Neil Humphreys: Leicester's to-do list for Christmas
What Leicester need to do to stay top and win the title
Tomorrow, those dreaming Foxes will wake up top of the table.
On Christmas morning last year, Leicester City were bottom and facing a relegation nightmare.
That's the English Premier League. It's either the most competitive football fiesta in the world or a slapdash, mishmash of underwhelming mediocrity.
But that's a debate for another time.
Right now, the festive season is a time to celebrate the Cinderellas sitting pretty on the thrones at the King Power Stadium.
Could the miracle of Christmas extend to the New Year and beyond?
Here's how Claudio Ranieri and his voracious underdogs could go on to win the English Premier League in May.
1 Be on the right side of history
The headphones. The hair. The black and white jumper and the finger jabbing away at the microphone; everyone remembers Kevin Keegan's infamous meltdown in 1996.
He would have loved it if his beloved Magpies had won the title. But the wheels came off Newcastle's title charge and Manchester United pinched the title.
What was less remembered was the 10-point lead Keegan's men enjoyed on Christmas Day in 1995, an advantage that had stretched to 12 points by mid-January. That's the wrong side of history.
Leicester would do well to step away from the dark side and focus on more uplifting stats.
Five of the last six years have seen the league leaders at Christmas prevail in May. That's a comforting slice rather than a mere crumb of comfort for the Foxes to feast on.
As it stands, Newcastle's legendary collapse remains the most dramatic in Premier League history.
Leicester will hope it stays that way.
2 Retro rules for Ranieri
Everything about Leicester's unlikely charge to the summit feels like a heartwarming throwback to simpler times.
The unfashionable name, the unfamiliar location and the old-school manager booking dinner dates at pizza joints have a yesteryear quality that's most welcome in today's corporate, robotic slickness.
But retro really rules on Ranieri's whiteboard. Whether it's by accident or design, Leicester's direct 4-4-2 approach utilises their attacking strengths and offers an antidote to all that high, counter pressing favoured by the elite.
N'Golo Kante (below), a real unsung hero in central midfield, does the donkey work to serve thoroughbred Riyad Mahrez, who in turn releases the speedster Jamie Vardy (with strong physical support from Shinji Okazaki).
The system is startlingly efficient. Stats showed that the Foxes required the fewest number of passes to get a shot away (not surprisingly, Manchester United needed the most passes to get within striking distance).
There is always the temptation to mix it up in the New Year, when Leicester will get "found out".
But why? The direct approach feeds the beast.
It's no coincidence that Watford enjoyed great success with an identical formula against Liverpool. Their banks of four took care of the counter-pressing and the industry of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo pinned back the Reds.
Tactics always evolve, but clubs with limited resources are borrowing from the past to make for a brighter future.
Without being defensive, Leicester pump balls to Mahrez and then onto Vardy as soon as possible. The directness doesn't pander to the purists, but the Foxes are a million miles away from caring.
3 Don't sell, count the TV cash
With a billionaire owner, the Foxes are not obligated to sell, but extravagant offers always turn heads.
Vardy has been linked to Manchester United. Mahrez (below) has been linked to any club with a chunky chequebook.
Ranieri's job in the coming weeks will not be to convince his players to spurn the advances of a big club, but to persuade them that Leicester are one.
The telephone number-sized TV revenues may be vulgar, but they have also liberated the lesser lights.
Where the Premier League used to comprise the rich and the poor, now it's stuffed with the rich and the insanely rich.
In pre-season, Southampton and Everton threw down a welcoming template for Leicester to follow.
The Saints refused to sell Sadio Mane and Everton held on to John Stones, Ross Barkley, Romelu Lukaku and Leighton Baines.
The TV money now offers a safety net that never previously existed. Leicester have the cash to keep Mahrez and Vardy to the end of the season. They just need to put their money where their mouth is.
4 Keep an eye for fresh talent
Arsenal are after Leicester's most prized asset. He's not Mahrez, but the man who found him.
The Foxes' respected scout Steve Walsh (below) is credited with tracking down the Algerian, along with some of the most astute signings of the season.
