Leicester's 91 reasons to be happy: 5 things from Leicester 1-0 Southampton
1. A year to remember for defensively strong Foxes
On April 3, 2015, just weeks from the end of the season, Leicester City were still bottom of the Premier League with only 19 points from 29 games. In the end, it was less than half of their final points tally for the campaign.
On April 4 they defeated West Ham United 2-1 and would win six more matches before the season was over, collecting 22 points from nine matches to stay up with ease.
Now, they sit seven points clear at the top of the table with an incredible 69 points from 32 matches. That's 91 points in the last year. To put that in context, the record for points amassed in a Premier League campaign is 95, achieved by Chelsea in Jose Mourinho's first season as Stamford Bridge boss in 2004/05.
Leicester's last 12 months have brought 27 wins, 10 draws and just four defeats. And a rant about an ostrich, never forget the rant about the ostrich. A total of 41 matches have produced 74 goals for, and only 38 against.
Perhaps that defensive statistic is the most telling. Concede less than a goal a game and you're going to have a pretty good season. Well, unless you're Louis van Gaal's Manchester United.
Leicester's strong rearguard has been absolutely vital this season because more often than not, the margins have been fine. Rarely do the Foxes dominate all 90 minutes of a match, and they didn't against Southampton. The visitors had 54 per cent possession at the King Power Stadium, completing 315 passes to the hosts' 266.
But while Saints came on strongly after the interval, they didn't have many chances to show for it as Leicester defended in numbers and did particularly well from crosses.
With Graziano Pelle up front, it's no surprise that headed goals have been Southampton's strength this season - they've scored 12 times from headers, as many as anyone in the Premier League. But Leicester dealt with that threat, completing 22 of 24 attempted headed clearances. Only seven of Southampton's 45 attempted crosses found a red and white shirt.
As a result, the Foxes bagged their fourth clean sheet in a row. All four matches have ended 1-0. Will Leicester choke? No sign of it yet.
"Choke? What is choke?" Claudio Ranieri asked afterwards, struggling to understand before finally grasping the question - and grasping his throat to illustrate. "Other teams can win 4-0, we have to fight to win 1-0, we know this very well. We have to fight in every match. When my players give me everything, I am happy. It's a good blend, English spirit, a more Italian style. I'm very happy when we have another clean sheet."
"There was better football from us in the second half, but not really big chances for us to score," Southampton manager Ronald Koeman admitted. "Leicester defended very well."
2. Captain Morgan has come a long way since Yeovil thrashing
One of Leicester's key men in defence has undoubtedly been Wes Morgan, but there was a time a few years ago when things were very different for him.
The central defender was part of one of Nottingham Forest's worst teams in recent memory, a side that spent three seasons in League One, once infamously losing 5-2 at home to Yeovil Town in the play-offs. Morgan was far from faultless that night, and he was criticised on occasions for being hesitant and cumbersome. Opponents sometimes viewed him as a potential weakness to exploit.
Now the Leicester captain could be weeks away from being the man to lift the Premier League trophy, and he'll have played a hugely important part in that achievement - both defensively and offensively, after his first goal of the season decided this match. The Jamaican international actually had three attempts on goal in this game, more than anyone else on the field.
Morgan's goal further illustrated just how commanding he is in the air, and he used that strength to make seven clearances in defensive areas. Manchester United used to rely on Nemanja Vidic to dominate in such fashion but Leicester currently have two players doing that, with Robert Huth also having a fine season.
"Wes is fantastic," Ranieri said. "He didn't have a holiday after playing for the national team in the summer. In July he came here. I gave him some days off, and also during the season some more days because he needed it.
"He came back from international duty on Friday and he had a cold and was tired, but he's a strong man. He's a good example for everybody. When he speaks, everyone listens to him."
3. Jamie Vardy, the Premier League's Stakhanov
In Soviet times, there was a miner called Alexey Stakhanov, feted by the authorities for his prodigious work rate. Stakhanov would feature constantly in Communist propaganda, as the normal guy done good. Once it was claimed that he mined 102 tonnes of coal in less than six hours, 14 times the figure expected.
Stakhanov was used as the poster boy for the proletariat, the proof that hard work brings its rewards. In modern day English football, Jamie Vardy is the Premier League equivalent of Stakhanov, the regular guy who made it big, the poster boy for every aspiring footballer at pretty much any level. Work hard enough, combine that with some talent, and who knows what rewards will come?
Few strikers have a work rate quite like Vardy, both offensively and defensively. He may not have followed up his recent goals for England with another here, and it's now six Leicester matches since he last netted. But boy, did he work hard. Even without scoring, there was no doubt that he contributed.
Vardy was haring about all over the place, particularly in the first half. A slightly wayward Southampton throw-in, and Vardy was on it, starting another Leicester attack. On one occasion Ryan Bertrand had a 20-yard head start in a race to a ball rolling harmlessly towards the corner flag. But the striker made up the ground, and won the ball. It lifted the whole stadium.
Vardy only had one shot during the game, saved by Fraser Forster, but he created three chances for others and never stopped running all day. Leicester needed that outlet to relieve the pressure during Southampton's better periods. Vardy always provided it.
4. Mahrez didn't like Targett on his back
The more Leicester win, the more opponents change their tactics to make life hard for them. Many recent visitors to the King Power Stadium have been content to sit back and make the Foxes work hard to break them down. Southampton set up defensively too, looking to play on the counter attack while the scoreline was 0-0, starting with five at the back.
"The match was so difficult, they closed all the space, played five at the back and wanted to score on the counter attack or from a set play," Ranieri said.
Ryan Bertrand played as a third centre back, with Matt Targett operating as a left wing back to counteract Riyad Mahrez. The Algerian wide man has arguably been the best player in the Premier League this season, and for a while in this game that led to him very literally having a Targett on his back.
Mahrez has been involved in more Premier League goals than anyone else this term, scoring 16 and setting up 11, but he struggled to find his best form against Southampton - even after Ronald Koeman subbed Targett at half time, bringing on Dusan Tadic to chase the game at 1-0 down.
Mahrez had just one shot and didn't create a single chance before being substituted himself with 11 minutes left, completing only 14 of 24 passes and just three of eight attempted take-ons. None of his three crosses were successful.
In that sense, if not in the final scoreline, Southampton's tactics worked. Thankfully for Mahrez, many of Leicester's remaining opponents this season are unlikely to set up so defensively. Sunderland and West Ham need victories if they are to achieve their respective aims, while Manchester United and Chelsea will be expected to attack at home.
5. Drinkwater and Kante did it again
There have been two common themes in Leicester City matches this season. Danny Drinkwater generally makes more passes than anyone else on the field, while N'Golo Kante usually tops the tackle count. That trend continued against Southampton.
Even though the visitors had the greater share of possession, Drinkwater competed 56 passes, 17 more than anyone else on the field. Kante completed eight tackles, twice as many as any other player, and also made the most ball recoveries (10).
The central midfield duo have been crucial to the Foxes' title challenge and continue to show why they should both be on their way to the Euros this summer, for England and France respectively.