The final whistle at Stamford Bridge on Monday night sparked two well-publicised bundles. While Spurs and Chelsea scrapped on the sidelines following the draw which earned Leicester the title, the rapturous Foxes were partying at Jamie Vardy’s house, presumably with less ‘groin slapping’ involved.
It was fitting that it was a result from last season’s champions that ultimately secured the trophy for their successor, though make no mistake, this was Leicester’s achievement. While they may have profited from the fact that all of the usual suspects have underwhelmed, this story will not be tarnished. It remains without question the most remarkable outcome in the Premier League’s history, and one that will be tough to top.
So how did Ranieri and co. manage this most unbelievable of feats and how do they compare to winners of recent seasons? WhoScored.com assess Leicester’s success.
First of all, it’s worth looking at Leicester’s season in instalments to understand their rise to glory. They have had multiple guises and numerous heroes over the course of the campaign.
Initially Leicester had something of a gung-ho approach at the start of the season, carried over from the end of the previous campaign in which the mission was to avoid the drop. Leicester had to go for it and showed the sort of fight that Ranieri has managed to harness this time around.
It wasn’t until the end of October, and incidentally Leicester’s first clean sheet of the season against Crystal Palace, that they really began to pick up pace. After Riyad Mahrez had shone in the first month of the season, the Jamie Vardy Hollywood epic was set in motion, and when the Englishman’s record-breaking run of 12 successive goalscoring appearances came to an end, Mahrez was on hand to score a hat-trick against Swansea.
N’Golo Kante then began to get the credit he deserved having settled into life in England’s top flight with consummate ease, with the Frenchman leading the way in both tackles (4.5) and interceptions (4.2) per game this season. The amount of work he and the impressive Drinkwater were getting through in midfield was sensational, but also a concern to Ranieri. The experienced Italian knew full well that his side could not rely on spectacular comebacks all season if they were to maintain a serious title challenge.
Leicester needed to get more organised, and the centre-back partnership of Morgan and Huth came to the fore, with the difference in approach stark. Prior to the turn of the year the Foxes had conceded 25 goals – the 13th best record in the division at the time – and since they have shipped just nine – four fewer than any other side in 2016. Kasper Schmeichel has improved as the season has gone on, as Leicester’s defence began to overshadow their still impressive attack.
With regards to previous winners, comparisons have rightly been drawn to Chelsea last season. While the Blues were far from open at the back as Leicester were at the start of the campaign, Mourinho was keen to see out the title having effectively wrapped things up in the first half of the campaign by adopting a more defensive approach at the turn of the year.
There are also similarities in the star players on show for both sides in their respective title-winning campaigns, and arguably that of Manchester City the season previous in 2013/14. While Leicester’s success has of course been a collective effort, perhaps more so than any other champion in recent history, they have relied upon a core of key players throughout the season, and in familiar positions.
Mahrez was named PFA Player of the Year last month, emulating his predecessor Eden Hazard in earning the highest statistical rating from WhoScored.com to boot (7.84 to the Belgian’s 7.96 last season). Their goals and assists from wide were crucial, as were those of David Silva to City’s success in 2013/14, with the Spaniard earning a rating of 7.57 with seven goals and nine assists from 27 appearances.
Vardy’s contribution of 22 goals can also be compared to that of Costa last season (20 goals) and Aguero (17) the season before that, with the Leicester man actually scoring at a slower rate (once every 134.5 minutes) than either of them. Moreover, the central midfield partnership was crucial to each of the previous three champions, with an outstanding ball winner in each. Nemanja Matic made the most tackles in the Premier League last season on route to a winner’s medal, while Fernandinho won 97 as City secured success two years ago.
It’s telling that in each of the past three seasons, a striker, a wide man and each of the two starting central midfielders have ranked among the top five players for the champions. That’s Vardy (7.52 rating), Mahrez (7.84), Kante (7.59) and Drinkwater (7.26) for Leicester, Costa (7.43), Hazard (7.62), Matic (7.50) and Fabregas (7.62) for Chelsea and Aguero (7.71), Silva (7.57), Fernandinho (7.40) and Toure (7.55) for Manchester City. Factor in an inspirational campaign for centre-back captains (see Morgan, Terry and Kompany) and the recipe for success is there for all to see.
While Leicester may have been forced to go about securing this most unlikely of titles in a different way to those before them, adopting a vastly different playing style, their story, while held together by the support cast, has been reliant on protagonists that aren’t too dissimilar to victors of old.
Claudio Ranieri deserves immense credit in particular for learning from Chelsea’s comfortable championship tilt last season, and were it not for the fact that this was Leicester and not a Chelsea or a Manchester City – because surely Leicester would slip up at some point – this would no doubt have been considered a more convincing triumph, as in reality it has been. The Foxes, after all, are just one point adrift (7) of Chelsea’s title-winning margin last year. By the end of the season, Leicester will have been top for 15 consecutive matches. They are worthy winners to say the least.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings. You can follow all the scores, statistics, live player and team ratings with the new free-to-download WhoScored iOS app.