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No one outside the East Midlands truly believed in Leicester’s chances to win the title last season.
Nonetheless, the Foxes defied every expectation, including their 5,000-to-1 title odds, to win the first top division title in their 132-year history playing football in England.
Despite their fairy tale ending to last season’s campaign, fans everywhere felt that Leicester’s Cinderella story would end, and the carriage that brought them to the Premier League title would once again turn into a pumpkin. After all, N’Golo Kante departed for greener pastures at Chelsea, both Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy couldn’t possibly recreate the miracle seasons they had in 2015, and every team in the Premier League would be looking for a shot at the champions, as opposed to last year, when many teams viewed the Foxes as relegation fodder.
For the most part, these critics were right. Leicester City have stumbled out of the gates this Premier League season, earning just seven points from six matches. The likes of Liverpool and Manchester United have undressed Leicester, beating the Foxes by a combined 7-1, while the Hull City loss to open the season gave fans of the Foxes a stern reminder of how close they were to relegation just a season ago. Certainly, there’s time for things to get back on track, but the beginning of the 2016-17 Premier League campaign has not been kind to the reigning champions.
However, the place where Leicester City have found success this season is in Europe. Playing in their first ever Champions’ League campaign, the Foxes have been shockingly good, securing two wins over Club Brugge and Porto to secure six points from their opening two games. Only Napoli, Atletico Madrid, and Barcelona can match the Foxes on points thus far in the campaign.
While it’s easy to point out that Leicester City did it against two of the easier opponents in the competition, it no less diminishes their massive accomplishment. Many fans were adamant that Leicester would struggle in Europe, but they have proven they can go toe to toe with just about any club in the world thus far. Lest we forget, just two years ago Porto were in the quarterfinal of this same competition, and went into their second leg against Bayern Munich leading 3-1. I’m sure that any lifelong fan of Leicester City would take that result in a heartbeat if you offered it to them, as two years ago, it did not even seem possible.
Of course, the star of the show for Leicester remains Mahrez, who has been simply fantastic in the club’s two Champions’ League games. Against Club Brugge, he was able to bag two goals, and against Porto he nabbed an assist, making an impact every time he touches the ball. The reigning PFA Player of the Year set out to prove his consistency this season, and on the European stage, he is doing so masterfully. Truly, Mahrez has elevated himself to one of the best creative midfielders in all of Europe.
While there is certainly a lot of time for this campaign to go south, no one thought Leicester would be in pole position in their group through two games. This team has shown the same cohesiveness, effort, and skill in Europe this season that the entire Premier League got to watch last season. Many predicted Leicester would struggle in their first European campaign, but once again, the Foxes are proving doubters wrong.
Claudio Ranieri cemented his legacy in the Premier League last season with Leicester, now he’s ready to solidify himself as an elite manager across the entirety of the European continent.