There’s been an unexpected name in the Premier League’s top six as the season passes its quarter-way mark.
Yet it’s that of a club that has won the title more recently than Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal or Tottenham.
Leicester City were the most unexpected champions in decades when they finished top in 2016 under Claudio Ranieri and few were surprised when they tailed off to more familiar mid-table finishes over the subsequent three seasons.
They finished 12th the season after they won it, then ninth in 2018 and ninth again last time out.
Something like that was expected this season, especially after they sold their best player, England centre-back Harry Maguire, to Manchester United in the summer.
But the hand-clappers have been rattling again at the King Power as Brendan Rodgers has looked to build on the impressive start he made to his Leicester career since arriving from Celtic last February.
And one of their outstanding performers has been Maguire’s replacement – 23-year-old Caglar Soyuncu.
The Turkish international is already a cult hero among Foxes fans.
Soyuncu joined the club in the summer of 2018 for £19 million from Freiburg but played just six League games and suggestions were that he was struggling to settle in England.
Yet he has stepped into Maguire’s shoes with a composure on the ball and ability to stay calm under pressure that is married to a biting tackle.
“Of course, it’s not easy to replace the world’s most expensive defender,” says Soyuncu.
“But my team-mates and the manager are helping me a lot. I think we started the season quite well and we have a great friendship inside the team.”
Leicester legend Gary Lineker has already given his seal of approval, saying: “It seems clear now why Leicester didn’t bother reinvesting the Maguire fee on another central defender. They knew how good Soyuncu is.”
The player responds: “I’ve not had the opportunity to meet Mr Lineker personally but he is a living legend of England.
“To hear such things from him makes me incredibly proud. To be praised by an English legend as a Turkish player is something very special.”
And the Turk is not the only one to impress this season. Midfielder James Maddison has forced his way into the England squad on the back of his club performances, while Ben Chilwell is now probably Gareth Southgate’s first choice left back.
Jamie Vardy quit the international scene but is still scoring regularly and provides one of the few links to the title-winning team, along with keeper Kaspar Schmeichel. In midfield Wilfred Ndidi fills the N’golo Kante role while Youri Tielemans’ range of passing is a joy to watch.
One of the reasons Leicester were able to cash in when they won the League was that some of the established members of the top six failed to come close to their expected levels.
Chelsea were 10th, Liverpool eighth and the two Manchester clubs, in fourth and fifth, finished 15 points adrift of the Foxes.
There are parallels this season in that both United and Tottenham have had uninspired starts, letting Leicester get a foot in the door.
The notion of a repeat of the title win is far-fetched considering that City and Liverpool have not been afflicted by form slumps, but the Champions League spots are a realistic target.
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