Leicester City – The Giant Killers – Are They Heavyweight or Lightweight Champions

Leicester City in title charge
Leicester City in title charge

Exactly this time last season, Leicester was at the cross-roads of facing relegation as they battled tooth and nail to remain at the top flight of English football, popularly known as the Barclay’s Premier League.

However, this season, the scenario has changed as Leicester are on the verge of creating the biggest upset by winning the Premier League against all odds.

As a team which began its sojourn to glory from the fifth tier of English football to becoming a prospective champion of England, with less fancy clubs like Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool in terms of spending money during transfer windows, the Foxes have shown the power behind togetherness and team unity.

In the past 20 years, just four wealthy clubs have won the Premier League title: Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal. In the previous 20 years, eight clubs claimed top spot at least once. (For much of that period, the top division was called the First Division.) In the 20 years before that, 11 teams claimed the honors.

They remain the most consistent team in the league this season, losing just three matches against (Arsenal 5-2 and 2-1) and (Liverpool 1-0) to maintain their position at the top of the log.

Leicester, a club that has never been champion of England, began the season with many pundits expecting it to be relegated from the 20-member Premier League to the second tier of English football—a division that few people in the world care about, outside the towns whose clubs compete in it.

Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy (Photo credit Caughtoffside)
Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy Photo/Caughtoffside

At the start of the season, bookmakers offered odds of 5,000-1 on Leicester winning the title. Leicester is now the bookies’ favorite to win the league, and the football-loving world is urging it on to victory.

The tactic the Foxes have used to best effect this season is to give opponents the ball, defend in depth—and then counterattack with lethal speed and precision. The game plan has helped them beat giants like current champions Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and, in a return game, Liverpool.

Today, though, Norwich City—a much less starry team than Leicester has dispatched this season—is not rising to the bait and is happily, stubbornly defending. The Foxes need to keep winning if they’re to achieve the impossible.

In truth, they look a bit clueless in the role of the dominant attacker. The longer the game goes without a goal, the quieter the Leicester fans become. The dream of winning the Premier League seems to be on the precipice of taking a hit. A win gets you 3 points; a draw gets you but 1.

In all, coach Claudio Ranieri has built a team capable of absorbing any given pressure for the entire 90 minutes as witnessed in some of the matches played so far in the Premier League.

Leicester City are enjoying a dream run this season and manager Ranieri wants the players to maintain the intensity till the end of the current campaign.

“We are doing something nobody could have expected. But if they lose impetus, I will be furious, desperate. If someone loses his focus, he will be out of the team. We want to win,” Claudio Ranieri said.

According to a Deloitte survey published in January, Leicester is, in fact, the 12th richest team in England and one of the top 30 richest clubs in the world. Compared with Manchester City or Chelsea, Leicester’s budget looks limited. But it has the power to buy such hugely accomplished players as Kanté—statistically the best ball-winner in Europe last season—from other leagues. And it has.

In other words, the Foxes are not no-hopers but minor members of football’s aristocracy. They have a hugely experienced foreign coach, a billionaire owner (Thai tycoon Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the chairman of the club, is the founder and CEO of King Power) and a team full of established, well-paid international players, some of whom have won league titles in their own countries.

Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal have all had disappointing seasons. That’s an unprecedented coincidence—and it’s extremely unlikely to happen again, not least because the clubs’ billionaire owners will likely spend very heavily to make sure this season of under achievement doesn’t happen again. (Arsenal is something of an exception, much to the frustration of many of its fans. Its longtime manager, Arsène Wenger, believes in developing rather than buying teams—a policy that has brought him little success in the past decade.)

The level of failure at the top this year is so dramatic that none of the élite teams have much chance of winning. The second-placed team right now is Tottenham, which has won the league only twice. The most recent time was in 1961. In other words, Leicester is benefiting greatly from weakened opposition.

Besides, Jamie Vardy’s quickness, along with his streak of goals, has propelled him from non-league soccer, when he was signed for £1 with just £15,000 to a spot on the English national team. Vardy began the season on £45,000 a week and has just signed a new contract worth £80,000 a week. That’s a lot of money, but Manchester City’s star goal-scorer, Sergio Agüero, is on £220,000 a week.

Again, the team has benefited greatly from the mesmerizing skills and goals of Algerian Riyad Mahrez, who orchestrated many of the assists that has led to goals for Leicester City this season.

With a direct hand in 16 league goals, Mahrez’s total contribution is bettered only by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (23 goals), Neymar (21) and Zlatan Ibrahimović (30) in Europe’s top five leagues. And that is from a player who scored four and set up three goals last season. While his talent was clear to see in his first season in the top flight last time out, his startling consistency is having a huge impact on the outcome of matches this time around.

Generally, Leicester City must make most of this opportunity because if it slips through their feet (no handballs here) like what happened to Liverpool three seasons ago, they may not have the chance of winning the Premier League again.

There is no better moment than what they are enjoying now and it would be perfect to crown all their efforts with glory, by lifting the Premier League title for the very first time.