It was back in 2016 when Leicester City won the hearts of the sporting world by defying their 5000/1 title odds, the millions of pounds spent in the transfer market by other clubs, and facing the prospect of having to challenge some of the biggest teams in global football – to win the Premier League.
It really was the stuff of fantasy, as Claudio Ranieri’s men kept tearing up the rule book and winning in a style that gained them fans across the world. Week after week, the Foxes would be written off; “they can’t keep it up” pundits told us; “they can’t sustain this form” experts said; but led by their goal-scoring talisman, Jamie Vardy, whose own personal story is one of fairy tale, Leicester City did the unthinkable, eventually running out as Premier League Champions by an incredible 10 points – the “greatest sporting moment” of City lad Gary Lineker’s life.
With a Champions League adventure to tackle in the 2016/17 season, Leicester’s defence of their title fell short, finishing down in 12th place, and they have only managed to finish ninth in the past two seasons.
Belief is growing at the King Power Stadium
The Foxes are stirring again, and now under the guidance of Brendan Rodgers, who left Celtic to join them as manager in February, there is a new optimism engulfing the King Power Stadium, with fans dreaming that Leicester can once again compete at the top of the Premier League.
After seven games of the current season, Leicester sat in third place, only behind European champions, Liverpool, and current title holders, Manchester City. They also sat above the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United, so it is easy to see why the Foxes believe this is the season that they can break back into the top six, or even push for an illustrious top-four finish.
They have beaten Tottenham 2-1, Bournemouth 3-1, Newcastle 5-0 and held Chelsea to a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge, and now the Foxes management, players and fans want to prove that 2016 wasn’t just a flash in the pan. Their only defeat in their first seven games came at Old Trafford, where they went down 1-0 to Manchester United, despite dominating the game for long periods.
It does look like a two-horse race for the Premier League title again this season, with Liverpool and Manchester City set to battle it out once more, but the race for the top four is very much on, and Leicester can certainly be involved. Although they are a long shot to win the title, currently at 250/1, City will surprise a few by pushing for that Champions League top-four spot. Indeed, the odds of a top-four finish for the Foxes are currently 3/1.
Top six challengers are going through transition phases
The usual candidates will be there too, but with so many teams going through periods of transition, the Foxes can take this opportunity. Tottenham, who finished third last season and were Champions League runners-up, have made an inconsistent start to their campaign and were recently blown away 7-2 by Bayern Munich. The pressure is beginning to mount on Mauricio Pochettino and stories of dressing room unrest are not helping.
Chelsea, fourth last season, replaced manager Maurizio Sarri in the summer for club legend Frank Lampard. However, Lampard only has one season of management experience under his belt, at Championship side Derby County, and he has embarked on a brave policy of blooding Chelsea’s youngsters. Something that if it works will be lauded, but a gamble, nevertheless.
Arsenal are still trying to emerge from the Arsene Wenger era, and although Unai Emery is one of the best coaches in European football, defensively they remain fragile while Manchester United have made their worst start to a season in their Premier League history.
A strong squad is being built at Leicester
Meanwhile, Leicester look to have a settled squad who Brendan Rodgers has been able to work with for eight months. Despite the sale of Harry Maguire in the summer, they have brought in Caglar Soyuncu, who is fast becoming a club hero. The Turkish defender has slotted in perfectly next to Jonny Evans, and with Kasper Schmeichel in goal and England international Ben Chilwell covering the flanks, they have forged a strong defensive line up – conceding just five goals in their opening seven games – a defensive record only matched by Liverpool.
Harvey Barnes is emerging as an excellent, energetic midfielder, and alongside other English talents such as James Maddison, Hamza Choudhury and Demarai Gray, as well as Belgium’s Youri Tielemans, the Foxes have an exciting, creative midfield while Jamie Vardy continues to score the goals, notching five from seven starts to move ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo on the Premier League all-time goal-scoring list.
These are certainly exciting times at Leicester City again, and a challenge for the top six – at the very least – is well within their sights.