Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe has warned his defenders to be on red alert on Saturday when they come up against the unique talents of Leicester frontman Jamie Vardy, a player long on his radar.
The Cherries saw their six-match unbeaten run come to an end with a 2-0 defeat at Arsenal on Monday.
Leicester, meanwhile, drew 0-0 for the first time this season against Manchester City on Tuesday night, a result which meant the Gunners would top the table heading in 2016.
The form of Vardy and his fellow Foxes has been the story of the first half of the campaign, the England striker having set a new record of scoring in 11 consecutive Premier League matches, although now without a goal in three games.
Howe has nothing but admiration for Vardy, who battled his way to the top out of non-league football having joined Leicester from Fleetwood for £1million in May 2012 at a time when many Championship managers were considering whether the one-time Stocksbridge Park Steels frontman was worth the gamble.
“I was aware of him a few seasons ago (when I was) at Burnley and he first made his move to Leicester,” said Howe.
“It is a hard journey to make and you really do have to excel to be noticed to move and carry on that momentum. To succeed at this level is incredibly difficult and he deserved all of the plaudits for what he has done.”
Howe continued: “Jamie Vardy has unique strengths, he combines an incredible work ethic with real pace, determination, and fight to score his next goal.
“We handled him quite well here in the first game (in August) and our defenders will need to be alert because he is one of those players who only needs one chance to have an impact on the game.”
Howe believes Leicester’s remarkable progress under Claudio Ranieri is “no fluke”, the east Midlands club having been bottom of the Premier League heading into January 2015.
“Leicester have certainly been the surprise of the season, in terms of the positive aspect of being at the top of the league. They have been outstanding, they really have,” Howe said.
“They have a way of playing and a hard-working group of players, the attitude and commitment of their players in every game has been second to none and they have got match winners in their squad, so it is full credit to them, the players and coaching staff for what they have achieved so far this season.
“It is no fluke, they deserve to be where they are.”
Despite the disappointment of picking up only one point from their Christmas schedule in a goalless draw at Crystal Palace, Howe believes his squad can be positive for the challenges ahead in 2016 as they look to maintain their top-flight status.
“I have been really pleased with the development of the players, they have really improved, with a growth in their performances and mental side, the hardening you need in the Premier League,” said Howe.
“The challenge for us is to maintain that improvement during the second half of the season, then we will be a very good team at the end – if we don’t, then it will be more difficult.”