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Now, on to the sequel

Dhruv Munjal 

Over the past few days, so many of us have tried adjust the reality. But before we go any further, we would do awfully well to make ourselves understand that this happening for real. Yes, are the kings of England, and for hundreds of mid-table clubs across the European continent, they are the Robin Hoods of football who had the gumption to wrestle away from the richest of the land what was truly theirs. And how.

When the dust settles on this monumental triumph, which, given the implacable nature of the game today it most certainly will, the affable, wrinkle-faced Claudio Ranieri will take stock and set his eyes on, dare I say, tougher challenges - defending the league title and more importantly, Europe.

Read more from our special coverage on "LEICESTER CITY"



When the twinkle-toed Eden Hazard emphatically swept in Chelsea's equaliser in the frenzied 2-2 draw with Spurs at Stamford Bridge on Monday night, fate handed Leicester the ideal Hollywood ending, a stupefying culmination to a season filled with sweat, blood and of course, surprise.

Now, it's time to turn to the sequel. Hollywood sequels, after all, are tough to execute and often cumbersome to watch. The novelty wears off; the spark is punctuated by fits of inconsistency and the producers end up casting a bunch of so-called additional "superstars" who add little to the plot. They instead ruin the harmony that flourished so beautifully in the first part. The fans, rather expectedly, scoff.

That is the challenge before Ranieri. He will no doubt have cash at his disposal in the summer, and his blockbuster cast, at least for now, will rebuff the temptation of joining the Barcelonas and PSGs of this world. Or Ranieri will be hoping so.

Most often, the so-called smaller teams spend too little or too much after a stellar season. Strengthening your squad is an inescapable reality in modern football, but too many big name enforcements sometimes disturb the very ethos that helped a team so magnificently surprise the previous season. Balance - so often an overstated piece of sporting argot - is key here. Ask Blackburn Rovers or Wolfsburg, even Montpellier.

In the second leg of the Champions League semi-final between Real Madrid and Manchester City at the Bernabeu on Wednesday night, the hosts - despite narrowly going through - were not exactly up to speed. Cristiano Ronaldo looked miserably short of match fitness, Karem Benzema wasn't even on the bench, and Gareth Bale dazzled only sporadically.

Even then, City, at times, was made to look like a Sunday league side that had been catapulted into Europe's premier club competition overnight. Leicester, in place of City, would have actually proved to be a more genuine threat. In some ways, Leicester's "shun possession and hit on the counter" tactic would have worked well against Madrid.

They might have been overrun in the middle of the work - just like City - but Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki's pace and direct running style would have actually troubled Pepe and Sergio Ramos, both of whom when pulled out of position, are like headless chickens ambling on a busy freeway. And out wide, instead of the one-paced Jesus Navas - the only player who looked like he was up for a fight against Madrid - the unpredictable Riyad Mahrez would have most likely tied up the impetuous Marcelo in knots.

Ditto if Leicester were to go up against Barcelona or Bayern Munich. Atletico Madrid dumped both of them out by absorbing enormous pressure and then making the most of whatever little chances they had - something that Leicester have done so successfully all season. Ranieri's side isn't quite equipped like Diego Simeone's team defensively, nor can they withstand endless waves of attack and still come out unscathed. But they have shown the same kind of bite and tenacity that makes this Atletico side so good. The current Leicester team would trouble most European teams who play a possession-based game. Sides such as PSG or Benfica, though, would be their worst nightmare.

Ranieri, earlier this week, said that he wasn't too keen on signing big name players for next season. He has instead lined up Southampton's Victor Wanyama as a potential replacement for N'Golo Kante, who has been attracting the interest of a number of big clubs across Europe. The Kenyan lacks the guile and agility of Kante but is a marauding colossus at the heart of the midfield.

It's almost a miracle that the Foxes have won the league with such a thin squad - Ranieri has just used 23 players all season, the fewest for any team. But then they haven't had the distractions of other competitions; they were sent tumbling out of the League and FA Cups by the end of January.

So, improving squad depth would be one of Ranieri's priorities. No matter who comes in or who goes out, Leicester would do well to not tinker with their style of play. The breathless, often dizzying nature of their game is what makes them such an enchanting proposition.

Trophies or no trophies next season - Ranieri and his band of magicians now have a chance to place themselves truly among the big boys. Dreaming, after all, should never stop.

First Published: Sat, May 07 2016. 00:15 IST
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