When the 2015/16 Premier League campaign kicked off in August, you would have been forgiven for not fancying Leicester City to challenge for the title. The bookies had them down at 5,000-1 outsiders to become champions but they’ve defied the odds in their extraordinary transformation from relegation favourites to title winners.
Cast your mind back to March 2015, when Leicester recorded their seventh successive Premier League game without a win. A 4-3 defeat against Tottenham put them seven points from safety with nine games left to play and, given their woeful run of form, they seemed somewhat dead and buried. However, what was to follow was remarkable.
A late winner from Andy King against West Ham ended a run of eight games without a win in all competitions, and it was followed up by a 3-2 victory over West Brom, with Jamie Vardy getting a late winner. Impressive victories against Newcastle and Southampton, along with a 5-1 dismantling of QPR at the King Power secured Premier League survival for the Foxes despite a worryingly barren run. Not exactly a traditional platform for a Premier League title challenge is it?
Throughout Premier League history, every champion had finished in the top three the previous season. On average, the league winners placed second the season before. However, Leicester City finished in 14th place last year, a huge 46 points behind the eventual winners Chelsea, reflecting just how great their transformation has been.
Just How Did They Do It?
On the opening day of the season, very few people paid any notice to Leicester’s 4-2 win against Sunderland which took them to the top of the table. The Foxes stayed there for two weeks before slipping to third after two draws against Spurs and Bournemouth, marking the start of their widely anticipated slide down the table.
However, that slide never came with Claudio Ranieri’s side failing to be pushed off top spot after their 1-0 win against Spurs on January 11th . Who would have imagined they would have clinched the elusive Premier League title with two games to spare?
It wasn’t until the 3-1 win against Manchester City that people really started buying into the possibility of a title challenge from Ranieri’s side but their last gasp defeat at the Emirates seemed a fatal blow to their hopes. However, their response was worthy of the title in itself, with the Foxes taking 23 points from the next 27 available.
|Team||Possession (PL Rank)||No. of Passes (PL Rank)||Passing Accuracy (PL Rank)|
|Leicester||42.34% (18th)||12,536 (18th)||70.01 (20th)|
|Tottenham||56.82% (4th)||17,512 (6th)||80.04 (7th)|
|Arsenal||58.63% (1st)||20,257 (1st)||84.35% (1st)|
|Manchester City||57.34% (3rd)||19,487 (2nd)||83.35% (2nd)|
|Manchester United||57.98% (2nd)||18,341 (3rd)||82.23% (4th)|
Leicester’s title win can be attributed to their direct, counter attacking style of play. While many teams opt to retain the majority of possession, the Foxes adopted a reverse strategy, recording an average of 42.34% possession per match, putting them 18th in the league standings. Despite the lack of possession, by December they had scored the joint-most goals in the league.
During the second half of the season, Leicester changed from their expansive style of play in order to preserve a solid defensive shape and make life hard for their opponents. The Foxes conceded 25 times in their first 19 games this season. However, in their next 17 games, they let in just nine goals.
Success On A Budget
Despite access to large funds from a billionaire Thai owner, Leicester’s success this season has come at a relatively low price. While they aren’t operating on a minuscule budget, the Foxes’ most used starting eleven this season cost just £22m.
Therefore, Christian Benteke alone cost more than the entire Leicester side and he’s hardly been a success. Leicester’s side cost almost ten times less than Chelsea 2014/15 squad, with City and United also fielding teams worth over £150m during their successful campaigns.
Money Doesn’t Buy Success
Leicester’s fairy-tale has been epitomised by their 29 year old striker, Jamie Vardy. After being released from Sheffield Wednesday at the age of 16 for being too small, he rose through non-league football and made the £1m switch to Leicester in 2012. He now finds himself second top goal-scorer in the league with 24 goals and an English international, who many have tipped to feature prominently in the Euro’s.
Riyad Mahrez signed for Leicester in January 2014 for a fee of just half a million pounds and has also been one of the key features of Leicester’s success this season. His rise to the top has been unexpected to the least and his recent PFA Player of the Season award typifies the quality he has showed this season, contributing a total of 17 goals and 11 assists in the league alone. Contrast that to Raheem Sterling whose £49m move has failed to provide any sort of return for City and the concept is clear – money doesn’t buy success.
A True Fairy-Tale
Leicester’s Premier League success this year is one of the greatest sporting stories of all time. In a season of inconsistency, the Foxes rose from the ashes and took the league by storm, showing attacking drive and intense desire to march their way to the top and secure that elusive title. Leicester City, we salute you.