Leicester City 2016 Review: The Year of the Underdog

Leicester City 2016 Review: The Year of the Underdog

In a year that would have been beyond the wildest dreams of even the most optimistic Foxes’ fans a little over 12 months ago, Claudio Ranieri and his team blew the footballing world away. VAVEL.com remembers 2016, the year that Leicester City lifted the Premier League title and embarked on their first-ever Champions League campaign.

daniel-orme
Daniel Orme

Heading into 2016, Leicester City had just toiled to a 0-0 draw against Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City and sat second in the Premier League table, only behind Arsenal on goal difference.

Optimism was at an all-time high at the King Power Stadium as Claudio Ranieri’s troops had accumulated an outstanding 39 points and a genuine title challenge looked well on the cards. What happened next left even the most cynical football fans getting slightly teary-eyed…

Tough start to 2016…

Beginning the new year with a stalemate at home to AFC Bournemouth, Leicester City endured a difficult January. Winning twice in the Premier League, one a great victory at White Hart Lane courtesy of a Robert Huth headed goal and a comfortable 3-0 win at home to Stoke City, Ranieri’s men looked to secure their position at the top of the league.

However, a tempestuous 1-1 draw at Villa Park dented the Foxes’ progress as Riyad Mahrez missed his second penalty in as many games. The East-Midlanders even bowed out of the FA Cup as Tottenham Hotspur earned a 2-0 win in a replay at the King Power Stadium.

Claudio Ranieri albeit enjoyed a particularly productive winter transfer window. Bringing in youth with the likes of Daniel Amartey and Demarai Gray from FC Copenhagen and Birmingham City respectively, the enigmatic Italian looked to be boosting the ranks ahead of a possible Champions League campaign.

The wins keep flowing…

Following the closure of the January transfer window, the Foxes continued their pursuit of their first-ever English league title. Dispatching of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool 2-0 with a Jamie Vardy brace – one of the goals an unbelievable 30-yard half-volley – many were starting to believe they could capture the Premier League trophy.

The wins didn’t stop there as traveling to the Etihad Stadium, the East-Midlanders put on an absolutely fantastic showing to tear apart their wealthy rivals and swagger away from Eastlands with a 3-1 victory. A Robert Huth brace and a fantastic Riyad Mahrez solo goal secured the three points against the two-time English champions.

Leicester City emphatically dispatched of Manchester City in February | Photo: Getty/ Michael Regan
Leicester City emphatically dispatched of Manchester City in February | Photo: Getty/ Michael Regan

Although, Valentine’s Day heartbreak soon followed. Falling to a last-minute Danny Welbeck strike at the Emirates Stadium, Ranieri’s men succumbed to their first league defeat of 2016 against Arsenal. Nonetheless, they soon reacted as 1-0 wins over the likes of Norwich City, Watford, Newcastle United, Southampton and Crystal Palace, along with a 2-2 draw at home to West Bromwich Albion saw the Foxes go seven points clear at the top of the Premier League.

History awaits…

Heading into the month of April, the Foxes were on the verge of one of the most unlikely victories not only in football but in sport. However, their seemingly straight-forward route to the Premier League crown took a turn following a 2-0 win at the Stadium of Light against Sunderland.

Hosting West Ham United, all seemed to be well as Jamie Vardy opened the scoring with a trademark counter-attack. The Englishman however, who had already notched 22 goals to his name, then saw red for simulation. The Hammers then edged ahead through goals from Aaron Cresswell and Andy Carroll before a late Leonardo Ulloa penalty earned the Foxes a point.

The Argentine forward then had quite the impact in the following game as he netted twice in a routine 4-0 win at home to Swansea City.

The Premier League title…

Travelling to Old Trafford next, the Foxes battled to a 1-1 draw against Manchester United in what turned out to be the game that would earn them the title. A point was all that they needed as a fiery 2-2 draw between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge the next day saw Ranieri’s men named only the sixth team to win the Premier League.

