New-look Leicester impressing at the right time
Leicester City's 4-0 victory over local rivals Derby County yesterday evening could hardly have come at a better time - just before the international break, and in front of a massive Sky television audience.
The win was emphatic and maintained Sven-Goran Eriksson's strong record in East Midlands derby matches. But more importantly, it highlighted that this Leicester side is starting to gel.
It is no big secret that the Leicester, recently referred to as the 'Manchester City of the Championship' on Sky Sports, have invested in big-name players this summer. The likes of Paul Konchesky, David Nugent and John Pantsil all have extensive Premier League experience, while Matt Mills and Jermaine Beckford came with heavy price tags. After a sluggish start with some below-par results (and performances), the victory over Derby emphasised the overall quality Leicester City possess.
However, such a victory has been on the cards for some time. On the back of a seven-game unbeaten run and four consecutive clean sheets (including two excellent draws at Cardiff and Middlesborough) it seemed only a matter of time before things would start to click. Matt Mills has been outstanding in his last few outings for the Foxes, while centre-back partner Sol Bamba has excelled all season. As a result, Leicester have conceded just nine goals in 10 league matches, the second fewest in the Championship. The entire back line are playing with confidence; both in themselves and with goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel - and vice versa.
The midfield has suffered injuries - Richie Wellens and Michael Johnson being the latest. But each player raised their game yesterday, which will add a competitive element to the selection process. Andy King and Gelson Fernandes are both playmakers who can change the nature of a match, while Yuki Abe and Neil Danns have been solid when called upon.
Credit must also be paid to the forwards. Darius Vassell has been a revelation this season. The former England international is enjoying his finest form for the Foxes, looking more of a threat playing as an out-and-out striker rather than as a winger. The return of David Nugent yesterday was a huge boost to the side, and youngster Jeffrey Schlupp proved he can cause real problems for defenders with his unique combination of size and pace. When Jermaine Beckford returns from injury, Sven-Goran Eriksson will be spoilt for choice, and also given somewhat of a selection headache - but an enjoyable one.
That takes us to the manager. Sven-Goran Eriksson has done a tremendous job of remaining patient with his players confident in the knowledge that it was only a matter of time before things started to click. He will know that he is under pressure to deliver this season. Yesterday's game against Derby marked his anniversary with Leicester - a year in charge for the Swede. During that time, Leicester have taken 75 points from 46 games - more often than not, a total good enough for the play-offs. And now that he has had the summer to tailor-make a squad, this side is constantly improving.
Expectation is still high, but the hard work is paying off. Teams don't instantly click overnight; it does take time. Leicester enter the international break in eighth place, just one point outside the playoffs. But Sven's men are slowly and surely making things happen, and, after a slow start, they're doing it under the radar.