5000/1 to win the title? Tipped for relegation? Uninspiring managerial appointment? None of that stopped Leicester City from doing the impossible.
And so many elements of their unbelievable title winning success seem, well, impossible.
Take Jamie Vardy, for example. Just four years ago he was playing non league football for Fleetwood Town. Now, he’s scored for England, he’s on his way to Euro 2016, and he’s a Premier League winner. Not bad for a £1million fee, which, at the time, seemed expensive. Little did the doubters know that Leicester had bagged themselves an absoloute bargain!
The story with Riyad Mahrez is also quite similar, as two years ago he was playing for Le Havre in Ligue 2, and when he was signed for £400,000 by Leicester, (who he presumed were a Rugby club,) no one in England had heard of him. Now every young child in the country wants to be like the PFA player of the year.
However, the dazzling skill of Mahrez and the goals combined with relentless hard work from Jamie Vardy weren’t everything.
N’golo Kante, a relatively unknown midfielder signed from Caen in the summer, proved to be the heartbeat of the team, seeming to never stop running, and it was his box to box style of play, along with Vardy’s pressing, that set the tone for the team.
And if he was the core of the team, centre-backs Robert Huth and Wes Morgan were solid throughout the season, and ever since Ranieri promised the team pizza if they kept their first clean sheet of the season, the defenders haven’t looked back.
The full-backs are also vital to their brilliant defence, as at the start of the season, where many more goals were conceded, Richie De Laet and Jeffrey Schlupp preferred to attack more and play further up the pitch like the typical modern full-back, but Ranieri clocked onto that, and therefore replaced them with the reliable Danny Simpson and Christian Fuchs.
Midfielder Danny Drinkwater’s solidity and creativity was important all season, and Marc Albrighton, despite losing his partner’s wife that summer, had the best season of his career.
Shinji Okazaki’s hard work fitted in perfectly with the style of play, whilst figures such as Leonardo Ulloa, Demari Gray, Daniel Amartey should not be overlooked, as they often proved influential from the bench.
Perhaps one of the most surprising things about Leicester’s unlikely triumph, however, was the fact that Claudio Ranieri, who had recently been sacked as manager of Greece without ever having one a league title in his career, was the charming gentleman who got the best out of every player and found the ultimate winning formula.
Throughout the season his jokes and comical style kept the media strongly in favour of him, whilst he identified the pace in his team, and he adopted a lethal counter-attacking tactic, which destroyed teams left right and centre.
It almost seems laughable really that Leicester great Gary Lineker welcomed Ranieri’s appointment with a tweet reading, ‘Claudio Ranieri? Really?’, as now he is regarded as a fine manager who is already a shoe in for the manager of the year award.
Moving elsewhere, we look at Chelsea, who’s almighty crumble led to the sacking of the previous fan favourite Jose Mourinho. It all started with the first game of the season, when Chelsea twice blew the lead and finished the game with a point, but where it really kicked off was with Mourinho’s appaling treatment of team doctor Eva Carneiro, who he strongly criticized for going onto the pitch to assist Eden Hazard who had gone down injured.
Despite the fact that referee Michael Oliver had called her on, Jose was having none of it, and from there on, it all went horribly wrong, with a run of poor results leading to his sacking in December.
Chelsea then appointed former manager Guus Hiddink to see out the job until the end of the season, and he steered the Blues away from relegation and into mid-table mediocrity, as they finished tenth at the end of the season.
Their London rivals, Tottenham, were alongside Leicester as one of the surprise packages of the season, and if it weren’t for a final day disaster, Mauricio Pochettino’s side would have finished second, but instead they had to settle for third place behind Arsenal.
Although Arsenal’s season will still be regarded as a failure, a second place finish may just keep Arsene Wenger in his job, but as for Pochettino, it looks like he’s really building something at Spurs, and after many, many false dawns at the club, it finally looks like their going somewhere.
Despite a slow start, Harry Kane finished the season as top scorer with 25 goals and was the real star of the show, whilst youngster Dele Alli, signed from MK Dons, also proved a huge success, with outrageous skill, ability and self-confidence, highlighted more than ever when he scored an outstanding goal away to Crystal Palace.
