THE question put to Jamie Vardy on Match of the Day sounded almost insulting.
“You’ve been tipped as the club to disrupt the top six this season, is that how it’s feeling?”
The top six? This is the striker who led Leicester City to the Premier League title by ten clear points four seasons ago.
Vardy is as clinical as ever, after 12 goals in 15 matches under manager Brendan Rodgers, who is crafting a very different-looking Foxes side to Claudio Ranieri’s counter-attacking title-winners.
During Leicester’s miracle campaign, all of the Big Six were either in transition or chaos.
And this season, Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United are all vulnerable.
After Liverpool and Manchester City, the other Champions League places are genuinely up for grabs.
Not just for Leicester, the most obvious candidates, but for West Ham, Everton and perhaps even Wolves.
Following the ridiculous wacky-races routine at the end of last term — when Chelsea and Tottenham collapsed over the line into the top four, with Arsenal and United even more deeply flawed — there has been no improvement at those four clubs.
After four games, Chelsea, Spurs and United are already seven points off the top — and this is no mere reaction to an early-season league table yet to settle down.
Spurs may come together with boss Mauricio Pochettino promising to stop sulking after yesterday’s closure of the international transfer window but they have lacked their usual dynamism and have a glaring problem at right-back.
Arsenal, as was obvious in Sunday’s North London derby draw, remain a shambles at the back, while club-record signing Nicolas Pepe looks overpriced at £72million.
United and Chelsea have too little experience either in the dugout or on the pitch, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard bank on youth.
When Leicester won the title as pre-season relegation favourites, their extraordinary triumph should have given belief to every top-flight boardroom and dressing room, that Champions League football, at least, was no longer an impossible dream.
Yet during the last three campaigns, no one outside the established elite has come close. This year promises to be different.
Vardy answered his question politely, agreeing that it would be tough but that the top six was ‘what we want and what the manager wants’ and asking ‘who says it can’t happen?’
Well precisely no one. And it is inconceivable that such an evangelical optimist as Rodgers doesn’t believe in a top-four finish.
This Leicester side, who outplayed Chelsea in their 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge, is comfortable on the ball and pleasing on the eye.
The club’s academy has mined diamonds in Ben Chilwell, Harvey Barnes and Hamza Choudhury, while the Foxes recruitment has been imaginative in Youri Tielemans, Ayoze Perez and Dennis Praet.
Had Leicester held on to Harry Maguire, who wasn’t replaced after joining United so close to deadline, you would see few weaknesses. West Ham, Everton and Wolves also look strong, although each come with caveats.
Now all fully fit, the Hammers front four of Felipe Anderson, Manuel Lanzini and Andriy Yarmolenko, behind impressive new centre-forward Sebastien Haller, will create headaches for any opposition.
Lukasz Fabianski has matured into a top keeper, Issa Diop is a sought-after centre-back and Declan Rice an excellent young holding midfielder.
Were West Ham still playing at the atmospheric Upton Park rather than the bland London Stadium, you would fancy them all the more.
Everton, who have won six on the spin at their old-school Goodison Park, have spent half a billion pounds in four years and therefore should be contending for the top four.
Richarlison, so impressive in scoring twice from the right against Wolves, may end up as the top striker they been lacking, although capturing 19-year-old Moise Kean from Juventus was an impressive coup.
But it is Fabian Delph who could become Everton’s most important signing — this outstanding professional should be an excellent influence on what has often been a divided dressing room.
Wolverhampton Wanderers were the best of the rest last term, their strong Portuguese influence helping them to look such a cohesive team.
As they have yet to win in the Premier League, the worry is that their Europa League ‘reward’ might prevent them from finishing even higher this season.
Yet none of these clubs should lack belief — this is the season to shoot for the stars.
SORRY, THIS IS WORSE
AS a founding member of the Anti-VAR Defence League, I’ll have to play devil’s advocate here.
But the ‘high-bar’, ‘light-touch’ use of technology in Premier League decision- making is now giving us the worst of both worlds.
When referees’ chief Mike Riley and VAR boss Neil Swarbrick briefed the media in pre-season they were almost apologetic about its introduction.
The basic premise was that the TV official will only intervene when he feels he absolutely has to.
This has led to an extremely hardline definition of ‘clear and obvious’ and nonsenses like the failure to send off Leicester star Youri Tielemans for a bad tackle on Callum Wilson of Bournemouth.
Then there is the inability to award Aston Villa a late equaliser at Crystal Palace when Jack Grealish was penalised for diving, despite having been fouled and having passed to scorer Henri Lansbury.
An increasing number of us hope VAR is scrapped because we never wanted a joyous, free-flowing game to be policed by nit-picking jobsworths.
VAR was introduced because referees are human and make plenty of errors.
It was not meant to be like this, so that we could pretend they barely ever make mistakes.
GOTTA URN IT
IT’S easy to imagine England will turn up at Old Trafford for tomorrow’s Fourth Ashes Test, high on adrenalin and momentum, sweeping aside a demoralised Australia, then regaining the urn.
But life ain’t that simple.
For instance, the Aussies have the impregnable Steve Smith batting at No 4 again, while England’s No 4 is Jason Roy — dropped down the order rather than dropped entirely, despite his unsuitability for Test cricket.
It should be utterly compelling but it won’t be any sort of cakewalk.
KITS TO COLOUR ME BAD
WE’VE become used to teams wearing away kits for no apparent reason.
But when Norwich wore an ‘anthracite grey’ (yes, really) kit, rather than canary yellow, against West Ham’s claret-and-blue, it made it genuinely difficult for the many who were even mildly colour-blind to tell the teams apart.
Meanwhile, Norwich have been forced to paint over the pink walls in their away dressing room by Premier League officials more concerned with interior design than colour clashes.
LEE ON A ROLL
THERE are footballers you expect to become great managers and yet they bomb.
Then there is Lee Bowyer — never earmarked for leadership during an often-troubled career but doing an extraordinary job at Charlton.
Despite the civil war between supporters and hated owner Roland Duchatelet, as well as frequent uncertainty over his own position, Bowyer led the Addicks to promotion from League One and now into second place in the Championship.
It goes to show you never can tell.
VINNIE’S BIG VOID
VINCENT KOMPANY played a key role as a regular starter as Manchester City clinched their domestic Treble.
Yet when the inspirational captain moved on to manage Anderlecht he was not replaced by a new centre-back.
Now a serious knee injury to Aymeric Laporte has left City exposed with John Stones, currently injured after a serious dip in form, and Nicolas Otamendi their only two specialist senior options.
Down to the bare bones despite Abu Dhabi’s billions. Weird.