Only twelve months ago, Leicester City were rock bottom of the Premier League facing the prospect of having to re-build for a season in the Championship, barring a Great Escape.
That Great Escape happened. The City witnessed an incredible salvation job carried out under Nigel Pearson, winning 7 of their final 9 games.
Pearson left on the back of this incredible achievement- possibly with the thought that he had taken the club as far he could take them.
Much experienced manager Claudio “the Tinkerman” Ranieri was drafted in with the aim of improving on this finish and stabilising the club as a secure Premier League club. Tinkered he did, recruiting a careful selection of reasonable signings by using his knowledge of the foreign market. Robert Huth (£3m), Shinji Okazaki (£7m), N’Golo Kante (£5.6m) and the experienced Christian Fuchs (£3m) were signed.
Eight months on and a Jamie Vardy double at the Stadium of Light has mathematically sealed the Foxes Champions League football at the Kingpower Stadium next year, the first time in their Premier League history. Implausibly, Ranieri’s men also sit 10 points clear above second-place Tottenham, having only been beaten three times in the whole season.
For the first half of the season, Leicester were blowing away the majority of sides with devastating counter-attacking play. They were conceding plenty but simply out-scoring teams with the score line victory of 3-2 away at The Hawthorns on the 31st October a result that typified City’s style of play pre-Christmas.
Since the New Year, Ranieri’s influence has provided more stubborn defensive resoluteness, conceding far fewer goals and maintaining the winning run with a number of recent crucial, hard-fought 1-0 wins over Norwich (h), Watford (a), Newcastle (h), Crystal Palace (a) and Southampton (h).
Two players who played full part in last year’s survival bid in Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have 38 goals between them in this campaign and are both nominees for the PFA Shortlist for Player.
However, the team’s success and dominance have been down to more than just Mahrez and Vardy. Centre-backs Robert Huth and Wes Morgan have been defensive stalwarts, keeping clean sheets in nine of their last thirteen league fixtures.
Watford striker Troy Deeney has described Huth as “the toughest opponent he has faced this season”.
Leicester City defender Wes Morgan’s rise has been just as remarkable as that of the team he leads. Until the age of 30, Morgan had plied his entire career at Championship level with Nottingham Forest (2003-2012) and with Leicester City until the Foxes promotion in 2014. In his second season in the top-flight at the age of 32, Wes Morgan is on the brink of leading Leicester to a Premier League title; an achievement that will go down in history as one of; if not the most remarkable achievement in domestic British football history.
Full-backs Danny Simpson (a player with a troubled football past) and Christian Fuchs have been reliable, solid and have been commended for their defensive performances throughout the season, nullifying the most talented Premier League wingers this season.
Danny Drinkwater and N’Golo Kante have formed a formidable central midfield pairing that has enabled Leicester to control games so effectively. Drinkwater (26) has displayed such impressive form that Roy Hodgson has come calling, rewarding Drinkwater with his first England cap against the Netherlands in a 2-1 defeat at Wembley. N’Golo Kante has been in sensational form for the Foxes this season, proving to be one of the signings of the season and another real contender for the PFA Player of the Year award. His tireless running in midfield has been key to their league title surge, providing the basis for the likes of Vardy and Mahrez to flourish up front.
Ranieri’s men have the most balanced first x11 and boast team chemistry top clubs can only look in envy at. They have recruited so shrewdly and wisely. They are the model for those clubs in the lower echelons of the Premier League and newly promoted teams.
With four games remaining and sitting eight points clear of second-place, it is simply their title to throw away. No one will begrudge them this. The impossible can be achieved.