Superb Leicester Roll On
There is little doubt that last season saw one of the most incredible Premier League survival stories of all time as Leicester City FC defied all the odds to dodge the trap door to the Championship. The Foxes endured a nightmare start before a run of seven wins in their last nine games saw the impossible proved anything but.
However, even with the miracles of the previous campaign, the summer had seen turmoil and controversy at the club. Despite masterminding their escape, manager Nigel Pearson was sacked from his role at the club. The decision came in amidst controversy over an alleged racist sex tape during a club trip to Thailand that lead to the dismissal of two players also.
The man replacing Pearson stirred up a cauldron of fear with Foxes supporters as Claudio Ranieri took over the helms at the King Power Stadium. The Italian hadn’t managed in the BPL for 11 years and his recent career was littered with minor, unsuccessful job placements. In fact, since controlling Chelsea Ranieri hadn’t held a position as a manager with a team for more than two seasons.
Subsequently, going into the 2015-16 season, Leicester fans had long forgotten the joy of last campaign and were now plagued with paranoia regarding the club’s situation. The infamous ‘second season syndrome’ had struck Hull last year, would Leicester also plummet in their following offensive?
Inspirational midfielder Esteban Cambiasso left the club after a single season, a huge blow for the Foxes, yet money was certainly spent in the summer. Japanese international forward Shinji Okazaki joined the squad for £7 million and Robert Huth made his tenure in Leicester a permanent fixture.
After a summer of chaos and worry, Leicester finally stepped foot on the pitch against Sunderland with a packed King Power Stadium unsure what to expect. Okazaki started up front and Sunderland came into the game having also dramatically stayed up only two months ago.
The first half that preceded the opening whistle would set the tone for Leicester’s early season form and see them sat second after five games in the present day.
Jamie Vardy flicked home with a long-range header in off the post, 1-0. Only minutes later it was two, mercurial Algerian Riyad Mahrez headed home, 2-0. Then a penalty, Mahrez stepped up and thumped home his second, 3-0. In just under 25 minutes, Leicester and Ranieri had sent the home support into rapture.
Second half goals from Jermaine Defoe and Steven Fletcher did unnerve the Leicester back line; yet a superb near post strike from Mark Albrighton sealed an emphatic 4-2 win. Ranieri had experienced the dream first game and Leicester had now scored nine goals in their last two home games.
Round two saw a much harder challenge though as the Foxes headed away to West Ham with the Hammers on the back of a pulsating 2-0 win at the Emirates. As ever the odds were firmly up against the midlands side, but Okazaki begged to differ when he headed home for 1-0 after Adrian had deflected away his initial effort.
Eleven minutes later and Albrighton slipped an immaculate pass into Mahrez who whipped an aggressive shot into the far top corner from 12 yards out. West Ham fought back in the second half as Payet found the net, yet an Adrian sending off confirmed Leicester as victors. Two wins in two, Leicester were flying high.
The Foxes returned to the King Power a week later and their win streak would come to an abrupt end late on. Tottenham were the opponents and the away side led through Dele Alli’s brave headed effort. However, Ranieri’s team simply does not die and only a minute later, Mahrez’s spectacular curling shot ensured the Blue’s held onto a point.
Before the international break and another draw, this time away to plucky Bournemouth who had also won at Upton Park in the opening weeks. Once again the plucky Foxes had to fight back after Callum Wilson gave the promoted side the lead with a splendid bicycle kick.
Vardy proved the man to keep his nerve when Leicester bagged a late penalty with the Englishman fizzing it into the top corner for another 1-1 tie.
This weekend proved Leicester’s toughest challenge though, despite Aston Villa at home seeming a comparatively easy fixture. Ranieri’s men quickly deteriorated though to the shock of the King Power crowd as Villa lead 1-0 at half time after Jack Grealish scored his first Villans goal.
Tim Sherwood and his Villa side seemed brutally intent on slaying this over-achieving Leicester side as they stuck their teeth in the blues. Midway through the second half and Charles Gill fired home from long range to seemingly hammer the nail in Leicester’s coffin.
Richie de Laet, goal. Goal line technology confirmed it, Leicester got their name on the team sheet 15 minutes later through a deadly flick on from their right back. Then for the second consecutive game week, Jamie Vardy rescued a draw as he tapped home from close range after a thrilling move.
For the third game on the bounce Leicester had gone behind and fought back, showing inspirational resilience and raw team mentality. The club’s unbeaten run of nine games would go on, but it progressed and evolved into an even better result. Leicester would not settle for a draw.
With only a minute to go, the Foxes pulled off a spectacular turn around to rip the heart out of Villa and bag all three points. Nathan Dyer ambitiously jumped for a looped ball, getting his forehead to the ball as Brad Guzan came flying into him like a battering ram. The ball trickled over the line and into the open goal.
3-2 from 2-0 down, an immense comeback!
So, with this week’s incredible game seeing the form of Leicester City explode even further with a superb come back against Villa, the blues sit an incredible second in the table. Claudio Ranieri has moulded a superb side and the Foxes’ spectacular run has no sign of ending, they’re the gift that keeps on giving.
YJA Senior Sports Correspondent