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Leicester City were dead last in the Premier League after 13 games last season with 10 points and only two wins. Jump to this season, and the Foxes top the table after 13 games with 28 points and eight wins, four draws and just a single loss.
The team was at the bottom of the table for 19 straight matchdays last season. From Matchday 13 to Matchday 31, the team seemed doomed to get relegated. But a remarkable run of seven wins, one draw and one loss in the last nine games of the season saw it avoid relegation and finish in 14th place with 41 points.
The offseason was plagued by scandal as manager Nigel Pearson’s son James was involved in a racist sex-tape scandal along with two other Leicester reserves players from the preseason tour in Thailand. That led to Nigel getting sacked as manager and replaced by Claudio Ranieri.
A lot of people raised their eyebrows at the appointment of the 64-year-old Italian manager. The former Chelsea manager was coming off a very disappointing spell as the Greek national team manager, and Leicester were doomed by many experts ahead of the 2015-16 campaign, and the Foxes were place in the relegation zone in many predictions by media pundits and experts.
But the team has shocked the league by playing some exceptional soccer and showing a lot of heart. Ranieri has gotten his side to function as a unit, and star players like Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy provide the Foxes with some game-breaking abilities.
Vardy, 28, has 13 goals in 13 games and has scored in 10 consecutive games, which put him tied with former Manchester United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy for the Premier League record. Vardy’s journey has been quite remarkable, as he was playing fifth-tier soccer for Fleetwood Town in 2011-12. Fast forward to today and he leads the Premier League in scoring and has made his debut for the English national team.
Mahrez, 24, has gotten his big breakthrough as well this season, as the French-born Algerian international has scored 7 goals and supplied 7 assists so far in the league this season. Mahrez is great on the ball and creates a lot of havoc for opposing defenders from his right wing. Mahrez and Vardy together with goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel has become the backbone of the side.
Ranieri often speaks about the great chemistry in the team and he has instilled a “never give up” attitude that has seen the team come back from losing positions on several occasions. The defense isn’t airtight by any means, as they have allowed 20 goals so far, which is the most by a wide margin of the top five teams in the standings. But they have managed to score 28 goals, with is the most of all teams in the Premier League.
Leicester might not be able to sustain this all season long, but they will surely not be anywhere near the relegation zone when we summarize the season. When a smaller club like Leicester does well, it’s a nice change of pace as we’ve gotten used to having the usual suspects (Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United) at the top of the standings. And with the huge amount of money coming in to all clubs in the Premier League thanks to the lucrative TV-rights deal, Leicester don’t have to sell players like Vardy, Mahrez or Schmeichel. Mahrez is under contract until the end of the 2016-17 season, and Vardy’s contract doesn’t expire until 2018. The only way one of those three would move would be if someone would throw up an absurd amount of money, but Leicester will probably value the players more than the cash.
If Ranieri is given time to keep building, and Vardy and Mahrez keep firing on all cylinders, then the Foxes might make things really interesting at the top of the standings going forward. Even a mid-table finish would be a great achievement for the club, and a Europa League spot would surely be seen as a small miracle by the fanbase. Ranieri is keeping expectations down, and his goal is still to avoid relegation.
We are still only 13 games into the season, but the fairytale story of Leicester has been a great story to follow, and it looks like it will continue a while longer.