It used to be a familiar sight at Old Trafford. When Sir Alex Ferguson was winning Premier League titles in the 90’s and 00’s it seemed like it almost happened weekly. A smaller club would come in to Old Trafford and their tactics would be that of ‘damage control.’ They’d keep nine or 10 men behind the ball, be very picky about when to get forward, hope to score on a set piece, and most importantly they’d hope the game ended with a 1-1 or 0-0 scoreline. If they were to find themselves on the losing end, hopefully it would be a 1-0 loss so as to not damage their goal differential.
Of course it usually didn’t go according to their plan. Even if they could keep Manchester United from scoring for 85+ minutes, what made those United teams great was they always found a way to breakthrough. It became known as “Fergie Time,” those added minutes at the end of the match when United always seemed to grab a back breaking goal.
That’s what made those United teams champions, the fact that they never worried, they never got rattled. They remained patient, kept playing their game, and eventually got their winner.
This weekend against Norwich, Leicester City found that magic. After going through a tough stretch of their schedule that featured consecutive games against Liverpool, Manchester City, and Arsenal, the latter two of which were away from home, Leicester began what many people would consider a much easier stretch of games with a home match against Norwich.
However, you can easily argue that this upcoming stretch is far more challenging. That’s because these are the games Leicester has to win. These are the games that win you the title. Winning a Premier League title isn’t always about beating your title rivals, it’s about beating everyone else. Manchester United’s 2008/09 title winning squad that also went to the Champions League final took just four points off the other top four teams that season. Those aren’t the games that win you the title, not dropping points against bottom half clubs wins you the title.
Easy may be the wrong word to use but in some terms, it’s far easier for Leicester City to go up against Liverpool and Manchester City then to play at home against Norwich. When they play against these big clubs, Leicester enter the game with no pressure and, despite all their success this season, low expectations. Teams like Liverpool and Manchester City dominate possession, which is exactly what Leicester City want as they get to sit back and hit them on the counter attack.
When Leicester return home to face a team like Norwich it’s a whole different ball game. Now the pressure is on Leicester. Teams like Norwich are sitting back and giving Leicester all of the ball, something that the Foxes not only aren’t comfortable with but aren’t necessarily built for. Players like Marc Albrighton and Danny Drinkwater are fantastic at launching and running a fast hitting counter attack. When their challenged with sitting on the ball and breaking down a well structured defense, that’s not exactly their strong suit.
When Leicester finally scored against Norwich, which ironically came from a counter attack, the match commentator said there was a feeling of inevitability at the King Power Stadium. I’ll take his word for it. He would know better than I would since he was actually there, but I can tell you that I certainly wasn’t feeling it.
Leicester not scoring today was just about the most obvious thing that was going to happen
— Pauly Kwestel (@pkwestelWFAN) February 27, 2016
That tweet came around the 75th minute of the match. It wasn’t so much an indictment against Leicester but rather just the fluky inconsistency of this season. Leicester just got two wins and a loss that shouldn’t have happened against Liverpool, Manchester City, and Arsenal. The way things have been going this year it wouldn’t have been shocking at all for them to have a let down at home to Norwich. Combine that with Leicester being forced to play with the ball and it seemed pretty inevitable.
But instead, Leicester showed me they have something else. They have that trait that champions have. They never gave up, they remained patient. As the clock kept ticking Leicester did not panic, they kept playing their game. They trusted the system, they trusted their abilities and eventually their goal came.
Leicester is showing they can win games in a variety of different ways and that truly makes them the favorites for the Premier League title.