An unlikely scenario is upon us. Leicester travel to Manchester as the leaders of a reshuffled League table. Manchester City, the odds on favorite by many to win the league this season, sit three points behind a team of players known to no one outside of Midlands barely a year ago.
City, complete with all of their world class players, high profile coaching moves, and even higher expectations, will have to answer questions when the Foxes come into the Etihad for the early Saturday matchup. They scraped by against Sunderland on Tuesday. They lost another player. But, they still are expected to be atop the table at Saturday's end. City manager Manuel Pellegrini spoke about his admiration for Leicester, and there will certainly be the same respect shown by Claudio Ranieri. In fact, one could say that in the December 29 fixture, the respect is what led to a 0-0 draw.
There are some differences between that game and this, however. For one, January EPL Player of the Month Sergio Aguero has finally come into form after injuries kept him from reaching the level that he's expected of and has scored 12 times in 10 games. Equally, his counterpart, the recipient of a new deal and former non-league player Jamie Vardy has seemingly emerged from his goal drought that occurred throughout the end of December and early January. Hardy is a clear favorite for the Golden Boot with 18 goals, and his volley versus Liverpool in Leicester's 2-0 win this past Tuesday is evidence that he's playing at an extremely high rate. The concern for City is that his pace and directness will create havoc on a backline featuring Martin Demichelis, who simply does not have the speed to keep up as well as the rashness of Nicolas Otamendi.
Of course, there are other factors that can change how this game turns out. Riyad Mahrez will undoubtedly cause problems on the left side of the City defense. That means Kolarov will have to exude discipline on the defensive end -- a part of his game that is lacking. City have been operating with a 4-4-2 formation, meaning that the midfield will be where the match is ultimately won. While Leicester do not require much possession to play their game, in fact in the match against Liverpool they only had the ball 39% of the time. But, cutting off the channels to Vardy and Mahrez will be what decides if the Blues win, lose or draw.
A growing injury list means that Jesus Navas is now the latest casualty on the City bench. Leaving Pellegrini to call on more youth players to fill space. City will again be without depth at center back, so it will be extremely important that Demechelis and Otamendi try to stay behind Vardy and Okazaki. Perhaps a Delph-Fernandinho partnership would be in order to keep up with the Leicester pace, while Raheem Sterling and David Silva make way on the outside. It is also quite possible that youngster Kelechi Iheanacho is replaced by Yaya Toure to play tucked behind Kun Aguero, although Yaya doesn't have the mobility of the young Nigerian, he's certainly good for linking up and the occasional shot from nowhere.
Leicester haven't beaten City in the last nine games played. However, the situation has never been this momentous. It could be of comfort to City supporters that Leicester also haven't scored against the Manchester side in three matches. But everyone knows that this is a different year. The Blues have accumulated the most points at home this season, while the Foxes have the highest away point total of any team in the league. City have the experience of winning titles and playing gritty football, while Leicester have the carefree persona of being a team with zero expectation to win the league. It will be fast paced match with plenty of opportunities for either team to score.
In a year where it isn't safe to bet on a sure thing, and at a time where the league isn't completely decided, let's just sit back and enjoy this one.
Manchester City FC vs Leicester City
Etihad Stadium, Manchester UK
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Manchester City Form: WDWWW
Leicester Form: WWLDW