December 13, 2014: Leicester lose 1-0 at home to Manchester City, their 10th loss of the season after just 16 games. They sit bottom of the Premier League, with just two wins and 10 points, and are five points from safety.
Chelsea, on the other hand, are top, and clear by three points. They have just won their 12th game of the season, beating Hull City, and have lost just once.
December 14, 2015: Leicester win 2-1 at home to Chelsea, their 10th win of the season after just 16 games. They sit top of the Premier League, scoring more goals than any other side, and tasting defeat on the fewest occasions.
Chelsea, on the other hand, are now 16th, just one point clear of the relegation zone. They have just lost their ninth league game of the season, and have won just four times.
What a remarkable difference 12 months can make. Leicester, consigned to relegation from the top flight last season after being stranded at the bottom of the league in April, now sit top of the tree, with just one fixture left until Christmas. Chelsea, having coasted to a fifth title a few months before, are now engulfed in disarray. A turnaround of unthinkable proportions for both sides.
The main conclusions to draw upon the final whistle at the King Power Stadium on Monday are thus: It is time to accept Leicester as challengers at the top of the league, and it is time to accept that Chelsea will not secure Champions League qualification via their league finish this season. At this rate, they’d be fortunate to even finish in the top half.
That this was no shock result speaks volumes of the opposite trajectories these two clubs have undertaken since the start of the year. The Foxes contained their visitors with ease until the final 10 minutes, with Jamie Vardy and the more impressive Riyad Mahrez causing havoc at the other end. No player has contributed more goals this season than the latter (18), who was signed for around £400,000 nearly two years ago. Sorry Michu, but there’s a new measurement of player value in town.
This represents a watershed win for Leicester. Previously, they were considered the upstarts, the surprise package of the season, riding on the crest of a wave of form. Now, they are two points clear at the top of the table after 16 games.
Yet while Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho had discussed the Foxes’ title ambitions in recent weeks, their glowing references were always tinged with an air of doubt. Leicester obviously can’t win the league. Why? Because they’re Leicester, not Arsenal, or Manchester City. Their light would soon burn out as quickly as it shone, it was assumed, with the league’s elite left to predictably tussle for the title themselves.
Said elite includes Chelsea, or at least it did until Monday night. The reigning champions may be in the midst of an unprecedented season, with a locked door greeting each supposed corner turned, but it was always assumed they would turn things around. Mourinho would somehow inspire his insipid players, funds would be provided in January, and Chelsea would finish in the top four. Their form was a mere blip.
Except, much like Leicester’s current fortunes, this is no longer a simple case of ‘form’; their problems are rooted far deeper. Chelsea have lost as many league games as Stoke (11) since the start of 2015, and have now conceded more goals than all but six of the 17 sides who have been ever-present during that period. This should no longer be passed off as a simple loss of form, and the Blues simply cannot be considered as contenders for a European place. After 16 games, they now sit 11 points behind fifth-placed Tottenham, and a further three away from Manchester United. Not only would a miraculous recovery from Chelsea be required to facilitate a top-five finish, but the 15 clubs above them must all suffer a simultaneous and drastic loss of form. It simply won’t happen.
As for Leicester, they are contenders. For the Premier League title? Perhaps. For a Champions League place? Definitely. Since losing 2-1 to Chelsea at the end of April, the Foxes have been beaten just once in the league. Momentum and consistency is a solid groundwork for a top-four challenge, and no club can boast more of either than Leicester. It’s time to seriously consider them as amongst the contenders at the top this season, much as it is time to stop pretending Chelsea will suddenly turn things around. The Blues are in quite imminent danger, and there is no sign of that abating soon.