What an evening to be in Leicester tonight? Not one but two sporting triumphs to bask in the glory as both Leicester City and snooker player Mark Selby are triumphant tonight. Both successes at the start of each respective competition was remote at best. Selby came into the Crucible with little form and given little chance while Leicester City were dismissed as also rans before a ball was even kicked this season. 5000/1 chance at the start of the season was emphatic, this side had no divine right to be hovering in the title mix, how wrong the bookies and pundits were?
How did Leicester City win the title?
Hard work. Determination. Organization. Team Work. Unity. Those words resonated throughout the season for the Foxes this season starting with a 4-2 triumph against Sunderland at the King Power Stadium and that momentum never relinquished for the rest of the season.
Shrewd signings during the tenure of previous manager Nigel Pearson and current head supremo Claudio Ranieri have highlighted massive issues in recruitment in other supposed top clubs such as Manchester United. If you look at the key players which have started most games for Leicester City this season, their roads to King Power Stadium are quite similar; shrouded in rejection by previous clubs who deemed them surplus to requirements.
Leicester was a club to rebuild their careers and one would wonder what those clubs who rejected players such as Kante, Morgan, Vardy, Mahrez are thinking tonight? Twenty-three million in total transfers spent, Leicester City have demonstrated to other clubs that you do not need a war chest to win titles. You need smart recruitment, identifying the right characters to join the football club and anything is possible.
Off the pitch, Claudio Ranieri was mercurial in deflecting attention away from his squad throughout the season. His forty point mantra at the start of the season set realistic expectations for the club, kept the fan base in check with their expectations and allowed to the players to focus on their performance one game at a time.
When forty points was achieved, the focus was then to secure Champions League and it was only the last two weeks when Leicester beat Sunderland away that talk of league title success was uttered by the shrewd Italian whose reputation for tinkering squad was the contrary this season only using twenty-three players in the league this season.
On the pitch, Leicester had massive performances throughout the first eleven. Kasper Schmeichel now has an EPL medal like his father Peter. His assured performances in goal gave confidence to his back four and his vital saves at times during the season gave Leicester the lifelines required to win games on another season may not have achieved. Schmeichel’s stock continues to rise.
The back four on paper looked nothing special but their performances were united and organized throughout. Wes Morgan, a player who struggled at times to cope with the top flight last season has being a man reborn this season. His aerial dominance at both ends of the park was a huge plus for the Foxes.
Morgan’s performances were aided by the arrival of Robert Huth, a player deemed surplus to requirements at Stoke City. Huth’s organizational ability came to the fore and his goals during the season particularly the winner against Tottenham Hotspurs at White Hart Lane was a huge psychological blew for Tottenham in this title win.
Danny Simpson and Christian Fuchs on the full back flanks have being sublime this season. Their defensive duties have being unheralded but their ability to keep their shape to allow Huth and Morgan to marshal central defense areas was huge. Fuchs is the transfer buy of the season, consistent performer in the full back position and his ability with quality crosses in the box for Vardy was a real key this season.
The best central midfield partnership this season in the league was undoubtedly Kante and Drinkwater. Kante was outstanding, his energy and work rate to break down opposition attacks were the norm and Drinkwater’s game management and ability to hit excellent distribution to his flank players and hit Vardy early with balls over the top of defenses were enough to warrant an England International recall. A key component of Leicester City’s success, their protection of their back four was also paramount and they can feel proud of their roles in this league title success.
The fact that Leicester City had the third worse ball possession statistics in the league this season makes this triumph even more amazing. With such limited ball, you need a team which has the pace and guile to unlock opposition defenses quickly. Leicester City had that in abundance this season with several players coming to the fore.
The midfield flanks for the Foxes has being a revelation this season. The cameos of Albrighton, Schlupp and Gray at the end of this campaign have being impressive but they have continued the work laid down by the Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez. What must Le Havre be thinking tomorrow morning, dispatched the player for a paltry 300k and you would imagine the valuation is now up to at least thirty million now.
Mahrez showed signs of this season’s form towards the end of last season when Leicester launched a superb relegation escape act. His ball dribbling skills were bamboozling opponent full backs and his vision to pick the right pass at the right time for the likes of Vardy and Ulloa set up endless goal scoring chances. Mahrez chipped in this season with numerous assists and goals and his understanding with Vardy was telepathic at times.
Jamie Vardy has had the season of his life. His goals have ultimately won the league title for Leicester City. His road to the summit starting with Halifax Town to Fleetwood Town (several other clubs passing over on the player) is a Hollywood Movie in its own right. Vardy has all the components of a top striker: pace, work rate and eye for goal.
Vardy’s pace has tormented opposition defenses throughout this season thanks to quality quick ball from the likes of Mahrez and Drinkwater. His ability to roll up the sleeves and run for hopeless causes allowed his side the time to regroup defensively. His goal haul culminating with the record for the number of consecutive games scored in the league was just rewards for several standout performances.
Vardy’s red card against West Ham United with four games to go looked a defining moment in the title race but Leicester City had the likes of Ulloa and Ozakzaki in their ranks to steady the ship upfront and provided the work rate and goals in Vardy’s absence to push Leicester City over the line. The decision to include Jeff Schlupp in the starting lineup against Swansea by Ranieri was a masterstroke.
It has being a magical season. Leicester City have shown that team work, heart and determination are still key to team success. Leicester City have demonstrated that it is okay to dream big; it is acceptable to mix it with the big boys. This win hopefully is a watershed moment for the EPL and that several other teams will take on the mantle from Leicester City who could conceivably challenge next season to compete at the top of the league. Well done to Leicester. May 2nd a day that the residents of Leicester will never forget.