Going into the final home game of the 2015/16 campaign, supporters were anxious to witness their team lift the trophy most of all. Although, quite a show was put on at the King Power Stadium. Serenaded by Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, the fans were treated to a spectacular occasion, not to mention the impressive 3-1 victory over Everton.

Claudio Ranieri lifts the Premier League trophy | Photo: Getty/ Michael Regan
Claudio Ranieri lifts the Premier League trophy | Photo: Getty/ Michael Regan

Despite this, the football seemed to a be a back-story as after the 90 minutes, Wes Morgan became the first-ever Leicester City captain to life the Premier League trophy, alongside manager Claudio Ranieri. Ticker tape continued to flow down for what seemed like weeks as the whole city celebrated with parades, bus tours and parties.

The Foxes concluded their fairy-tale season with a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge to end the campaign with a ten-point buffer at the top. Awards flew in from all over the world for Leicester City including the PFA Player of the Year award for Riyad Mahrez, a Ballon d’Or nomination for Mahrez and team-mate Jamie Vardy and the BBC Sports Personality Team of the Year.

Records continue to tumble…

With Champions League football secured for the following campaign, Leicester City were able to attract some big names to the King Power Stadium and in fact broke their transfer record three times in the summer window. Spending a reported £70m in the window to strengthen his squad, Claudio Ranieri welcomed the likes of Islam Slimani, Ahmed Musa, Nampalys Mendy, Ron-Robert Zieler, Bartosz Kapustka and Luis Hernandez.

There were also some big-name departures from the East Midlands too as N’Golo Kante left for Chelsea alongside numerous squad players such as Gokhan Inler, Liam Moore, Ritchie De Laet and Andrej Kramaric, who all found new clubs.

The draw for the Champions League was also completed and fan excitement was high as Ranieri’s men were handed trips to Copenhagen, Brugge and Porto.

Difficult times ahead…

As a result of their outstanding league victory, the Foxes were awarded a clash with Manchester United at Wembley Stadium in the Community Shield. Conceding a late Zlatan Ibrahimovic goal, the Foxes went away empty-handed but positivity was still high.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's late header defeated Leicester City at Wembley | Photo: Getty
Zlatan Ibrahimovic's late header defeated Leicester City at Wembley | Photo: Getty

Unfortunately, Leicester’s title defence started catastrophically with a 2-1 defeat at the KCOM Stadium against Hull City followed by a 0-0 draw with Arsenal. Finally getting their first win of the season, goals from Jamie Vardy and Wes Morgan saw off Swansea City at home.

Despite that, the Foxes season has been so far plagued with inconsistency. Having earnt wins over Burnley, Crystal Palace and a great 4-2 victory over Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, they have also fallen to disappointing losses against the likes of Sunderland, Bournemouth, Watford and West Bromwich Albion. Also, heavy losses such as the 4-1 reverses at the hands of Manchester United and Liverpool, along with a 3-0 loss to Chelsea have seen Ranieri’s men slide down the table.

Champions League dream…

Considering the East-Midlanders’ terrible domestic form, it has been a different story in European competition. Embarking on their first campaign in the Champions League, the Foxes managed to top their group and progress to the Round of 16. Earning their first historic win over Club Brugge in Belgium, they followed it up with 1-0 victories over FC Porto and FC Copenhagen.

Islam Slimani celebrates his goal in Leicester's 1-0 win over Porto on the UEFA Champions League | Photo: Getty/ Shaun Botteril
Islam Slimani celebrates his goal in Leicester's 1-0 win over Porto | Photo: Getty/ Shaun Botteril

Qualifying with a game to spare with a 2-1 victory over Brugge at the King Power Stadium, the fans were once again in a celebratory mood. Only a 5-0 defeat in Portugal in their final group game soured the celebrations as Ranieri’s team were pitted against Sevilla in the next round.

What happens next?

If 2016 is anything to go by, it’s almost impossible to call what will happen with the Foxes next year. One thing is for sure though, 2016 has firmly been the year of underdogs, Leicester City.

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