Premier League: Why you should back Leicester for a top-half finish

Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester appointment has predictably been savaged by the punditocracy.

A highlight saw Harry Redknapp observe that: “After what happened with Greece, I’m surprised he can walk back into the Premier League.” Quite right Harry, it would be like getting Southampton relegated, struggling in the Championship and then being readmitted to the top tier by Portsmouth…

This columnist presented a counterargument last week which, if you can’t be bothered to read, can be condensed to: yes, he failed at Greece, but his successor isn’t doing any better, and it is fairer to judge him on his seven largely successful club roles since late 2000 than a brief international stint.

To confirm that case was constructed out of genuine respect for Ranieri’s record rather than sympathy, it is time to put money behind the backing. Leicester are a longer price for a top-half finish at [5.2] than to go down at [4.5]. However, if you take the top-ten odds now, there should be a Cash Out window.

There are three reasons to believe that the Foxes’ price in that market will shorten. The first is that Ranieri usually makes a positive initial impression.

His Monaco reign began with 13 points from five league games. He won 11 of his opening 16 at Inter and lost a mere three of his maiden 32 at Roma. Before that, his Juventus side had 13 points from six matches post-promotion and he revived Parma mid-season with a run of three defeats in 16.

Leicester showed a similar flair for defying punters’ preconceptions last term. They had eight points after five encounters and earned them by holding 2013/14 top-five finishers Everton and Arsenal to draws, recovering from 3-1 down to stun Manchester United 5-3 and winning 1-0 away to Stoke. The sole setback was a 2-0 loss at Chelsea in which the deadlock wasn’t broken until the 62nd minute.

Thirdly, the fixture list has made it even easier for Ranieri’s men to enjoy an early impact in 2015/16. They kick off against Sunderland, who only start performing in the spring, and then visit a West Ham team likely to still be in Europa League mode.

Next is the trickiest of their introductory quintet at home to Tottenham, before they travel to newcomers Bournemouth and host depleted Aston Villa.

Just two of their first 13 games are against clubs that were in the top six in 2014/15, and those are at the King Power Stadium. They aren’t away to one of the elite until they face Liverpool on Boxing Day.

Even if you are convinced that there is a relegation battle in the east midlanders’ future, there is every reason to suspect that they won’t be suckered into it until after Christmas.