Leicester City went level on points with Arsenal at the top of the Premier League, but stay second on goal difference, while Manchester City slipped three points out of first place after the two played out a 0-0 draw at Leicester's King Power Stadium on Tuesday night.
The surprising goalless stalemate between the division's two top-scoring teams means it's the Gunners who end 2015 leading the table on goal difference.
Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri included summer signing Gokhan Inler at the heart of midfield. The Swiss international formed a formidable trio along with Danny Drinkwater and N'Golo Kante.
The Foxes' official Twitter provided Ranieri's full starting XI:
City: Schmeichel; Simpson, Huth, Morgan (c), Fuchs; Inler, Drinkwater, Kanté; Mahrez, Vardy, Albrighton. #LeiMnc— Leicester City (@LCFC) December 29, 2015
City countered with a typically attacking lineup. Big-money summer imports Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne flanked the prolific Sergio Aguero in attack.
If things looked shaky for the visitors, it was at the back where Eliaquim Mangala partnered Nicolas Otamendi in the absence of skipper Vincent Kompany. City's official Twitter account detailed manager Manuel Pellegrini's selections:
Leicester started pressing high at pace. Riyad Mahrez forced veteran right-back Bacary Sagna into a sliced clearance early on, a sign of the intense pressure the Foxes were applying.
Meanwhile, City were content to work their left side with Sterling and Aleksandar Kolarov providing plenty of pace out wide. Mahrez tucking infield often meant there was ample room for City to exploit on this flank.
But Inler was providing a useful fixed barrier in front of the Leicester back four in the early stages. It also didn't help City that Kolarov wasted more than one free delivery after Mahrez had failed to track his run.
At the other end, Jamie Vardy's pace proved an early problem for the visitors' accident-prone centre-backs. James Robson of the Manchester Evening News noted how Leicester's direct approach posed a threat:
Early sign of Leicester danger. Basic long ball, but Vardy was right on Otamendi's shoulder forcing hurried clearance— James Robson (@JamesRobsonMEN) December 29, 2015
City created their own danger whenever they freed overlapping runners on the wings. But the final ball consistently let them down. Sterling was the next to waste a cross.
The former Liverpool man soon nearly made amends when he teed up De Bruyne after turning Leicester centre-back Robert Huth. De Bruyne's side-foot drive was palmed away by Kasper Schmeichel.
As the Premier League's official Twitter noted, Leicester's defenders were being called into action early and often:
Schmeichel was also called into action again after Sagna and De Bruyne combined to release Sterling in the box. The young winger also forced Schmeichel to tip another shot over the bar.
Sterling's pace caused a host of problems for the home side. He'd moved centrally, almost alongside Aguero. With De Bruyne drifting infield, City's shape morphed into a narrow 4-4-2 or 4-2-2-2 formation.
Sterling was a menace, but Squawka Football felt his movement marginalised another of City's key figures:
Leicester's answer was to drop deeper. Inler was practically operating as a third centre-back between Huth and Wes Morgan.
James Sharpe of the Leicester Mercury felt the home side was playing too passively:
#LCFC showing Man City arguably too much respect. I know they played three days ago but no pressing and Vardy is really isolated.— James Sharpe (@TheSharpeEnd) December 29, 2015
Despite being in firm control, City were almost undone twice in quick succession against the run of play. First, Marc Albrighton couldn't connect with a whipped cross from left-back Christian Fuchs.
Then Vardy was put through after a blunder at the back from Otamendi. Inexplicably, the league's most prolific striker blazed over.
Surprisingly, two such attack-minded teams could only produce an entertaining yet goalless opening half.
Sharpe continued to bemoan how deep the Foxes were sitting behind the front line:
City should have gone ahead at the start of the second half. Silva and De Bruyne combined to give Aguero a chance. But the striker's near-post run couldn't quite connect cleanly with the Belgian's low cross.
As this shot shows, the ex-Atletico Madrid man should have scored:
Kante then snapped a dipping shot narrowly wide after a fantastic break featuring some exquisite touches from Vardy. When City got back on the attack, De Bruyne and Sterling worked an opening for Aguero, but a desperate block in the box had the Argentinian striker screaming for a handball.
Despite Aguero's chances, Leicester were playing with more authority after the break. Ranieri took the chance to be bold. He swapped out holding player Inler for striker Leonardo Ulloa.
City countered by introducing their own target man. Aguero, still not fully fit, made way for Wilfried Bony. Silva, another City player still not fully sharp, was subbed for jet-heeled winger Jesus Navas.
Ranieri introduced forward Andy King for Drinkwater, a clear sign of his desire for all three points. Sharpe applauded the attacking intent from the Leicester boss:
Even if #LCFC go on to lose this game, Ranieri should be applauded for his attacking intent with his subs. Did it against United too.— James Sharpe (@TheSharpeEnd) December 29, 2015
But the subs couldn't make a difference and the game ended goalless.
Despite taking a point against City's multi-million pound, title-chasing squad, Ranieri believes the Foxes' next game, against a newly promoted side, represents a more daunting challenge:
Ranieri - Believe me Bournemouth will be more difficult than tonight— James Robson (@JamesRobsonMEN) December 29, 2015
While the Italian may not find many to endorse this view, few will disagree with his assessment of the first half of Leicester's season:
CLAUDIO: "What we're doing is a miracle. I'd love to continue but it's not easy. We must keep fighting like today, that's our way." #LeiMnc— Leicester City (@LCFC) December 29, 2015
The club's miraculous run was briefly interrupted by defeat at Liverpool. But Ranieri applauded how his players bounced back after events at Anfield:
While Ranieri was pleased, Pellegrini felt the draw didn't reflect his player's dominance:
Pellegrini has also been counting the cost of being without Kompany, his lone linchpin at the back. The City boss detailed how long the club captain is going to miss, according to Stuart Brennan of the Manchester Evening News:
Pellegrini: Kompany out for 3-4 weeks— Stuart Brennan (@StuBrennanMEN) December 29, 2015
City do indeed miss Kompany, even though they kept Leicester scoreless. OptaJoe revealed how rare an occurrence a clean sheet sans Kompany is for the Citizens:
1 - Manchester City have kept their first clean sheet of the season without Vincent Kompany in the line up. Zip.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 29, 2015
Repeating the trick at Watford on January 2 won't be easy.
The stalemate still leaves both sides in the top three and in the thick of the title race. But it's Arsenal who will feel like the real winners after this result.