French midfielder Kante, defensive rock Robert Huth and Christian Fuchs, a free transfer who is quietly becoming the league's most dependable left back, were all picked up for peanuts, relatively speaking. Key positions were filled with minimal fuss but maximum effect.
Leicester's rise to the top spot was no fluke. Staying there might depend on Walsh putting his eye in and going shopping next month.
The first 11 were barely equipped to see off Everton, via a couple of daft penalties, and they cannot be expected to sustain the run on their own.
Injuries will burst the bubble. Leicester must keep Walsh and give him the keys to the cashbox.
5 Surviving Christmas
Roberto Martinez insisted Leicester's title credentials deserved to be taken seriously. Few listened.
Martin O'Neill said his former club could take home the silverware. Most shrugged their shoulders. The cynical retort was obvious. The Foxes will not survive Christmas.
Ranieri's (above) men got through September, avoided a Halloween horror show and November's chills and delighted in December, but a nightmare after Christmas will finally kill off the fairy tale.
That's the perception. The upcoming fixtures will make or break the dream. A trip to Anfield swiftly followed by the visit of Manchester City present very big banana skins of the campaign.
A couple of defeats will make the "told you so's" feel better, but any other result must make Leicester a credible threat.
If the Foxes survive the Christmas period with their form mostly intact, they will be beyond reasonable doubt. Leicester can win the title.
Remember, they've lost only one game so far this season and Arsenal are the only genuine title challengers at the moment.
The trouble is, Leicester's only loss came against Arsenal. So the nagging doubt remains.
Get through the festive period in one piece, however, and the Foxes will no longer be treated as quirky Christmas crackers.
HAIL THE 'KING' OF THE FOXES
He is the "king" of the King Power Stadium.
Jamie Vardy may have hogged the headlines this season but, if there is a player who deserves a crown on his head for his performances, it is Riyad Mahrez.
The Algerian star, who has 14 goals this season, is attracting interest from the big clubs in next month's transfer window.
But Foxes manager Claudio Ranieri insists the 24-year-old is going nowhere.
"He wants to stay with us, we want to keep him, that's it," said Ranieri. "He has to improve and, when he improves, the team improve and, when that happens, why would he want to go away? He's a king here.
"He can grow with the team because if you stay at the bottom and fight and no one knows you. But now, everybody is talking about you and that is maybe a bit of pressure. You have to manage this kind of pressure.
"It's important for him to manage this stress. It's important he understands on the pitch is one thing and the TVs and newspapers are another thing."
Leicester head to Liverpool on Saturday as they look to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League but Ranieri admits it will be a tough test.
"Mahrez is very important for us, but Liverpool have two of Riyad Mahrez," he said.
"They have (Philippe) Coutinho, my former player at Inter Milan, and Adam Lallana. They have two of Mahrez and we have to be very concentrated."
Robert Huth is back from suspension for the trip to Anfield after missing last Saturday's 3-2 win at Everton while Danny Drinkwater (hamstring) is likely to sit out.
The Foxes are leaders 12 months after being bottom at Christmas, but Ranieri is playing it cool.
He said: "The pressure is on the big teams. Leicester had the pressure last season in this period, bad stress. Now they must enjoy it.
"They must play free, without pressure. It's stupid if we have pressure. Why? Enjoy it. All the world are speaking about you."
Meanwhile, Gokhan Inler is on Aston Villa's radar with Ranieri prepared to let his fringe players leave.
The midfielder, Andrej Kramaric and Yohan Benalouane could all be granted a move after a lack of playing time.
Inler has started just twice in the league after a summer switch from Napoli while striker Kramaric and defender Benalouane are yet to start.
Inler, 31, is happy at Leicester but, as Switzerland captain, knows he needs regular football to safeguard his place for Euro 2016.
Villa manager Remi Garde said: "Of course, I am interested in every player who will play at Euro 2016 because they are good players."
- Wire Services.
BY THE numbers
Five of the last six EPL champions were in first place of the standings on Christmas Day. Only four times in the last 20 years have the second- placed team at this stage won the title. Manchester City were also third after 17 games when they last won their title in 2013-14. Manchester United won the title from sixth place on Christmas Day in 1996-97.