Leicester City will walk out at Villa Park tonight as the favourites to make it to Wembley with the hope of winning the League Cup for the third time in their history. Of course, this is not understating the importance of the competition to Aston Villa fans but for the Foxes, this could be the springboard for future success.
Jose Mourinho marked the new era at Chelsea with a League Cup success, which provided the platform for him to win back-to-back Premier League titles. It is the competition that can allow teams to assert themselves before moving onto bigger and better things.
Leicester are now in a position in the Premier League where they look almost certain to finish in the top four and achieve Champions League football next season, a remarkable achievement for Brendan Rodgers in his first full season in charge of the East Midlands club.
With a fourteen-point cushion over current fifth-place side Manchester United, it would take a disaster for the Foxes to miss out on Europe’s premier competition next season. Although the club won the Premier League title just four years ago, this season it feels like real progress has been made.
Although that side was brilliant, heroic and distinctly loveable, it did feel like somewhat of a one-off, a house of cards balanced so precariously, that one wrong move would lead to it all falling apart. Claudio Ranieri was the ‘tinkerman’ who kept the pyramid standing but the team were performing way above the sum of their means and it was unsustainable.
Of course, no football fan expected one of the greatest shocks of all time to be repeated the following season but the loss of N’Golo Kante to Chelsea was the beginning of the end for that particular team. Claudio Ranieri, Danny Drinkwater and Riyad Mahrez all departed which Leicester in need of a rebuild.
The difference between that team and this one we see this season is that the Premier League winners were not prepared for sustained success. They were a side of misfits, cobbled together to produce miracles on the big stage. This year, Rodgers has a team who can compete at the top across the next few years.
All to play for tonight...
Key players such as Youri Tielemans, James Maddison and Wilfred Ndidi are only in their early twenties while the recruitment department have got it spot on in replacing Harry Maguire with Caglar Sonyucu. If one of these players is sold for big money you would have faith in them reinvesting that money wisely.
Brendan Rodgers is a top-level manager for whom this is no fluke. He is used to winning trophies at Celtic, he battled at the top of the Premier League with Liverpool and now he is proving his credentials at Leicester.
For all the ‘dilly-dings’ and pizzas the charming Claudio Ranieri could hand out, he has never brought sustained success to any club he has been at and has always been a short-term manager - the eight jobs he had last decade are a testament to that fact!
The club is in a much better position to challenge the big clubs now than they were after they had won the title, but it isn’t just in the league they are ruffling a few feathers. They have a home tie in the fifth round of the FA Cup which they should win, putting them in a great position in both domestic cups.
A piece of silverware combined with a top-four finish this season would signify the arrival of Leicester City to England’s elite. The ‘big six’ that has dominated English football for the past six seasons been infiltrated by Foxes. They are here to stay.