The fact that perennial also-rans Leicester City won the Premier League in 2016 is nothing short of a footballing miracle, the like of which will never happen again. The Claudio Ranieri-managed side triumphed over giants of the game including Manchester Utd, Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea on their way to a victory no one thought possible at the beginning of the season. But how did they do it? Let’s find out.
The Vardy-Mahrez Factor
Leicester City consistently picked holes in opposition defences through a tactically astute approach that worked successfully by getting the most out of the talents of the team’s two best attacking players. That striker Jamie Vardy had the best season of his life is no surprise and his goals made the most telling contribution to the Foxes’ title-winning year.
Similarly unsurprising is Riyad Mahrez’s big-money move to Manchester City following his breakout year in 2015-2016, helping them to the title in 2019. These two players provided Leicester with an offensive “x factor” that was supported by a hard-working, defensively-minded set-up around them.
Tough to Beat
Ranieri’s tactics made Leicester a difficult team to beat. They weren’t winning games by many goals but what they were doing was winning when it mattered. The manager incentivized the Foxes to keep clean sheets, helped by the consistency of goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and centre-backs Robert Huth and Wes Morgan. Inviting teams to attack and nullifying the threat was Raneiri’s approach.
Utilizing the counter-attack, new recruit N’Golo Kante, who has emerged as one of the best ball-winning midfielders in the world, was instrumental in this strategy, combining through the width provided by Mahrez and the blistering pace of Vardy to help score vital goals.
Both Kante, Mahrez and coach Ranieri have now left the club and it shows; they lost 16 games last season and finished ninth. You’ll get long odds for a repeat in 2019-2020 even if, as the Unibet Premier League bets highlight, they’re still fancied for a top 10 place.
Taking nothing away from the feat, Leicester City’s triumphant road to the Premier League title in 2016 was helped by the usual contenders having an inconsistent year. That the Foxes chief rivals during the season were the perennially inconsistent Arsenal (who haven’t come close to the league title in years) tells you a lot about the quality of the division in 2015-2016.
Just compare 2019’s Champions League quarter finals with 2016 to highlight what an average season it was for English football’s typically strong teams. Four of the last eight teams in 2019’s biggest European competition were English (Spurs, Manchester Utd, Manchester City and Liverpool). In 2016, only Manchester City made it to this stage of the competition. In fact, City and Liverpool lost 20 games between them in 2015-2016 compared to just five in 2018-2019.
Luck, Players, Team Spirit
You need a bit of luck. And Leicester City’s fans and players have to admit they had plenty of it in 2015-2016. But you can’t take anything away from the team spirit and togetherness they showed throughout. They had star performers in Vardy, Mahrez and Kante and won the games that mattered. We won’t see anything similar in the Premier League ever again. That’s what makes it so special.