Leicester face their biggest test yet in Man United
A win over Man United will show that Leicester are there to stay at the top
LEICESTER v MAN UNITED
(Tomorrow, 1.30am, Singtel TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
It's unchartered territory for Leicester City.
No one expected them to be at the summit of the Premiership 13 games into the season.
But they are about to find out that staying at the top is easier than getting there.
The unlikely top-of-the-table clash takes place tomorrow morning (Singapore time) at the King Power Stadium, where the fans will still be rubbing their eyes in disbelief as they welcome Manchester United.
The fairy tale wasn't supposed to last this long.
But it wasn't by fluke they got to the summit, and the Red Devils will do well to avoid falling into their trap.
Since April, the Foxes have clinched 50 points out of a possible 66 in the top flight, losing just two out of the 22 matches.
With 28 goals from 13 league outings, they have outscored star-studded teams such as Man City and Arsenal to be this season's top scorers.
Central to their success is Jamie Vardy, whose unexpected rise to the top mirrors that of his club's.
The England striker's tally of 13 league goals, which puts him clear at the top of the goal-scorers' chart, is more than that of the United strikers combined.
The 28-year-old seamlessly marries brawn with his predatory instincts. He labours for his chance, then somehow makes the rest look effortless.
Riyad Mahrez feeds him the encouragement and confidence.
The Algeria winger sizes up the opponents from the right flank, before he punctures a hole right through the heart.
He has scored seven goals and set up another six.
The 24-year-old is benefiting from manager Claudio Ranieri's preference for panache over pragmatism.
The Italian has been frightening teams across the country with an attack blessed with pace and athleticism, as well as with his willingness to unleash his offensive terror without hesitation.
They will meet a United side forced by their own manager to operate at the other end of the spectrum.
United are still the favourites to take all three points, despite Louis van Gaal saying yesterday that Leicester are genuine title contenders.
The Red Devils will bank on their usual possession game and a solid backline to stifle the hosts.
The Foxes will try to make the most of their speed and athleticism on the counter to break their opponents.
If both teams play to their maximum abilities, this will be a fascinating encounter.
But it will test Leicester's character. This is their biggest test yet, the start of many to come.
Right after this, they will be playing more of the Premiership's big guns.
Following an away trip to Swansea, they will play Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool and Man City, in that order.
But, somehow, Ranieri and his charges have not let doubts creep into their heads.
They are riding the crest of a wave.
They have to show, against United, that they have what it takes to last the distance.
- Man City v Southampton
- Aston Villa v Watford
- Bournemouth v Everton
- Sunderland v Stoke
- C Palace v Newcastle
- 1.30am: Leicester v Man United
- 8pm: Tottenham v Chelsea
- 10.05pm: West Ham v West Brom
- 12.15am: Liverpool v Swansea
- 12.15am: Norwich v Arsenal
LVG: Leicester are contenders
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal believes Leicester are serious Premier League title contenders.
Leaders Leicester are one point ahead of second-placed United ahead of the meeting between both sides at the King Power Stadium tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
The bookmakers do not expect the Foxes to remain there for the rest of the campaign, but van Gaal believes they could lift the trophy.
"It is possible, I think," the United manager said, when asked if Claudio Ranieri's team could win the league.
"Normally, these kind of clubs can be a long time competing but, normally at the end, it's more difficult.
"But, in England, because of the quality of the teams, because every team have the money to buy players - and they have bought players - the difference in the Premier League between the clubs in level is not so high."
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has joined van Gaal in considering Leicester as genuine Premier League title contenders.
"Of course, you cannot rule them out," the Frenchman replied, when asked if Leicester could win the title.
"Mathematically, you cannot rule Chelsea out. Even the bottom teams are in it. It is so difficult. It is so tight and I don't even look at the league any more because it is very, very tight.
"Last week as you said, we had a bad result against West Brom and so did Manchester City (against Liverpool), so it compacted the whole table."
United must stop the free-scoring Jamie Vardy if they are to move ahead of Leicester and top the table.
Vardy was playing non-league football three-and-a-half years ago, but he is now the top marksman in the country.
Last week, the former Fleetwood Town player equalled Ruud van Nistelrooy's Premier League record of scoring in 10 consecutive matches.
Last year against United, he scored and had a hand in all five of Leicester's goals in the eight-goal thriller at the King Power Stadium.
Van Gaal described Vardy as a "nasty" and "great" player whom he likened to Dennis Bergkamp.
"He was already last season a very nasty player for us," van Gaal said. "He scored, won a penalty, and now he is scoring 10 games in a row, then you are a great player.
"I only know, for example, Dennis Bergkamp as a player who did the same with Ajax. It's not so easy to do that."
When asked whether he would consider signing Vardy, van Gaal gave a terse reply, saying: "That is not your business, I think."
Meanwhile, Ranieri has backed Anthony Martial to come good for Manchester United and brush off any criticism.
The Leicester boss signed Martial for Monaco from Lyon in 2013, before United shelled out £36 million ($76.5m) to bring him to Old Trafford in the summer.
Martial scored four goals in his first four games, but has netted just once in his last 14 outings, drawing a blank in Wednesday's 0-0 Champions League draw with PSV.
United great Paul Scholes criticised the 19-year-old Frenchman following their PSV stalemate, saying on BT Sport he did not look "bothered" about missing chances.
Ranieri understood Scholes' comments and believes Martial can use the remarks to become stronger.
He said: "He is 19 years old. It is right to make criticism - and Scholes made the right criticism - but it will improve his mind.
"His character is very strong, he is young, but strong.
"It is important that he is also intelligent and then he can improve.
- PA Sport.
United's Wilson joins Brighton
Manchester United striker James Wilson has joined Championship side Brighton and Hove Albion on loan for the rest of the season, the second division club said.
The 19-year-old has made only two appearances for United this season, coming on as a substitute in the 3-0 defeat by Arsenal on Oct 4 and starting in the League Cup loss to Middlesbrough on Oct 28.
"I have not always chosen him in the selection, and I think, for him, it's better to play at his age than sit on the bench or play in the second squad," said United manager Louis van Gaal
"In the short term, maybe it's not so good for Manchester United but, in the long term, it's better. It is part of the development of a player."
Wilson joins a Brighton team that are unbeaten in the Championship this season and lie second in the table, behind Hull City on goal difference.
"We have been keen to add a striker, and James has been our No. 1 target for some time," said a delighted Brighton manager Chris Hughton.