Everton boss Roberto Martinez thinks Leicester City are genuine title contenders and have the belief to win the Premier League.
Martinez’s side are the latest team to try to derail the flying Foxes, with Claudio Ranieri’s team the visitors to Goodison Park on Saturday.
Leicester top the table by two points after Monday’s victory over Chelsea and are a full 12 points clear of the 10th-placed Toffees.
It is not unusual for a less-fancied side to be among the big hitters at the start of a season but, with Leicester showing no signs of slipping off the pace heading into Christmas, this is developing into a very different story.
“Leicester deserve to be top of the league. I think Claudio Ranieri deserves all the credit for developing the belief in that team,” Martinez said.
“Of course they are [title contenders]. I don’t see why they shouldn’t [win it]. It’s not because they are top of the league, it’s because they’ve been so competitive in every game.
“I’ve seen a real change. The first two or three fixtures, they were testing themselves and seeing how they could compete. Now it’s different.
“The last few games, there’s an incredible belief. They go out knowing they’re going to win the football game, and I think when you develop that momentum, it can be very powerful.
“Of course in a competition of 10 months you’re relying on [a lack of] suspensions, injuries, you have to be a bit fortunate, and Leicester is no different, but, where they are now, the way they are playing and the momentum that they achieved, they are capable of achieving anything this season.”
Everton could well still be without midfielder James McCarthy for the game as he continues to recover from a hip problem, but defender John Stones has shown no ill effects from the knocks to his ankle and knee that he picked up in the draw against Norwich last weekend.
The Toffees have drawn four of their last five matches, but Martinez has taken plenty of encouragement from his side’s performances leading up to the busy festive period.
“As disappointed as we are in the amount of points we have dropped in the last few games, we have seen fantastic signs in the attacking play,” he added.
“Now is a period where we need the support of the fans and everyone to develop. If we do that, then we will get the points we deserve. That is fantastic for us and our performances have been very consistent.”