As for Manchester City, it seemed as if the decision to announce that Manuel Pellegrini would be replaced by Pep Guardiola at the end of the season had a negative effect on them, and even though they won the League cup, a forth place finish was poor by their standards.
Sergio Aguero managed to score 24 goals despite a relatively low key season, whilst Kevin De Bruyne impressed, and if he hadn’t suffered an injury in the League cup semi-final, Manchester City could easily have finished higher.
Louis Van Gaal’s boring style of play meant that even though United won the FA cup, it wasn’t enough to keep him in a job, but along with the winning of the cup, their season did have a few bright sparks, as transfer deadline day signing Anthony Martial went a long way to repaying his huge transfer fee with a solid season including a stunning debut goal against Liverpool.
Another teenager in Marcus Rashford shone through as a debut brace in the Europa League was followed by another brace on his Premier League debut, and his winner in his first ever Manchester derby really showed that the 18 year-old is going to play a big part in not only United’s future, but England’s future.
In sixth place, Ronald Koeman’s Southampton defied the odds once again, and a 4-0 win against Arsenal and a 3-2 comeback win against Liverpool put the gloss on their impressive season, whilst West Ham had similar fortunes in seventh, as they waved goodbye to Upton Park.
Summer signing Dimitri Payet lit up the Premier League as Slaven Bilic’s side, for a while, looked like they could even break into the top four, but their form dropped slightly at the end what was still a very good season.
In eighth were Liverpool, who started slowly and ended up sacking Brendan Rodgers and replacing him with the exciting and entertaining Jurgen Klopp.
Klopp rejuvenated Liverpool and restored the feel good factor around Anfield, although focusing on the League cup and the Europa League, where they eventually lost in both finals, ended up costing them a high league place.
Stoke recovered from a poor start to really turn on the style before Christmas, as trident Xherdan Shaqiri, Bojan and Marko Arnautovic put together a string of good performances before Christmas.
In the end it was another season of consolidation, as Mark Hughes’s side finished 9th for a third season running, but it still appears that there is plenty to build on for the future.
Looking at Everton, there was plenty of optimism around the club before the season started, as many people felt that Roberto Martinez had a talented squad at his disposal, although in the end, their season was a disaster, finishing 11th without ever hitting a spell of good form, and with just a couple of games left, the hierarchy at the club decided that time was up for Martinez, and he was then sacked.
Swansea finished 12th an didn’t really live up to expectations after an impressive first few games, whilst Watford, who many thought would get relegated this season, came thirteenth, and despite the outstanding early season form of strikers Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney, a drop in form in the second half of the season led to manager Quique Sanchez Flores departing, which is shocking really, as he did a brilliant job without much to work with.
West Brom were medi-ocre, but Tony Pulis will be happy with a 14th place finish that they can build on, although Crystal Palace saw their form plummet, as their classy first half of the season was almost the exact opposite of their poor second half of the season where they couldn’t buy a win.
Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth will be delighted with 16th place, especially as they were without star striker Callum Wilson for almost the whole campaign.
They were resilient in their belief of ‘playing football the right way’ and it paid off as they never really looked like getting relegated and were always good to watch.
Moving on to Sunderland, Dick Advocaat vacated his role as manager and left the Black Cats looking doomed, but the appointment of Sam Allardyce played a major role in saving their season, whilst the goals of Jermain Defoe were also just as vital.
As for Newcastle, Steve McLaren seems more suited to being a coach than a manger, and when he was sacked with not long to go, even the surprise signing of Rafa Benitez, who had recently been sacked by Real Madrid, wasn’t enough to keep them up, although the good news for the club is that Benitez has signed a three year deal, and will therefore stay as manager even whilst they are in the Championship.
Alex Neil’s Norwich also couldn’t avoid the drop, and at the end of the day they just weren’t good enough, whilst Aston Villa sacked two managers, finished with 17 points, and, most importantly, came last, in what was a truly awful season for a club with a memorable history in the top division.
Overall, we have almost certainly witnessed the most spectacular and unbelievable season ever, seeing great goals, great players, the usual edge of the seat drama and more than anything else, Leicester City. Foxes, we salute you!