REUTERS - Leicester City are breath of fresh air for a sport generally dominated by sides with the most financial clout, Everton manager Roberto Martinez said on Thursday ahead of his side's Premier League clash against the Foxes.
Claudio Ranieri's side sit top of the table on 35 points after 16 games, their challenge spearheaded by league top scorer Jamie Vardy and winger Riyad Mahrez, the pair purchased for a combined fee of 1.4 million pounds ($2.09 million).
"We all know finances dictate a lot. Normally the expected sides are in the best positions. Leicester are an inspiration and the way they play if very refreshing," Martinez told reporters of Saturday's opposition.
"Neutral fans will have a soft spot towards Leicester. It's the worse time to play them. Leicester are a very good team who deserve to be top.
"They are title contenders because of how competitive they've been. Leicester have no fear and they know exactly what they're doing. We know we will have to be at our best."
Everton striker Romelu Lukaku has scored 12 goals for the club this season, three fewer than Vardy in the scoring charts, and has found the back of the net in his last six league games.
However, Martinez was quick to dismiss suggestions that the Belgian will have one eye on breaking Vardy's record of scoring in 11 consecutive league games.
"I don't think a striker tries to break records, what is important is having a consistent level of performance. Romelu has been very consistent and there's been a real difference in his maturity," the former Swansea City manager said.
Martinez also said defender John Stones, who picked up a knock in last weekend's 1-1 draw at Norwich City, is in 'perfect condition' to face Leicester.
"In the last two days John has been able to do his normal work. He's rejoined the group. There has been no reaction," Martinez said.
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Writing by Shravanth Vijayakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by John O'Brien