So it’s all over! As the dust settles on surely the craziest, the most unpredictable season of football ever played at any level, anywhere in the world, it’s time to step back and take a look back at what we’ve witnessed. Leicester City – yes, I will say that again. LEICESTER CITY – have defied all the odds to win a first ever Premier League title.
The Foxes only just survived relegation and stayed up 12 months ago thanks to a miracle escape act under former boss Nigel Pearson. But few would have expected his summer replacement Claudio Ranieri to do the same, leave alone, mastermind what is one of the greatest sporting success stories in living memory. Here, we look back at the six key games which were instrumental in Leicester City’s unbelievable journey on the way to becoming champions of England against all odds (5000-1).
SEPTEMBER 13 – LEICESTER CITY 3-2 ASTON VILLA
Leicester came back from the first international break still unbeaten and among the surprise challengers at the top of the table. But it didn’t look good at all when Jack Grealish gave the visitors the lead in the first half with a fine finish before Carles Gil doubled the advantage after the break with another excellent strike. The Foxes, however, turned things around in a pulsating final 20 minutes as Ritchie de Laet halved the deficit with 18 minutes remaining before Jamie Vardy fired the Foxes back on level terms 10 minutes later. Nathan Dyer then netted an 89th minute winner on his debut to complete a stunning comeback. The result was perhaps a defining moment in both clubs’ season which sent them in completely opposite directions. Leicester climbed to second, while Villa went into free fall.
JANUARY 13 – TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 0-1 LEICESTER CITY
It looked like the inevitable had finally come. Without a victory in four games since the 3-2 at Everton in mid December, the pressure was on the Foxes as they travelled to a resurgent Spurs side who had lost one in 15. Things did not look like improving against Tottenham as they dominated in front of the White Hart Lane crowd. However, after riding their luck, including Harry Kane hitting the bar, Robert Huth headed one into the top corner beyond Hugo Lloris. The game had looked destined to end in a stalemate but Huth’s late effort stunned the home crowd and ended Leicester’s run of over five hours without a league goal to move them level with Arsenal at the top of the league, only goal difference now separating the top two. More importantly, it established a seven-point advantage over Spurs, their eventual main rivals in the race for the Premier League crown.
FEBRUARY 6 – MACHESTER CITY 1-3 LEICESTER CITY
If the draw against City in December had made people sit up and take notice of Leicester, this result at the Etihad Stadium sent shockwaves throughout the football world. Huth might well have been considered the unlikeliest of match-winners, but it took the big German just three minutes to break the deadlock as the Foxes made the perfect start. Riyad Mahrez made it 2-0 early in the second half before Huth headed home on the hour mark to put the outcome beyond all doubt. Sergio Aguero did get one back late in the game but it was a mere consolation for lacklustre City. All the talk before the match had been about this game being the one when Leicester would finally begin to wobble but Ranieri’s side put on a footballing masterclass which saw them emerge as deserved winners.
FEBRUARY 27 – LEICESTER CITY 1-0 NORWICH CITY
A sketchy home win against a struggling Norwich City may seem a strange inclusion at face value but there is a strong argument that when we look back at this fairytale it might just be considered as the most important of the whole campaign. Coming off the back of just a third league defeat of the season and what felt like a momentous result at the Emirates Stadium, Leicester entered the final minute against the Canaries goalless and without inspiration. Step forward forgotten man Leonardo Ulloa, who turned in a low cross from Marc Albrighton at the far post for just his third of the season and perhaps the biggest of his team’s incredible campaign. The obvious tension felt by the manager, players and fans alike was released in that second as the King Power Stadium absolutely erupted with joy and relief. The result was a huge one as it steadied the ship after the disappointment of the week before and also kickstarted a run on which the Foxes would win five of their next six games 1-0.
APRIL 17 – LEICESTER CITY 2-2 WEST HAM UNITED
This was the game Leicester really showed their inner strength by rescuing a late, late point from a hugely controversial game at the King Power. Having won their last five, on paper it might look as if this was a case of two points dropped, but in the end, it was more like an invaluable point earned. Vardy gave the hosts the lead on 18 minutes but the England striker was sent off for a second yellow card on 56 minutes after being penalised for diving. The Foxes’ title hopes looked to be derailed by two West Ham goals in the last 10 minutes as Andy Carroll’s penalty (84 min) and Aaron Cresswell’s screamer (86 min) turned the clash on its head. But the leaders showed character and determination to claw themselves back into the game, with Ulloa keeping his nerve to snatch a point at the death from the penalty spot (95 min), after Carroll was adjudged to have fouled Jeff Schlupp. The result felt like a win as it delivered a massive psychological boost to their increasingly strong title prospects.
APRIL 24 – LEICESTER CITY 4-0 SWANSEA CITY
Without the suspended Vardy and having to rely on another late Ulloa goal to rescue a point against West Ham the previous week, Ranieri’s side were coming under increasing pressure from Spurs, who had just thrashed Stoke City by four. Nerves? Not a bit. They systematically dismantled the Swans by a ruthless display of attacking football. Mahrez set the Foxes on their way in the 10th minute and then helped double their advantage in the 30th minute, sending in an inch-perfect free-kick for Ulloa to head past Lukasz Fabianski. Ulloa added a third on the hour mark before Albrighton rounded off the proceedings in the 85th minute. Leicester looked every inch the team with one hand on the Premier League trophy and 24 hours later, Spurs were held 1-1 by West Brom to leave the Foxes three points from the title. This turned out to be their last game in front of the home crowd before being crowned Champions of England at long last, and what a wonderful performance it was.
So, there they are. Six games, 16 crucial points which turned out to be instrumental in Leicester City’s fairytale campaign. In the end, they were deserving Premier League champions and now the Champions League beckons. Big nights in Europe, lifting the spectacular trophy under the lights of the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff next June… Don’t be stupid. Leicester City could never win the Champions League, or could they?
This article is written by Shantanu Ambekar, you can follow him on Twitter at @ShantanuAmbekar. What are your thoughts? Let us know by dropping a comment via our comments box below. Make sure you follow us on Twitter, Google+, Instagram and like us on Facebook.