The Football Notebook
Leicester City - The 5000/1 Chance
Updated: Jul 16, 2020
These were the odds of Leicester City’s seemingly impossible Premier League title win. It just never happens. Underdogs shouldn’t win. Maybe string a few wins together but any underdog will eventually slip up in the 38-game season.
Leicester City never did slip up.
The world watched on in disbelief as the Foxes won game after game and edged closer to a fanciful title.
It provided us with one of the most exciting and thrilling title races of the Premier League era. It gave us special moments like Leicester’s 3 - 1 win over Man City, Vardy’s record-breaking “It’s eleven, it’s heaven” and the pure euphoria on Matchday 38 as they lifted the trophy.
The question that many football fans and analysts found themselves asking after that historic season.
20th place with only 7 games to go, Leicester City had crawled out from a deep hole by managing title-winning form by being victorious in 5 out of those 7 games. So how can a team go from there, to the title in the space of 15 months? How can a team worth £29 million continue to outperform teams that cost almost 8 times more?
Was it luck? A tactical masterclass by manager Claudio Ranieri? Or just a weak year for the rest of the league?
Maybe it was all three. Maybe not.
Had Leicester not brought in the players they did during the 2015 summer, history could be quite different.
Robert Huth (£3,000,000) - The towering German central defender made his loan move permanent and played as one of the starting centre-backs next to captain Wes Morgan. His physical presence gave Leicester some much-needed defensive stability.
Shinji Okazaki (£7,000,000) - The Japanese proved to be an important role player for the Foxes, netting 6 goals and providing a vital role off the bench to give Vardy some rest. His energy made him a constant thorn in Premier League defences.
N’Golo Kante (£5,600,000) - Does anything need to be said? Arguably Leicester’s most important player over the course of the season, this was the first big step of Kante’s journey to become the best defensive midfielder in the world.
Claudio Ranieri - The man behind it all. Met with scepticism when he announced his 3-year deal with the Foxes, he proceeded to make all the doubters eat their words by guiding Leicester to the title for the very first time.
Leicester lined up in the very English 4-4-2 formation that had some Italian flavour instilled by Ranieri. When he was appointed manager he insisted that he didn’t want to change the shape of Leicester too much, instead adding some defensive proficiency to the English club.
There were observed similarities between Leicester’s style of play and that of the traditional Italian style of play, Catenaccio, which literally means ‘door bolt’ is a specific defensive tactic where the libero, or in English, sweeper plays behind ‘stopper’ centre-back whose main role was man-marking the opposition forwards. This spare defender resulted in fewer players forward, but allowed defensive solidity and provided a way to build up play from the back.
However, Ranieri’s approach is much more complicated than that.
Kante on the ball
Leicester’s back four sits in a very flat shape and defends the opposition zonally. The other lines - midfield and attacking - would use the back four as a reference to stick tight to, and shift with.
The Foxes try to keep a maximum distance of 25 yards between all three lines in order to eliminate the opposition’s midfield options. This forces opponents to play through the flanks, where Leicester’s full-backs are well equipped to minimise the danger. They will then show the winger to the touchline not allowing any passes into the middle.
When the opponent played out from the back, wingers like Mahrez and Albrighton will squeeze in centrally, enticing wide play. Once the ball reaches either touchline, the forward closest will press the man aggressively, trying to win the ball back or force a long ball that either centre-backs Wes Morgan or Robert Huth could win.
Leicester players celebrating a goal
However, if the opposition team does manage to find a ball in the middle this will be easily closed down by Leicester’s central midfielders or centre-backs due to the compactness of all three lines.
The compactness of this specific 4-4-2 helps them counteract what would be very dangerous for them; an opposition overload in midfield. Due to the players being so close together on the pitch, Leicester could still stick to their shape even when playing against teams with the common 4-3-3 formation or the 4-2-3-1, who had numerical superiority in the centre of the pitch.
The defensive discipline of this Leicester side represents what Ranieri wanted to get across to his players, combining the workmanship of the classic 4-4-2 and the tactical ingenuity of the Italian Catenaccio.
Most of the Foxes’ goals came from counter-attacks or winning the ball high up the pitch. They finished with 819 interceptions over the course of the season, far ahead of second placed Aston Villa with 768, showing how skilled they were at cutting out that central option, especially with the alien numbers N’Golo Kante were putting up, at 8.95 tackles and interceptions per game.
When taking the ball is in their defensive third, Leicester tend to try and go long to Vardy in behind or to the wide channels. They avoided building out from the back, with goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, son of legendary Peter Schmeichel playing a long ball from almost all goal kicks.
As you can tell, this isn’t a team made to keep and control the ball. In fact, the Foxes had only 21,710 touches of the ball during the 2015/16 season which was just 18th amongst clubs in the league. They also completed just 13,370 passes, also 18th. The effectiveness of this Leicester side is the only reason they won the league.
It does help that Leicester had one of the most clinical forwards in Europe at the time in Jamie Vardy, however, we cannot take away from the fact that Ranieri has managed to get his side to outperform their expectations massively, week in week out for 9 months.
Mahrez(centre) celebrating a crucial goal
The level to which this Leicester side was assembled is surprising given their lack of resources compared to the richer clubs in the league.
The pace and technicality of Mahrez and Vardy make them a huge threat on the counter-attack.
Workmen in a midfield two like Danny Drinkwater and N’Golo Kante allowed Leicester to keep up with 3-man midfields.
A colossal centre-back pairing of Morgan and Huth easily dealt with all long balls and provided a threat on set-pieces.
On top of all that you have Shinji Okazaki and Demerai Gray to provide energetic sparks off the bench when the offence runs dry.
What I am trying to get at here is that this incredible feat was not just based on luck.
Everything to the smallest detail was considered by Ranieri and Leicester’s backroom staff. Without the new signings and Ranieri’s tactical and man-management masterclass, this same side would probably be a mediocre mid-table team at best.
Game of the Season
Manchester City 1 - 3 Leicester City - 06/02/2016
With that Riyad Mahrez goal and the Foxes moving five points clear, this felt like the game Leicester City became serious contenders for the title.
This game fully encapsulated what this side was all about. Even though they only had 34 % of the possession they managed to muster three more shots on target than a poor Man City.
It didn’t take long for Leicester to break the deadlock with a powerful header from Robert Huth courtesy of a Mahrez free-kick. Leicester would make it 2-0 with Riyad Mahrez dancing around Otamendi and Demichelis before hitting the ball into the top corner. Huth would then get back on the scoresheet with a towering header to seal the win despite a late Aguero consolation goal.
Player of the Season
Breaking Van Nistelrooy’s record by scoring in 11 consecutive games. Racking up 24 goals. Being named FWA player of the year. This was truly a season to remember for Jamie Vardy.
He was playing for League Two Fleetwood Town only 3 years before and after this season was - and still is - considered as one of the best strikers in the Premier League.
Jamie Vardy and 'clinical' are the perfect pairing of words to describe his 15/16 season. His pace, unerring work ethic on the pitch, and charming nature off it catapulted Vardy close to the top of world football.
Since then he has continued scoring at a remarkable rate, and despite turning 33 in January, is the current Premier League top scorer.
We expect him to keep it up for a lot longer.