seven, and their goal-difference is three better than Liverpool.
While that form is the best they have ever had in the top flight, their biggest challenge is not the numbers, stats or points, it is the group of players Klopp has assembled 100 miles north-west of the King Power Stadium.
Saturday’s 3-0 win over Bournemouth meant Liverpool are still undefeated in the league this season, and have banged in 40 goals in 16 games so far. They look to be on a mission to finally claim the Premier League trophy having agonisingly missed out by a single point to Manchester City last season, despite racking up a club record points total.
If Leicester are to repeat their miracle of 2015-16, they will need help from other teams to help them reel in the runaway red machine.
Standings (top 3
1. Liverpool 16 15 1 0 46
2. Leicester 16 12 2 2 38
3. Man City 16 10 2 4 32