Leicester’s Premier League win has been like no other.
Claudio Ranieri’s champions have done it their way – and are now celebrating one of the most unlikely title triumphs in football history.
Here, we take a look at how the Foxes diverted from the norm to shock the Premier League’s traditional powerhouses and win their first top-flight crown…
Emerged from nowhere
In the history of the Premier League, every champion – until now – had finished in the top three the previous season. On average, winners placed second before their subsequent win. In contrast, Leicester finished 2014/15 in 14th, 46 points adrift of league winners Chelsea. Their remarkable escape from relegation wasn’t a traditional platform for a title challenge.
Indeed, their much-publicised 5,000/1 title odds illustrate just how far out of the running they were expected to be. It wasn’t until a 3-1 win at Manchester City in February when thoughts of a sustained Leicester title challenge began to gather credence.
A last-gasp defeat to Arsenal next time out was billed as a potentially fatal blow to Leicester’s unlikely hopes – but their response was one of champions, taking 23 points from the next 27 available. Leicester went on to become the first first-time winners of the English top-flight since Nottingham Forest in 1978 – a title win out of nowhere.
Gave up possession and passing accuracy for direct football
Leicester’s victorious season will surely be remembered for their direct, counter-attacking football.
In a complete reverse to the traditional style employed by Premier League winners, the Foxes were happy for their opponents to have the ball for long periods before using the pace of Jamie Vardy and co to do the damage on the break.
The approach is reflected in Leicester’s low possession and passing stats – the rest of the top five rank among the league’s best in these criteria. But when Leicester did have the ball they made it count.
No more tinkering
Ranieri returned to the Premier League last summer still known as the ‘Tinkerman’. The nickname stemmed from his persistent tweaking to his Chelsea line-up during his 2000-2004 Stamford Bridge tenure. But at Leicester he found – and stuck with – a settled side.
The Italian made just 27 changes to his starting XI all season – way down on the 95.4 average for Premier League champions. Even Jose Mourinho, whose Premier League-winning Chelsea team in 2014/15 seemed to pick itself, made 86 changes last season.
Monday Night Football guest Scott Parker was signed by Ranieri for Chelsea and experienced his tinkering first-hand. He says the manager’s new methods are a clear area of improvement. “That’s where he’s evolved as a manager,” Parker said. “I think he’s learnt from that. When I was at Chelsea, at times [the tinkering] wasn’t good. He’s become more predictable. You can name the substitutions he makes now, at certain minutes in the games.”
Edged tight contests
Leicester’s Premier League-winning season was a tale of two halves. The first part ran to the end of December and saw Leicester register the joint-most goals in the division at that point but also concede more than any other team in the top half.
However, as the title-race pressure told, there was a clear shift from the open, expansive football of high-flying underdogs to a more solid, clinical approach which reflected Leicester’s determination to capitalise on their strong start to the campaign.
Leicester conceded 25 times in their first 19 matches of the season. They let in just nine in their next 17. Five 1-0 wins in six games from the end of February summed up their altered style and, with two games still to play, they have already won more matches by the odd goal (14) than the 10.9 average for previous Premier League winners.
Doing it on a budget
Bankrolled by a billionaire Thai owner, Leicester are hardly operating on a shoestring budget. But a comparison of the value of their typical starting XI to previous Premier League winners demonstrates Ranieri’s remarkable efforts in getting the best out of a squad acquired at the fraction of the cost.
Leicester’s most-used starting XI this season cost them just £23m to assemble. That’s almost 10 times less than Chelsea’s 2014/15 winners – and Manchester City and Manchester United fielded teams worth over £150m in their recent triumphant seasons.
Keeping it fun
A collection of Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri’s most amusing quotes over the season.
There were no mind games from Ranieri, just humble press conferences – and the promise of pizza for his players if
they kept clean sheets. Twenty years on from Kevin Keegan’s rant at Sir Alex Ferguson, neither the Leicester boss nor his Tottenham counterpart saw fit to try to wind the other up.
Instead, Ranieri’s focus was on getting to 40 points in the first half of the campaign – long after Leicester seemed certain of survival. Later, he insisted his team were just enjoying the ride. The mood spread through the club, with owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha dishing out free beer and doughnuts to celebrate his birthday before a game against Southampton.
Much has been made of the camaraderie between the Leicester players. Ranieri has helped to maintain that spirit throughout the campaign – and the club have reaped the rewards.
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