LEICESTER, ENGLAND — English football's most lethal double act propelled Leicester to a 2-1 win over stumbling champion Chelsea in the Premier League on Monday, with goals by Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez keeping their team top of the standings.
The most remarkable Premier League story in years shows no sign of ending. After only narrowly avoiding relegation last campaign, Leicester leads the heavyweights of England by two points nearly halfway through this season.
"It's magical," said Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri, who used to coach Chelsea. "I don't want to wake up."
Vardy, whose record 11-match scoring streak ended last weekend, got back in the goals to put Leicester ahead in the 34th minute. Mahrez set up that goal and scored the second in the 48th with a curling shot after a dazzling piece of skill.
Substitute Loic Remy reduced the deficit for Chelsea but late pressure couldn't yield an equalizer for Jose Mourinho's side, which has lost nine of its 16 games and is amazingly just one point from safety. Chelsea romped to the title last season and its decline is as stunning as Leicester's rise.
"I feel my work was betrayed," Mourinho said, turning on some of his players before suggesting that the team overachieved last season.
"All last season I did a phenomenal work and brought them to a level that is not their level."
There are now 20 points separating Leicester and Chelsea. And while Chelsea's top-four ambitions look unlikely, Leicester can start thinking realistically about qualifying for the Champions League,
Most pundits are still expecting Leicester's unlikely title challenge to falter, but the team could be hanging around for a while on this evidence. The home side was sharper everywhere, more penetrative going forward and comfortable in defense until Chelsea's late rally.
In Mahrez and Vardy, Leicester has the most threatening attacking combination around. They've now scored 26 goals between them this season, nine more than the whole Chelsea team.
Vardy knew instinctively where to run when Mahrez cut inside off the left flank and quickly sent over a cross. The striker darted between center backs Kurt Zouma and John Terry, and met the cross with a clipped volley that flew inside the near post. He is now on 15 goals this season.
Mahrez's goal — his 11th of the season — was more of an individual effort. He nonchalantly controlled a deep, high cross to the back post by Marc Albrighton, toyed with marker Cesar Azpilicueta to manoeuver half a meter of space, before curling an effort high into the far corner.
A lethargic Chelsea was being outworked. Its most likely source of a goal was from a set piece and the 30th-minute withdrawal of Eden Hazard, who hurt his hip after being shoved to the ground by Vardy, robbed the champions of their most creative player.
Terry was substituted at 2-0 as Chelsea mixed things up by going to three at the back. Diego Costa and Branislav Ivanovic wasted chances before Remy headed in Pedro Rodriguez's cross in the 77th minute to set up a tight finish.
Leicester held on and has lost just once since getting beaten by Chelsea in April. The team is on 35 points — and no side has had that many points after 16 games and not qualified for the Champions League.
It will be a sweet victory for Ranieri, who was fired by Chelsea in 2004 and replaced by Mourinho. Mourinho has aimed digs at his coaching rival for the past decade but Ranieri had the last laugh here.
"There was electricity tonight," Ranieri said. "Without electricity, we are a normal team."