Brendan Rodgers believes his Leicester City side can “disrupt the Premier League hierarchy” after moving within a point of leaders Liverpool.
Sunday’s 2-1 win at Newcastle lifted the Foxes back up to third as the season approaches its halfway point.
The Foxes, unlikely champions in 2015-16, are the only club outside the ‘Big Six’ to win the league since 1995.
“We want to be a team that, year on year, can get European football,” said Rodgers.
“Our job is, can we disrupt the hierarchy? We might not financially – we don’t have the finances to go and get that £70m, £80m, £90m player – but we can in a football way.”
Leicester featured in the Champions League places for the majority of the 2019-20 campaign and were third when the season was suspended in March but faded after the restart to finish fifth.
“My ambition is to get into Europe again and for us to progress,” added Rodgers, whose side topped their Europa League group to reach the last 32.
“What’s nice is our top players are getting their fitness back and that’s exciting for us in the second part of the season.”
The tightest title race in Premier League history?
Liverpool travel to Southampton on Monday, with just seven points separating the leaders from 10th-placed West Ham in what increasingly looks the most wide-open title race in recent memory.
That honour previously belonged to Leicester’s title triumph five seasons ago but even then the gap from top to 10th at this stage of the campaign was 12 points.
By comparison, Liverpool held a massive 27-point advantage over the team in 10th after 16 games last season, as did Manchester City at a similar juncture in 2017-18.
While logic and experience would suggest some of the sides in the top half will fall off the pace as 2021 progresses, the type of two-horse title race we have seen in recent years seems an unlikely prospect.
The table is somewhat skewed by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, with Manchester City and Aston Villa, for example, having two games in hand on third-placed Leicester among others.
With more postponements likely in the coming weeks, that imbalance will probably not change any time soon, lending another fascinating intangible to an already intriguing title battle.
Newcastle ‘felt force of top side’ – Maddison
Leicester were back at full strength for their trip to Tyneside as Rodgers welcomed back James Maddison and Timothy Castagne from injury as well as restoring Jamie Vardy and Youri Tielemans to his XI.
The latter pair had come off the bench to help salvage a barely deserved 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace but, returned to virtually a full complement, Leicester looked back to their best for spells at St James’ Park.
The Foxes’ quality was evident in the first-time finishes for the two goals, Maddison lashing home Vardy’s pull-back and Tielemans taking a Marc Albrighton pass in his stride to curl home from 20 yards.
“We are playing with intensity and a bit of swagger. Newcastle felt the full force of a top-of-the-table Premier League team,” said buoyant England midfielder Maddison.
Their performance impressed Radio 5 Live pundit and Derby defender Curtis Davies, who spent a brief spell on loan at Leicester 10 years ago.
“Teams at the top play with arrogance. We have seen against Tottenham and Manchester City, that Leicester have gone toe-to-toe and taken points,” Davies said.
“Rodgers is playing them up to say ‘we are in this title race’ so why not give it a go? If he gets his players believing, who knows where they can go?”
Carroll wins battle but Foxes win the war
Andy Carroll’s volley for Newcastle caused Leicester some nerves late on as the Magpies pressed for an unlikely point but the Foxes held out for a seventh win in nine away games this season.
That is the best away record in the top flight and Rodgers was happy to see his side’s mettle tested.
“Big Andy comes on and the game becomes a war then, and we have to show a different side to us and I thought we did that really well,” the Northern Irishman said.
Newcastle had done Leicester a favour by holding Liverpool to a goalless draw four days earlier but they are now winless in five, albeit still eight points clear of the relegation zone.
Carroll had failed to find the net in 32 appearances, most of them from the substitutes’ bench, since the former England man rejoined his boyhood club Newcastle from West Ham in the summer of 2019.
“He’s been a bit frustrated because he hasn’t been in the team, but he’s come on and reminded us of what he can do,” said Magpies boss Steve Bruce.