If Leicester City’s Premier League title last season seemed incredible at the time, it is even harder to believe now right now.
The Foxes finished top of the table in 2015-16, beating Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United to the coveted crown – and their win by a full 10 points shows that is was anything but lucky.
In the current campaign, however, Leicester sit just a point clear of the relegation zone after 25 matches and far from fighting to defend their title, the champions will be scrapping to stay up at the end of the season. And now, in some desperately sad news announced on Thursday, they have sacked their manager Claudio Ranieri.
In 2016-17, there is very much an established elite at the top – a clearly defined “big six” made up of Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool, City and United. So how did Leicester – now struggling so much – beat that lot to the title?
The inconsistency of those teams was obviously a factor, with none of the six able to put together a credible challenge in the end. But Leicester still had to win all those points.
Their recruitment policy helped. Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kanté were signed for cut-price fees and were two of the championship’s outstanding players. The latter has since left, of course, and it is Chelsea now benefiting from his boundless energy and ball-winning abilities, while the former is well below his best this term.
In attack, Jamie Vardy was brilliant. The striker could do no wrong last season and came of age as a player, scoring 24 times in 36 league games. Yet he has struggled since and has only five from 20 games in the Premier league this term. And before his strike at Sevilla on Wednesday, he was without a goal in 2017 – another reminder that confidence is everything for a forward.
But also for a team. Leicester somehow pulled results out of the bag when they were playing poorly in 2015-16 and momentum carried them all the way to the title under Ranieri, a coach who was dismissed as a ‘nearly man’ at best when he took the job after failure with Greece and defeat to the Faroe Islands.
Elsewhere in the side, everyone pulled together. Some decisions went their way too and there was also a little luck – which any winning team requires.
It was as magnificent as it was unexpected, but it was entirely deserved. With Leicester struggling at the other end of the table some nine months on, however, their title triumph really does seem like a distant dream.