In May 2008, just 8 years ago, Leicester City were relegated to the third tier of English football, scoring just 42 goals, the least from any team in the Football League Championship that season. Now they will go down in Barclays Premier League, and sporting, history.
The 5000-1 outsiders for the title at the start of the 2015/16 campaign have produced numerous magical moments this year, from Jamie Vardy’s 22 goals to Kasper Schmeichel’s saves to Mahrez’ magnificent assists, Claudio Ranieri’s foxes have been deadly on the counter attack and assured in defence, making them a dominant outfit this season.
The surprise story of the campaign has also no doubt been assisted by the lacklustre form of usual title favourites Manchester City and Arsenal, while Manchester United and Liverpool appear to still be in a transitory phase. It was an abysmal campagin for last season’s champions, Chelsea.
“The Foxes then remained undefeated until Boxing Day, acquiring 26 points out of a possible 30 in the league”
But with this factor and considerable slices of luck aside, Leicester City have no doubt been everyone’s second team this season, defying overwhelming odds to make history. The Midlands club finished runners-up of the top tier back in 1928/29, but never before have they won the top-flight title.
After a rejuvenating end to the 2014/15 campaign, manager Nigel Pearson, who achieved promotion with Leicester, was replaced by the experienced Italian Claudio Ranieri in the summer. His team began the season in promising fashion, unbeaten until the end of September with impressive victories against Sunderland, West Ham and Aston Villa.
The Foxes then remained undefeated until Boxing Day, acquiring 26 points out of a possible 30 in the league. This run featured Jamie Vardy breaking Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s total of goals in consecutive matches in the Premiership, attaining an outstanding 11 goals in as many games against Manchester United in late November.
Crucial victories against Tottenham and Stoke City set a precedent in the new year before arguably the result of the season, a 3-1 comprehensive win away at Manchester City in February which made Leicester fans dare to dream about winning the title.
A series of hard-fought 1-0 triumphs constituted Leicester’s fixtures in March. However supporters held their breath when Jamie Vardy was given a 3 match ban for diving and abusive conduct towards referee John Moss in the 2-2 draw against West Ham, where the gap was closed with second placed Spurs to just 5 points.
Nevertheless a 4-0 victory against Swansea calmed the nerves and with Tottenham dropping points by drawing 1-1 with West Brom, Leicester were on the brink. And from there, the rest, as they say, is history.
“It has been undoubtedly a team effort to make the King Power Stadium a fortress this season and produce dominating away performances”
Their success on the pitch has often been attributed to striker Jamie Vardy who has notched 22 goals in all competitions and Riyad Mahrez who has supplied 18 goals and 11 assists this campaign. Both players were bought for a combined total of £1.4 million, a bargain when considering how much Tottenham paid for Erik Lamela. The pairs pace, creativity and clinical finishing have been characteristic of much of Leicester’s counter attacking style this season, and Mahrez was deservedly named PFA Players’ Player of the year.
Yet it has been undoubtedly a team effort to make the King Power Stadium a fortress this season and produce dominating away performances. Kasper Schmeichel has been imperious, N’Golo Kante has made the most interceptions of any Premier League Midfielder, Wes Morgan and Robert Huth make 13 clearances on average per game whilst Danny Drinkwater makes 60 passes a game and has made 6 assists. Drinkwater and Vardy have also earned England call ups for their illustrious displays throughout the campaign.
Claudio Ranieri has used the same 18 players all season in the Premier League demonstrating how his loyal squad have worked as a unit with unrivalled determination and team spirit. The Italian has churned the best performances out of what were a seemingly average group of Premier League players at the start of the season. However, they have left Arsenal, Manchester City, United and Chelsea in their wake to top the Premier League pile.
They lost just three times, and Ranieri’s very own Fantastic Mr Foxes have shown that team spirit and hard work can achieve success with a modest amount of money spent on assembling a squad. This gives the beautiful game hope at a time when the football world seems preoccupied with multi million pound transfers and salaries as the only method to build a successful team and acquire silverware.
Just to place Leicester’s achievements into perspective, their 5000-1 odds were longer than the prospect of alien lifeforms being discovered in space by 2017 – which were 1000-1.
Words by Joe Tanner
Images courtesy of Wikimedia commons and youtube.com.