Mahrez and Vardy lead Leicester's fairy tale season
Led by their irrepressible attacking duo, Foxes are back on top ahead of tough schedule
(Jamie Vardy 34, Riyad Mahrez 48)
(Loic Remy 77)
On an East Midlands winter's night, the pauper stood up to the prince.
With a majestic performance befitting Leicester City's return to the summit, Riyad Mahrez dethroned last season's standout performer in the English Premier League - Chelsea's Eden Hazard.
The Foxes' bubble again showed no signs of bursting.
Not with Mahrez in such a mood and Jamie Vardy continuing his run as hitman extraordinaire.
Just when so many thought the time was ripe for Leicester to begin their slide, Algeria international Mahrez set up one goal for Vardy and then fired home a stupendous effort to help the unfashionable side to a 2-1 win at the King Power Stadium yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Leicester's title credentials are standing up to scrutiny, but the upcoming Christmas period will provide further examination.
They have yet to play any of the current top seven away from home.
And it does not get more daunting than away trips to Everton and Liverpool, and a home tie with Manchester City for their final three Premiership matches of the year.
However, Claudio Ranieri's side will be full of confidence, especially with their one-two attacking punch in such dazzling form.
Vardy's goals provide the propulsion, Mahrez controls all the buttons.
Leicester's ability to keep both of them fit and on song will decide whether the Foxes are indeed the real deal. They certainly looked the part against the reigning English champions.
What temerity for Mahrez to tease the Blues and also humiliate a managerial luminary in Jose Mourinho.
Loic Remy's late reply was just a consolation, while Chelsea's attempt to help Hazard get back on his feet proved futile.
The Belgian playmaker, last season's FWA Footballer of the Year and PFA Players' Player of the Year, lasted just half an hour.
A clash with Vardy left him in no shape to continue.
Whether the damage was physical, psychological, or both, is anyone's guess.
Mahrez went about his business as usual, which these days means exceptional.
From the first whistle, he was a nuisance to the Chelsea backline, testing their limits from near the edge of the box.
Leicester's attacking success this term has been down to Vardy's goals and Mahrez's ability to wear down defenders with his superb dribbling and eye for a pass.
Like a long-distance runner, the 24-year-old winger makes up for his lack of size with his intelligence and excellent decision-making skills.
Once he got John Terry & Co figured out, he made his move - a diagonal ball into the penalty area that appeared harmless until goal-machine Vardy zipped past a static defence to score his 15th league goal of the campaign on 34 minutes.
Not for the first time, Vardy benefitted from Mahrez's flawless service.
Then the Algerian international twisted the knife into Chelsea with a superb solo effort shortly after half-time.
Chelsea manager and master tactician Mourinho, who once wished for 11 Cesar Azpilicuetas, was left wishing he had none at all.
Mahrez turned and twisted to leave the Spanish fullback in knots - probably the best defender of last season's title-winning Chelsea team - before curling his shot into the top corner.
The 450,000 euros ($697,000) signing from French Ligue 2 side Le Havre is one of the unlikely success stories of the season so far and on course to becoming a star.
Mahrez's 11 league goals put him third on the top-scorers' chart, and his seven assists place him joint-second in the Premiership.
His rise from obscurity mirrors the journey his unfancied club are taking.
Out of nowhere, Leicester have taken England by storm.
And few dare predict when it will die down.
54 Riyad Mahrez is the Premiership’s dribble king. He is ahead of Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha (51) and Chelsea’s Eden Hazard (48).
DID YOU KNOW? Mahrez was raised in Sarcelles, a neighbourhood in northern Paris. Born to an Algerian father and Moroccan mother, he made his international debut for Algeria in 2014.
Mahrez is doing things with that left foot that I have only seen (Lionel) Messi do.
— Jamie Carragher
Riyad: I don't know if anyone can stop me
Riyad Mahrez is bursting with confidence right now that he wonders if he is almost invincible.
The Algeria international is the driving force of Leicester's surprising rise to the summit of the English Premiership, even prompting comparison with the great Lionel Messi.
After laying up a goal and scoring another in the defeat of Chelsea yesterday, he told Sky Sports:
"I don't know if (anyone) can stop me, but I need to do my best for the team.
"I have a lot of confidence. When you keep scoring and making assists, it's normal to have some confidence, you have to keep going and help the team.
"The most important thing is the team's performance. We did a great game and we deserved to win, we have to keep going.
"We need 40 to 42 points to definitely be safe. It's good to have 35 points in 16 games. We deserve all we did and we deserve."
Mahrez has scored 11 league goals and made seven assists for Leicester this season.
His display even prompted television pundit Jamie Carragher to compare him with Barcelona's Messi.
"Mahrez is doing things with that left foot that I have only seen Messi do," Carragher told Sky Sports.
- Wire Services.