James Lasley talks us through the reasons behind Leicester’s success:
After officially qualifying for the UEFA Champions League with a 2-0 victory over Sunderland, the Leicester City craze has spread to the four corners of the globe. From America to Asia, football fans worldwide are in disbelief of Leicester City’s immense success. At times throughout the season, I have found myself unable to fathom how the likes of Leicester have consistently slayed Premier League giants such as Liverpool, City, United, and Spurs. Time and time again they have proven that they are, in fact, the real deal. It is no longer just a fluke. Last years relegation candidates are now flying towards their first ever Premier League title. So, just how does a tiny club from the midlands of England take the world by storm? What factors are at the core of Leicester City’s success?
One cannot discuss Leicester City’s achievements without immediately crediting their new manager, Claudio Ranieri. The Italian has managed over 15 clubs in the last 30 years, including big names like Atletico Madrid, Roma, Chelsea, and Juventus. Ranieri had a fair career in club football leading up to his transition into international management. However, having been at the helm of the Greek national team for less than four months, Ranieri was sacked. Left only with a tarnished reputation, his future in management looked bleak. Upon his appointment as Leicester City manager, many eyebrows were raised as there was serious doubt from pundits, former players, and fans alike. Regardless, Ranieri maintained his belief that he was capable of keeping his new club in the top flight of English football.
The doubters were silenced when the Foxes trumped Sunderland 4-2 on opening day. Ranieri’s side possessed a never before seen confidence in their play, which carried them to a first place spot at Christmas. The clubs newfound success was the result of Ranieri’s tactical changes. He brilliantly utilized his player’s strengths by transforming Leicester into a deadly counter attacking side. Jamie Vardy’s pace up top allows for the Foxes to quickly transition from defence to attack. As a result, even the best attacking clubs can’t commit too many men forward without the fear of being countered.
N’Golo Kante’s introduction into the side has been a great call by the new manager as he has been arguably the most important player of the season. His hard work, technical ability, and consistency gives Leicester the spine they’ve been missing in previous years. While the success of Leicester City is so often accredited to the players, one must not forget the man pulling the strings to make it all happen.
Lack of Form From Fellow Title Contenders
It is no debate that the big guns have failed to impress this season. Take Chelsea, last year’s champions, for example, who have mounted the worst title defence in Premier League history. The West Londoners have looked uninspired, and their play has reflected that fact. Add to that the inner turmoil the blues have faced regarding the controversial Eva Carneiro incident and Jose Mourinho’s sacking, and the way should have been paved for big money clubs such as Arsenal, Manchester City, and Manchester United to battle for the title. However, that didn’t happen either. Arsenal, after looking to challenge for the title for much of the season, appear to be headed to another disappointing 4th place finish. Manchester City’s form went out the door after the announcement of Pep Guardiola’s move to the Etihad. Only in recent weeks have the Cityzens looked to have regained their form. Things haven’t gone well on the other side of Manchester either as United are still struggling to rediscover the dominance in England the had during Sir Alex Ferguson’s time as manager. Three seasons and two managers later, Louis Van Gaal’s side find themselves at odds with simply clinching a European spot. The Red Devil’s rivals Liverpool have somewhat improved throughout the season. Jurgen Klopp has finally had enough time to improve the poor performing squad. However, the damage done to their league standing while Brendan Rodgers was in place has kept the Reds out of title contention. Only Spurs remain to challenge Leicester City for the title. After the Fox’s slip up against West Ham, Pochettino’s side took advantage of the opportunity to shorten the distance between the two teams with a commanding 4-0 win over Stoke. While it should not take away from the immense success Leicester City have had this season, it must be observed that the Premier League’s big teams have failed to perform this season.
Minor Players Playing a Major Part
For months the front pages have been full of the likes of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, and for good reason. These players have been a key part of Leicester City’s success this season. With a combined 54 goals and assist between the two, this “dynamic duo” has been striking fear into the hearts of defenders since August. However, a few world class attackers won’t win titles. Take Chelsea for example, who have quality all around. Even players as highly rated as Hazard and Costa have been unable to inspire their side to consistently gain points. What sets the Foxes aside is not their big names, but their small ones. Players such as Robert Huth, Danny Drinkwater, Marc Albrighton, and N’Golo Kante, who had no major expectations for their season have stepped up, and their impact has been undeniable. For example, Drinkwater and Albrighton have 5 and 6 assists this season respectively. Both midfielders have trounced “world class” playmakers such as Cesc Fabregas, Juan Mata, Yaya Toure, and Alexis Sanchez who all have 4 assists this season. This achievement is even more impressive when you see that Albrighton had a mere 3 assists last season and Drinkwater had none.
The Foxes back line consists of four unsung players in Fuchs, Huth, Morgan, and Simpson, and is topped off with Peter Schmeichel in goal. Second only to Spurs, Leicester City have one of the most notable defensive records in the league. Allowing a mere 0.94 goals per game and having earned a remarkable 14 clean sheets, Ranieri’s Leicester look a completely different side from that of previous seasons.
However, this defensive feat is not all the doing of the defenders. Much of the credit has to go to Kante, who has been an absolute powerhouse in the midfield. The Frenchman leads the league in tackles with a whopping 146. Combine that with his 134 interceptions, which is more than any other player this season, and you can see why the Foxes have been so difficult to score against. Kante’s exceptional defensive capabilities have reaped vast benefits for his side. They enable his fellow midfielders to have more freedom going forward. This results in plentiful scoring opportunities as the more creative players can simply focus on their attacking role without the fear of being caught out of position. In addition, Kante’s consistent winning of possession in the midfield enables him to quickly release the likes of Jamie Vardy. Counter attacking football is dangerous game. Sitting back and allowing one’s opposition to have chances is always risky. However, with N’golo Kante in the squad, it works to great effect.
Leicester City have taken the world by storm this season. In a footballing world full of high wages and rich teams dominating the league, the Fox’s success has been a breath of fresh air to fans of the game. Through the brilliance of a world class manager, the failure of majors teams, and the quality performances by the lesser known Leicester players, one small club from the Midlands of England has given hope to teams and fans alike. Because if Leicester City can win the Premier League, anyone can.
Follow James Lasley on Twitter – @TheJamesLasley