Leicester moved top of the Premier League by inflicting another damaging 2-0 defeat on Chelsea on Tuesday, to leave manager Frank Lampard fighting to remain in charge at Stamford Bridge.
The Blues have now won just two of their last eight league games to fall to eighth, nine points behind the leaders.
Chelsea were expected to challenge for the title after a £220 million ($300 million) spending spree in the transfer market.
But it is Leicester who are threatening to recreate their heroics of the 2015/16 season when they shocked the football world to win the Premier League as first-half goals from Wilfried Ndidi and James Maddison earned a thoroughly deserved win.
“It sounds nice ‘top of the Premier League’,” said Maddison. “It’s a good one psychologically because we’ve worked really hard. It’s a great achievement halfway through the season.”
Both Manchester City and Manchester United have the chance to usurp the Foxes when they are in action on Wednesday.
But a second title in five years would be less of a surprise, despite the financial gulf between Leicester and the traditional top six in the English top-flight, as they have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with since Brendan Rodgers took charge nearly two years ago.
“There might be teams able to spend a lot more money than us and bring in quality from abroad and pay big wages, but our team spirit and togetherness will continue to try and keep us up there,” added Maddison.
“We’re not up there by a fluke, we’re up there because we work hard. People might talk about United, Liverpool, Tottenham or whatever but let them talk. We’ll do our business in the background and hopefully come the end of the season it will give us a chance of being right up there.”
Rodgers is reportedly one of Chelsea’s potential targets should Lampard be dismissed in the coming days.
- Lampard bemoans attitude -
The former England international again criticised the desire of his players to match the work rate of their opponents, as he did after a 3-1 defeat to Arsenal last month.
“The basics and bare minimums are to run, sprint and cover ground, and too many of our players didn’t do it,” said Lampard. “We were beaten by the better team.”
Chelsea got off to a terrible start as they were caught napping from a well-worked corner after six minutes.
Even after Harvey Barnes failed to connect with Marc Albrighton’s cross, Ndidi smashed in off the inside of the post from just outside the box.
Maddison then fired off the bar as Leicester dominated the opening half hour.
Chelsea showed signs of life when Callum Hudson-Odoi fired into the side-netting and the visitors thought they had won a penalty when Christian Pulisic was upended by Jonny Evans.
A VAR review, though, judged the foul had taken place outside the box and within two minutes it was 2-0 thanks to more dire Chelsea defending.
Albrighton’s simple long ball forward found Maddison completely unmarked inside the area and the in-form England midfielder slotted home his eighth goal of the season.
The margin of defeat could have been far more humiliating for Lampard had Leicester been more clinical in the second half.
James Justin headed wide with a free header at the back post before Edouard Mendy stood up well to deny Youri Tielemans.
Lampard responded by turning to his £85 million worth of talent on the bench as Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech were introduced for the final 25 minutes.
Werner has now gone 11 Premier League games without a goal and even when the German international did find the net to flick home a late free-kick, the offside flag rescued Leicester.
West Ham streak continues
David Moyes insisted it is too early to dream of a place in Europe after West Ham extended their hot streak with a 2-1 victory that pushed West Bromwich Albion deeper into relegation trouble on Tuesday.
Moyes’ in-form side took the lead through Jarrod Bowen’s first-half goal at the London Stadium.
Matheus Pereira equalised for West Brom after the break, but Michail Antonio’s clinical finish sealed West Ham’s fourth successive victory in all competitions.
West Ham are unbeaten in six games in all competitions and have won their opening four matches of a calendar year for the first time since 1958.
They are up to seventh place in the Premier League and look capable of qualifying for the Europa League.
“We’re showing some growth in how we play and what we do. I’d like to dream a lot but we’re very humble and understand we’re West Ham,” Moyes said.
“We’re not going to start shouting things too soon because history has shown we haven’t always backed it up and I want to be the one to back it up.
“We’re going step by step and making good progress picking up points. I want us to be competing at the top end and to do that we have to keep winning.”
West Brom had given new boss Sam Allardyce the first victory of his reign in Saturday’s Black Country derby at Wolves.
But the former West Ham manager was unable to mastermind a second consecutive win and second bottom Albion remain five points from safety.
Craig Dawson’s fine form in West Ham’s defence has played a key role in their recent surge up the table.
Dawson nearly made an impact at the other end when the centre-back headed just wide from a corner.
Manuel Lanzini went close with a free-kick that curled just over and dominant West Ham took the lead in first-half stoppage time.
Said Benrahma’s cross reached Vladimir Coufal and when he redirected it into the six-yard box, Bowen improvised cleverly as he chested the fiercely-hit pass past Sam Johnstone for his fifth goal of the season.
Albion had come from behind against Wolves and they showed the same gritty character to equalise in the 51st minute.
Pereira had scored two penalties in the win at Wolves last weekend and the forward was allowed to advance unchecked by West Ham’s back-pedalling defenders before drilling a superb strike into the far corner from the edge of the area.
West Ham’s response nearly brought a goal when Lanzini’s close-range shot was headed off the line by Dara O’Shea.
Declan Rice’s 20-yard drive whistled just wide moments later and the Hammers midfielder was close again as his effort from an acute angle flashed across goal.
Their pressure was rewarded in the 66th minute when Aaron Cresswell’s cross was headed back into the six-yard box by Andriy Yarmolenko and Antonio swivelled to guide his shot past Johnstone.
Darnell Furlong had a late chance to equalise, but the Albion defender volleyed wide.
(With AFP inputs)