Five reasons why Leicester can be champions: Neil Humphreys
As the English Premier League sneaks into the New Year, the miracle is slowly becoming a reality.
Leicester City aren't going anywhere.
NEIL HUMPHREYS explains why we could yet witness the greatest fairytale since Cinderella slipped her dainty feet into glass slippers.
1 Don't believe the hype, follow the facts
Manchester City came armed with needles, ready to burst romantic bubbles everywhere. Leicester City had to lose the game yesterday morning (Singapore time).
This was the one to rubberstamp their inevitable slide towards the also-rans, the loss of pride coming after the fall against Liverpool.
But the Foxes aren't here to make up the numbers. They're here to stay. That's not whimsical, woolly-headed thinking, but a rational argument steeped in stats.
-- PHOTOS: REUTERS, AFP
The calendar-year table has them in fourth place, with 67 points from 38 games. The revolution began last season, but the renaissance continues.
Unlike the dire Manchester United-Chelsea 0-0 draw, the stalemate at Leicester was a legitimate fast-and-furious battle between top-four contenders and, yes, even title-chasers. City threw down the chequebook and effectively put out their strongest first 11, minus Vincent Kompany, and Leicester refused to blink.
The bubble can't burst because there isn't one. There's no artificial edifice waiting to be pulled down.
This is the new normal at Leicester City. Get used to it.
2 Playing smart
Claudio Ranieri is crazy like a fox. Club and coach are truly made for each other.
The Italian journeyman has bounced from one club to another in recent years, always smiling, always playing the lovable uncle, but he's found his spiritual home in the most unlikely of settings.
Leicester's gung-ho, can-do spirit, not to mention a stable squad and more than a few bucks in the bank, allows Ranieri to remind the world that he built much of the Chelsea squad that Jose Mourinho went on to win a title with.
Ranieri plays the clown and Manuel Pellegrini the deep thinker, but the City manager was schooled yesterday morning. Leicester's favoured 4-4-2 was benched in favour of a remarkably supple formation that both stifled and pressed. A nominal 4-3-3 dropped to a 4-5-1 with remarkable fluidity whenever City attacked which, admittedly, was often.
Marc Albrighton and Riyad Mahrez not only switched flanks but also positions, dropping back quickly to contain their opponents.
Aleksandar Kolarov, in particular, endured a torrid evening, unable to either check Mahrez or counter-attack.
Ranieri knew his quick and direct 4-4-2 was enough to see off limited opposition, but he showed against City a tactical variety to belittle the big boys. Not for the first time, Pellegrini was left looking like a man who wore a straitjacket to the office.
3 Baby-faced assassin
It's hard to guess what was more humiliating for Fernandinho: the fact that he was destroyed once again or the fact that the killer looked about 12. N'Golo Kante, who has the face of a choirboy and the kick of a mule, epitomises Ranieri's finest qualities.
When the 24-year-old was first suggested as a transfer target in pre-season, the Italian wasn't interested in the scrawny, baby-faced kid making a name for himself at Caen.
Kante was too short in stature and too slight in frame to cope with the hurly-burly cliches of the EPL. But Steve Walsh, Leicester's ingenious head of recruitment, gently persisted and Ranieri relented.
The manager's trust in the judgment of others is second only to his humility, reminding all and sundry at every opportunity that Kante was Walsh's discovery.
Considering Kante's transfer fee was just £5.6 million, Ranieri's humble pie has never been cheaper or sweeter. Kante manacled City's midfield. Fernandinho and even Yaya Toure to a lesser extent struggled to escape the snapping tackles.
With the season moving into the second half, Kante has also established a tight relationship with the underrated Daniel Drinkwater.
Together, they made the tactics work. Leicester could switch from 4-3-3 to 4-5-1 and back again with the line-up anchored in midfield.
James Vardy and Mahrez catch the eye, but Kante controls the game.
4 Captain Fantastic
He says little and captures few headlines. He's neither a rough diamond nor an ageing wizard, but a decent, industrious pro enjoying the season of his life. Leicester would be nowhere without Wes Morgan.
Wearing the armband like a second skin, the Foxes skipper picked the biggest game of the season for his best performance. Sergio Aguero cut a frustrated figure when he was finally substituted, probably because he was still trying to extricate himself from Morgan's back pocket.
The 31-year-old Jamaican used the kind of short leash usually reserved for foaming pit-bulls to keep hold of the Argentinian. In Morgan and veteran Robert Huth, Leicester are blessed with a couple of granite blocks in front of their box.
In physical terms, City brought Aguero's penknife to chop down Morgan's mountain.
5 Keen on speed
And here's the best bit, deliberately saved for the end. This is the devilish tidbit that warms the soul of the most unapologetic of idealists.
Everyone knows how Leicester City play. Everyone. Tactics may be tweaked and formations shuffled around, but the central tenet of the Foxes' overriding philosophy remains.
Get the ball to Mahrez and then Vardy. Don't mess about. Make it quick. Make it count. Manchester City knew that, like Everton, Chelsea, Swansea and Manchester United before them. But how do you stop an idea? How do you stop devoted disciples of an idea?
Against Manchester City, like every other opponent this season, the Foxes were men possessed. Within seconds of receiving the ball, David Silva had his pockets of space ripped away.
Yaya Toure's gazelle-like legs were wheel-clamped. City, aware of Leicester's swift counter-pressing, tried to play from the back - only to find the irrepressible Vardy chasing every ball.
Watch Vardy closely. Examine his work-rate. There's something to be said for a rare graduate from the school of hard knocks making it in the EPL. Vardy doesn't believe in lost causes. He chases every single ball.
Cynics argue that Leicester's relentless running cannot be sustained, that injuries will wipe them out, that opponents will learn to contain them, that the direct approach always has a limited shelf life, that the Foxes are destined to be one-season wonders.
But then, who cares?
If the Leicester campaign is destined to be a one-off, then what a wondrous season it's been. Just sit back and enjoy the ride. The Foxes have no intention of getting off any time soon.