Aguero v Vardy, Sterling v Mahrez - Man City v Leicester is the Premier League's unlikeliest ever summit meeting

The two teams have very different recent histories but are separated by just three points at the top of the table and Saturday's game promises to be extremely entertaining

GOAL COMMENT
On Saturday lunchtime, the Etihad Stadium will host one of the most unlikely top-of-the-table clashes in recent Premier League history. Manchester City, with the best squad in the league, somehow still trail surprise package Leicester City, who have demonstrated their merits so often that nobody should be surprised by their position at all.

But still, the comparisons are jarring. One team combining their league efforts with a push for two domestic cups and Champions League progress under a manager, in Manuel Pellegrini, that would seemingly be kept around had the best coach in the world not become available this summer. The current guy has world-class, often expensive players at his disposal as he attempts to usurp Claudio Ranieri, sacked by Greece before replacing Nigel Pearson, and his band of intrepid men lead by former non-league striker Jamie Vardy and £400,000 signing Riyad Mahrez.

Many expected the Foxes to fall away with a tricky run of fixtures bookended by home clashes against Manchester United on November 28 and City on December 29. Swansea City and Everton were beaten on their own turf, Chelsea lost in the East Midlands just before Christmas, and neither Manchester side could return north with anything more than a point. One sole defeat, 1-0 at Anfield on Boxing Day, was supposed to herald the downfall of Claudio Ranieri's men, but having turned over that same opposition in their most recent fixture, following a successful January in which high flyers Tottenham were also seen off, Leicester will rock up at the Etihad fully capable of extending their lead at the top of the table.

It speaks for the topsy-turvy nature of the Premier League that City are just three points behind. They should, given the quality in their ranks, be well clear, but are somewhat fortunate to still be within one victory of going top this weekend. Manuel Pellegrini's men have mustered five away victories from 12, and three of those were the first three of the season. Their home form has kept them in the race, having won nine of 12, but they are by no means impenetrable and Saturday's game will surely showcase the unlikely scenario playing out in the previously closed shop at the top of the table.

The comparisons are striking...


SERGIO AGUERO V JAMIE VARDY

Touch wood, Sergio Aguero is fit and back in the groove. Having taken time to recover from a heel injury, he now has six goals in his last four games and was at his clinical best to score the winner against Sunderland in midweek.

In recent years he has been the difference between success and failure for City, and he may prove to be again in the coming weeks. The dependence on him has diminished this season - in nine game without him and David Silva in October and November, City won seven and drew two - but with Kevin De Bruyne and Samir Nasri injured, and now Jesus Navas too, City's attacking options have been restricted of late. Aguero will surely be the main man this month as the club's credentials in four competitions are given a thorough examination - especially as the defence looks far from settled without Vincent Kompany.



Vardy, having played for Stocksbridge Park Steels, Halifax Town and Fleetwood Town before joining Leicester, is proving to be just as effective as the man who made his name in European football at Atletico Madrid.

The 29-year-old late bloomer has hit 18 Premier League goals, three more than Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku, and could even match the 26 that Aguero notched last season.

With City still looking shaky at the back without Kompany (despite a recent increase in their clean sheets without the influential captain), and given the fact City have actually conceded more at home than on the road, there are likely to be chances at both ends. This one could be a straight shoot-out.
 

RAHEEM STERLING V RIYAD MAHREZ

Not everything in the Premier League should be about money but there is no getting away from it here. City could end up paying £49 million for Raheem Sterling, depending on success, while Riyad Mahrez cost just £400,000 from Le Havre. Given City will likely have to pay Liverpool extra if they win the league, the irony is that Mahrez could end up saving them some money.

The Algerian has been one of the players of the season, still a little rough around the edges but stunningly effective. His ball skills and pace have caught the eye but it is his 13 goals that have really underlined his contribution to Leicester's title charge. The nine assists, joint second in the top flight, have not gone amiss either. Few midfielders have proven to be so potent - even De Bruyne, who matches him for league assists but has just five goals, cannot match that.



Sterling's progress at City has not been as accelerated as De Bruyne but he has made important contributions at times. And although he is primarily one for the future, with Nasri, De Bruyne and Navas all out of action he will need to make his mark in the coming weeks.


FERNANDINHO V N'GOLO KANTE

The unsung heroes of the two teams. Fernandinho could well be named City player of the year unless Aguero springs into life and fires City to glory on two or three fronts. The Brazilian cost around £34m when he signed from Shakhtar Donetsk at the start of Pellegrini's reign and is the City midfielder most likely to have a future under Pep Guardiola. He sets the tempo of the Blues' game with his short, quick passing from midfield and can usually be relied on to stop threatening attacks with timely blocks, tackles or interceptions.



But his defensive effort pales into near insignificance compared to N'Golo Kante. The 24-year-old signed for £5.6m in August last year and has been one of the best deep-lying midfielders in England this season. He has made more tackles and interceptions that anybody else in the Premier League and can be relied upon to mind the shop as Mahrez and Vardy wreak havoc up front. His discipline could come in very handy up against the wandering Yaya Toure on Saturday, although Fernandinho will surely have something to say about that.


NICOLAS OTAMENDI V ROBERT HUTH

Nicolas Otamendi's arrival was far from straight forward. As City were tearing through Chelsea back in August, it emerged that the Citizens would pay upwards of £30m for the Argentine centre-back, who had forged a reputation as a take-no-prisoners kind of guy, who could use the ball too. Eliaquim Mangala had started the season well next to Kompany but he was supposed to go on loan to Valencia, whose agreement to sign Alvaro Negredo that summer had come into difficulty. Managala would not go, however, so Otamendi was signed for the full fee and Jason Denayer was sent on loan elsewhere.



Given Kompany's injury struggles, Mangala's own lay-off and Martin Demichelis' decline, Otamendi has been charged with being City's main man at the back this season, despite having only just arrived. His best game came on Kompany's return to the line-up at Old Trafford, when the City midfield sat just in front of the backline, but when there has been more space ahead of him and Kompany has been on the sidelines, things have been a lot more rocky.

His tendency to come out of the defence and fly into tackles has left City unorganised at times and is in stark contrast to Huth's approach. The German has been around the block in the Premier League and helped turn Leicester's fortunes around when he joined on loan from Stoke last February, before signing a permanent deal in the summer after survival was miraculously secured.

The 31-year-old is an equally robust operator but is far happier sat deeper, and has far fewer passing responsibilities. With Vardy and Aguero both on form, Otamendi and Huth will need to be on their guard this weekend.


JOE HART V KASPER SCHMEICHEL

Perhaps these two are closer comparisons than the others. City paid £600,000 rising to £1.5m for Charles Joseph Hart, probably the biggest bargain of the current sqaud. He has grown into one of the Premier League's finest goalkeepers and this season has barely put a foot wrong.

He is one of the major characters of this City team and an incredibly popular and vital dressing room figure. The 28-year-old usually reserves his finest performances for the Champions League but has been no slouch on the domestic front either, and has saved his side on numerous occasions this season as the defence in front of him has struggled to keep it together.



Kasper Schmeichel, who perhaps struggled in the shadow of his famous father when he started out at the Etihad Stadium and at several of his other clubs, is now finally making a name for himself in his own right. His imposing presence is similar to that of his old man, and Hart, and has proven to be a dependable presence behind an impressive team. You can't challenge for the Premier League title without a top goalkeeper.