Saturday, May 25, 2024

Premier League Greatest Teams – Leicester City 2015/16

This week, due to the lack of sport, there isn’t a whole lot for us to write about. As a result, I’ve been digging around my brain furiously trying to come up with ideas for content, and so this is what I’ve come up with.

For the next seven days, each day I will publish an article with regards to one of the teams I deem to be one of the seven best of the Premier League era. Today, as you may have guessed from the not-so-subtle headline, I’m going to focus on the Leicester City team that won the Premier League back in 2015/16.

Story of the season

Leicester City came into the season with a new manager in Claudio Ranieri – the famous Italian football legend known in England for his time as Chelsea manager. The following season, the Foxes had just about avoided relegation in their first season back in the Premier League under the guidance of Nigel Pearson.

In the summer window, Leicester added the likes of N’golo Kante, a French midfielder from Caen, Robert Huth, an experienced central defender, and Shinji Okazaki, a Japanese striker from Mainz in Germany. Of course, where there are incomings, there are outgoings – David Nugent and Chris Wood were the major departures.

The season got off to a pretty decent start as the Foxes lost just one of their opening ten games, a 5-2 battering at home to Arsenal. The main issue in the early part of the season was the goals against column – they didn’t manage to keep a clean sheet until October 24th against Crystal Palace – but they were picking up points nonetheless.

The loss against Arsenal in late September was the last time Ranieri’s side would lose a game until Boxing Day, when they fell 1-0 to Liverpool at Anfield. Liverpool and Arsenal were the only teams to inflict a defeat on Leicester in the league that season – with the Gunners doing the double over the Foxes.

By Christmas, Leicester had won all but six of their games, picking up at least a point in five of the others. At this point, they sat at the top of the division, three points clear of Manchester City. While most still thought the title was never going to happen and expected them to drop off, it was at this point a few started to believe…

Leicester were winning games regularly, and didn’t look like dropping points at all. Teams such as Newcastle, whom they had struggled to beat a year previous, they had absolutely rolled through.

The loss to Liverpool sparked a run of games that did cast doubt over the Leicester team as they picked up just one win in five league games – a run of games that marked their worst period in the season. Wins against Stoke City and Liverpool in the return fixture followed, then came the season defining game…

For many, including myself, Leicester’s visit to Manchester City in early February of that season perfectly summed up the team, the campaign they had had and the reasons they won the league. The Foxes put on a show in Manchester, taking an early lead and going on to thoroughly outclass Man City with their own unique brand of football.

Riyadh Mahrez was unstoppable that day, as was Robert Huth. The veteran centre-half bagged himself a brace while Mahrez put on a display that notified clubs across the world that the season he was enjoying was NOT a flash in the pan.

Interestingly, this game was followed by perhaps Leicester’s darkest moment of the season as they fell 2-1 to Arsenal at the Emirates courtesy of a 95th minute winner from Danny Welbeck. However, that would be the final time the team would taste defeat in the season, finishing strongly with 11 games unbeaten.

For the majority of the season, it looked like Leicester’s main title rivals would be Tottenham Hotspur. Mauricio Pochettino’s team kept within touching distance for most of the season, but they totally ran out juice at the back end – failing to register a win in their final four games.

Following Leicester’s 1-1 draw at Old Trafford on May 1st, Spurs had to go to Chelsea and win the next day. Chelsea hadn’t been great that season and were in the lower half of the table – Jose Mourinho had been sacked earlier in the season following a loss at Leicester, but Guus Hiddink’s team found some Jose-like sh*t-housery for this game.

Chelsea turned up at Stamford Bridge, ready to welcome their London rivals, intent on spoiling the party. Eden Hazard had endured a shockingly poor campaign, but put in a properly vintage Hazard display in this game, bagging a late goal to nick a point and hand the title to Leicester City.

All through the game, there had been a little bit of needle. Spurs were shown NINE yellow cards in the game – a Premier League record. Despite having gone two goals up in the game, Spurs lost their bottle, allowing Chelsea to score twice in the second half.

What it meant was that, for the first time in their history, Leicester were crowned champions of the English Premier League. At the beginning of the season, the Foxes were 5,000/1 to win the big prize – bookies had far shorter odds for Elvis Presley to be found safe and well living on a desert island somewhere.

By God was it deserved too. Their attractive brand of football was complimented by their squad, which was packed to the brim with like-able figures such as Kante, Christian Fuchs and Shinji Okazaki. It meant that, for everybody in the world apart from Spurs fans, there couldn’t have been a more popular champion.

The Foxes made history in the biggest of ways, and despite the fact my team (Newcastle) was relegated this season, I’ll always look back on the 2015/16 campaign with incredibly fond memories.

The Leicester City team we will never forget

I’m pretty sure there aren’t many Premier League fans who can’t tell you this Leicester team man for man without hesitation, but here it is anyway.

There aren’t a whole lot of top quality standout names in the squad, and that’s what made it so brilliant. Up this point, the best achievement for most of these boys in their careers was promotion from the second division.

Take Danny Simpson, a player who I have a lot of fondness for due to his time at Newcastle. His career had been distinctly average up this point – he’d never won an England cap, never won a trophy, never really stood out as anything other than a bang average footballer.

Then, in 2015/16, he temporarily became one of the best full-backs in England. With game-winning goal-line clearances as well as a stunning work rate down the right wing, in many ways he personified everything that was so great about this team.

They really proved that having a team full of world class footballers and having a world class team were two very different things. Mind you, that’s not to say they didn’t have one or two world class footballers.

The one standout for me, and I think for most people, is Ngolo Kante. The smiley, lovable little Frenchman brought an incredible energy to every game he was a part of. You know that saying, “the ball moves faster than the man”, not when Kante was on the pitch it didn’t – four years later and he’s still doing it even now at Chelsea.

The other two main standout players were of course, Mahrez and Vardy. They were the top two scorers and the top two assist providers for Leicester that year, and as a result were both nominated for the Ballon D’Or. Nowadays, Vardy is still banging them in at the King Power and is top scorer in the Premier League once more.

Meanwhile, Mahrez is enjoying his time at Manchester City where he has won four major trophies in less than two years, including another Premier League crown.

In summary…

There isn’t a more popular team in Premier League history than the Leicester City odds-defying, history-making title winning team. Each member of the squad, from the reserves all the way to the manager in Claudio Ranieri, were a delight to watch all season long.

I took incredible amounts of pleasure in watching them lift the Premier League trophy at the King Power Stadium. Since the passing of then-owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the achievement has become even more profound for football fans the world over.

Vichai not only brought the good times back to Leicester City, but to the city as a whole. He was the driving force behind his monumental achievement for the Foxes, and he’ll never be forgotten in English football – particularly in the city of Leicester.

Now, his son Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha has the reigns at the King Power Stadium and is doing a very stellar job of his own. Leicester have once more built a very good football team and currently sit in third position in the Premier League, poised for another season in the Champions League – if/when we get around to that.

From a personal standpoint, this Leicester team is one of my favourite of all time. The club will always have a soft spot in my heart because of that season and I sincerely hope that the 2015/16 Premier League title wasn’t the last title that heads to the great city of Leicester.

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