Season review: Leicester City

Xavi, Al Sadd head coach expects a tough game with Al Nassr

Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City side completed one of the most memorable and unlikely feats by winning the Premier League title in convincing fashion, finishing 10 points ahead of second-placed Arsenal.

We recall how their remarkable feat was achieved…

Overview

After narrowly escaping relegation last time around, Leicester were in the news for the wrong reasons at the start of the season after a group of their academy players, including the son of then-coach Nigel Pearson were involved in some unsavoury activity while touring Thailand. As a result, the trio were sacked and after falling out with the club’s owners, Pearson was replaced by Ranieri.

Ranieri’s methods seemed to fit Leicester like a glove and they made a fine start to the season for a club whose primary concern remained simply to remain in the league. By the end of October, though, it had become clear that this season’s Foxes side was a far more rounded team which, on form, legitimately belonged near the top of the table.

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Jamie Vardy went on an insane goal-scoring run, setting a new mark of scoring on 11 consecutive occasions and by Christmas, Leicester were at the top of the congested table. ‘They couldn’t could they?’ was the question on most people’s minds, although few expected them to maintain their momentum, let alone speed away from their rivals.

Somewhat disappointing results against Bournemouth and Aston Villa hinted that perhaps their early-season momentum had been lost, but victories against Liverpool and Man City, coupled with the chasing pack of Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City all dropping points at vital stages, put Leicester in pole position for the title.

The remaining two months’ fixtures were negotiated without much incident and Leicester were deservedly crowned champions with two matches to spare.

While they might have been aided by a lack of fixture congestion in the latter half of the season while their rivals all had responsibilities in the latter stages of various cup competitions, Leicester were by far the most consistent side in Premier League matches and deserve their chance as one of the seeds for next year’s UEFA Champions League.

Standout performance

Without a doubt, the 3-1 win at the Etihad Stadium. After beating Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool the week before, Leicester’s visit to favourites Man City seemed like something of a title decider: should the hosts win they would draw level with Ranieri’s boys on points and into the lead of the division on goal difference, while a Leicester win would give them some breathing space at the top of the table. Riyad Mahrez was in fine form on the day, providing the cross that led to Robert Huth’s opener, before turning goal-scorer himself just after the break.

Although Leicester ended up losing to Arsenal the following week, the win over City, who at that point were still regarded as the favourites to win the title, was arguably the pivotal point of the season: the three points gained were obviously worth their weight in gold but the belief they acquired with the result proved invaluable.

Biggest disappointment

Such was the nature of Leicester’s performance throughout, there is absolutely nothing disappointing about the Foxes effort. Every single player played to the utmost of their ability and the whole squad seemed to be united under Ranieri’s influence. Simply put, Leicester were exemplary in proving that money isn’t everything in modern football.

Best player(s)

While everyone performed admirably, three names clearly stand out: Mahrez, Vardy and N’Golo Kante. Understandably Vardy got most of the plaudits for his goal-scoring ability, but when the England striker started drawing blanks at the turn of the year, Mahrez’ creativity and threat and in front of goal shone through. Meanwhile, Kante – who was once regarded as too small to play professional football – provided a consistent barrier in front of the defense with his all-action midfield play.

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If you had to choose between the three, Mahrez would probably be the man. Seventeen goals and 11 assists is an excellent haul for a winger, with the Algerian instrumental to the way Leicester played.

Honourable mention for captain Wes Morgan, who was outstanding in defence throughout.

Player to watch next season

Former Fleetwood Town striker Vardy had by far the best season of his career, but in the second half of the season there was an overriding feeling that opposing teams had started to figure him out somewhat. Can he deliver the goods once again next time around or will he be regarded as perhaps the greatest ‘one season wonder’ of them all?

Prediction for next season

With all due respects, Leicester shouldn’t really be in contention to win next season’s title, although, as the 2015/2016 season clearly showed, one never really knows. A lot will depend on how many of their star performers remain at the King Power Stadium after catching the attention of some of world football’s big fish, while playing in the Champions League adds its own pressures. Another finish in the top four seems unlikely, although challenging for the European qualification spots shouldn’t be beyond them.

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