Vardy provides Leicester muscle, Mahrez silk and flair

Leicester City has avoided looking ahead, but with the Premier League title on the horizon they are finally ready to face their big moment. The Sportsnet panel looks at how they've done it.

Every week, will chat with Sportsnet soccer commentator James Sharman about the big stories and issues in the Premier League, and preview the weekend’s games.

Riyad Mahrez was named the PFA player of the year this past week. Any problem with him getting that award?
It’s impossible to have any problem with that selection. Mahrez has been an absolute joy to watch all season, and in many ways he has been THE key figure in Leicester’s transformation from relegation battlers a year ago to Premier League champions in waiting right now.

Vardy has been brilliant in a very Premier League sort of way, and the meat and muscle on the team has been typical. But Mahrez has given this team its silk, and its attacking flair. How can you argue with 17 goals and 11 assists in 34 games? No wonder the sharks are circling.

Do you see Mahrez staying at Leicester next season? Or will he move on to the “big” club abroad?
Players have power; we all know that and there’s every chance that Mahrez grew up more as a fan of Barcelona than he did as a fan of Leicester City. Barca has been the one club linked with him all season, and it wouldn’t be a shocker if he left.

What a massive shame it would be, though. Leicester’s ownership will be front and centre this summer, as they spoke with great ambition when they first bought the club—so do they try and retain their players or do they sell while the market is hot? Mahrez is likely worth more than any other Leicester player, while he may also be the one player they cannot afford to lose. I hope he stays for at least another year, but the temptations for all parties involved will be huge. At least Leicester can offer Champions League football to him, not to mention a starring role, which he wouldn’t get at Barca.

What’s been a few keys to Leicester City’s title run?
Defence, as simple as that. At times the goals have dried up somewhat, but almost every time the defence stepped up. Four straight 1-0 wins during an extremely precarious stretch in the season are the reasons why the Foxes are still top of the table. It seemed as if they knew that one goal would be enough, and that they could score and then lock things down.

George Graham’s Arsenal is the easy comparison and what a huge compliment to Leicester that is. In my opinion Leicester is better to watch, though. Not to take away from what is happening, but it is at the back that there might be some concern for next season—can we really expect Robert Huth and Wes Morgan to have another career season together?

How much credit is due to Claudio Ranieri and former coach Nigel Pearson?
I’m really happy you mentioned Pearson. There is no doubt he needs some respect here. Much of this team is the one he coached to survival last year, and they did it in style with that insane six wins out of eight games to close the season. Even prior to that run Leicester enjoyed no luck and were always, in my mind, way better than their record suggested.

Still, he left and Ranieri came in along with some inspired signings. N’Golo Kante has earned much praise and deservedly so, but Christian Fuchs has been excellent too, and don’t get me started on the Dolph Lundgren doppelganger Huth!

Ranieri has also made excellent decisions late in games, managing substitutions superbly, not to mention taking his reputation as the “tinkerman” and tossing it out the window. He knows what his preferred 11 is, and he’ll stick with it. It will be interesting to see what he does while managing his squad next season in Europe, although, if I was him I’d just retire if Leicester win. What a way to go out!

Will the Foxes clinch the title win a win on Sunday at Old Trafford. Even if they lose to the Manchester United, do you see them being overrun Tottenham?
Leicester will win the League at some point this season. Three games left and three points needed, included a match at home against poor Everton. This weekend? Of course, it’s more than possible they clinch; it’s not as if United are a powerhouse, although they are impressive at home. Last time these two met it was 1-1; a win will be a big challenge for the Foxes, but sure, let’s go with the win.

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