By Dillon Friday and Carden Hedelt
There's no point in trying to measure the significance of Leicester City's Barclays English Premier League title. The odds the Foxes faced at the start of the season — 5,000 to 1 you've surely heard by now — tell the story. No one thought Leicester could survive relegation, never mind challenge for a top-half finish.
And yet here we are. As the clubs that spend billions bowed out of the championship race, the English equivalent of a small-market team — one that was playing in the nation's second division just two seasons ago — won the most difficult league in world soccer.
It's ______. Fill in the blank. Incomprehensible? Yes. Miraculous? Sure. Inconceivable? We don't think it means what you think it means. But yes.
Leicester City is not a particularly deep team in terms of talent. Its top players, maybe 10 in all, are where the talent lies. And those 10 or so players have remained remarkably healthy throughout the 2015-16 season. According to Physioroom.com, Leicester City had only 15 injuries since the start of the season (not counting knocks or illnesses).
You can attribute that to a few things: fewer games played than most Premier League teams after losing early in cup competitions, two days of rest per week, plain old luck or a combination of all three. For comparison, current injury table co-leaders Liverpool has had 15 injuries since the start of February. - Carden
2. Disarray At The Top
Leicester City's road to the Premier League title was paved by the expensive failures of recent champions. Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea all need intensive squad overhauls and will all likely have new managers (only United is yet to confirm a replacement for its current manager at the end of the season, but it seems almost a foregone conclusion). Arsenal couldn't muster a sustained challenge, and Tottenham, themselves at rare heights in the Premier League table, just plain Spurs'd it.
It's so very fitting that Leicester City secured the title because Tottenham dropped points against Chelsea. Monday's 2-2 draw clinched the title for the Foxes after the Spurs blew a 2-0 lead. It's what every other team ahead of them has done for the entire season. - Carden
3. The Miracle On Ice Illusion
Over the next few days, you'll likely hear America's greatest sporting upset invoked and with good reason. The 1980 United States hockey team faced similarly insurmountable odds on its way to a championship no one saw coming. But there's another thread that connects these Foxes to that young group of hockey players: They're both better than anyone gave them credit for.
The tricky thing about upsets is that they occur in the expectation. When you analyze the result, you see that the talent gulf wasn't as big as you thought. That was true of the Americans — Ken Morrow won four consecutive Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders, while Mike Ramsey, Mark Johnson, Mark Pavelich, Dave Christian and Neal Broten enjoyed substantial NHL careers. It is also true of Leicester City.
The likes of N'Golo Kante, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez may have come out of nowhere, but they've since proved they are world-class talents. Then there's Danny Drinkwater and Marc Albrighton, two midfielders who will challenge for roster spots on England's Euro 2016 squad. And let's not forget that Kasper Schmeichel, son of Manchester United legend Peter Schmeichel, has been brilliant in goal. Leicester may not have the pedigree of its more famous rivals, but there's plenty of talent there. - Dillon
If modern soccer is dominated by teams that dictate the pace of the game, Leicester City's role is to disrupt it. With a 4-4-3 that sometimes looks like a 4-5-1 or a 4-4-2 or even a 5-3-2 if Kante drops in front of the back four, the Foxes absorb pressure and then counterpunch better than any side in England.
The key is a balance of strength and speed throughout the lineup. In Wes Morgan and Robert Huth, Leicester boasts two of the most physically imposing centerbacks in the EPL. The duo fights off attackers and rarely loses head balls. Neither is fleet of foot, however. The result is a defensive front that entices opponents to get numbers forward. This is where Kante is at his best. When Morgan or Huth clears a header, the Frenchman becomes a one-man counterattack. Kante works the ball to the wing — either Albrighton or Drinkwater — before the decisive pass inevitably finds the feet of Mahrez.
The Foxes have been absolutely lethal on the counter all season, and teams rarely know what hit them.
Consider this critical Vardy strike against West Ham United. It takes Leicester 16 seconds to go the length of the field in three passes. - Dillon
5. Claudio Ranieri
You would want to work for Claudio Ranieri. In addition to the extra day of rest for his players in exchange for their all, he seems like a pretty cool dude. He took the players out for pizza and champagne after they kept their first clean sheet in October. He keeps up with local music, and he's not afraid to look a little silly.
What makes him special as a manager is he knows that part of getting the most out of his players means giving, too. I don't think it's any coincidence that when Jamie Vardy tied Ruud Van Nistelrooy's consecutive game scoring streak, the promise was "beers on the coach and the plane!" Vardy seems like the type to enjoy a beverage while in transit (or anywhere, anytime), and it won't surprise me to hear stories in coming months about Ranieri giving to his players.
The tactics were important, yes. So was his personality. - Carden
6. Diamonds In The Rough
You've all heard the story by now. Vardy was playing for his factory team five years ago. Prior to joining the Foxes, Mahrez was in the French second division. Kante, who has become the best box-to-box midfielder in England, played for Caen, a French club that was in Ligue 2 in 2014. How is it that the big clubs passed on such talent?
The same way C.J. McCollum ended up at Lehigh and Paul George at Fresno State. Big clubs, like dominant college sports programs, recruit five-star players not only out of necessity, but also because they can. It does Leicester no good to pay big money for the next starlet from FC Porto. For one, the club's budget doesn't allow for it, and the player likely will be on to the next stop before his contract plays out.
Leicester and similarly sized clubs subsist on finding inexpensive, overlooked players. They don't always hit on these signings. In this case, however, the Foxes came out with three absolute gems. - Dillon
7. All Of The Above
Call it luck. Call it preparation. Call it destiny. Whatever the case, everything went right for Leicester since the start of August. The club's good health allowed Ranieri to maintain his lineups, which encouraged him to rest his players, which led to positive morale, which meant the talent thrived, which ultimately won the Premier League Title.
It's become a cliche in the last year, but never has it been more true: Leicester City, champions of England. What a time to be alive.
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