8 games that sealed a miracle title for Leicester

After the Foxes pulled off one of the greatest sporting shocks by securing the Premier League title this weekend, Greg Lea reflects on the key moments in their season…

1. Leicester 1-1 Tottenham

August 22, 2015

Neither side had any ambitions of the title when they met at a sunny King Power Stadium in August, but this match between the current top two would later prove highly significant in the race for the championship.

A tight encounter remained goalless until Dele Alli gave Tottenham the lead in the 81st minute, heading home Nacer Chadli’s cross from close range for his first goal in a Spurs shirt. Leicester responded almost immediately, though, racing down the other end and levelling through Riyad Mahrez, who cut in from the right and curled the ball into the far corner expertly.

“Thank you Gary, but it’s not possible now,” Claudio Ranieri had responded a week previously when the BBC’s Gary Lineker asked whether he was now aiming for the Champions League. This point moved Leicester to the top of the table after three matches, but the focus remained firmly on Premier League survival.

2. Leicester 3-2 Aston Villa

September 13, 2015

It seems faintly ridiculous now, but back in mid-September a sharp and bright Aston Villa outfit raced into a 2-0 lead away at Leicester, goals from Jack Grealish and Carles Gil seemingly putting the game beyond Ranieri’s men.

The hosts’ insipid first-half display was followed by a storming second, Leicester dominating Villa all over the pitch and ultimately securing a 3-2 win thanks to strikes from Ritchie De Laet, Jamie Vardy and Nathan Dyer, who was left concussed following his brave headed winner.

Tim Sherwood, then Villa boss, claimed afterwards that he’d “never felt this bad”; for Ranieri and Leicester, the impressive unbeaten start to the season continued.

3. Leicester 2-1 Chelsea

December 14, 2015

This game epitomised the topsy-turvy nature of the first half of the 2015/16 campaign and marked Leicester down as serious contenders, if not for the title then at least for a top-four spot.

The Foxes headed into the clash against the champions in first place, with Jose Mourinho’s men inexplicably languishing in 16th – just a single point above the drop zone – after losing eight of their opening 15 matches. 

Jose Mourinho

Waving goodbye: Defeat in Leicester earned Mourinho the sack

This proved to be Mourinho’s final match in charge, Leicester’s win condemning the Portuguese to a second Chelsea departure in eight years.

The hosts were too strong as goals from Vardy and Mahrez gave them a deserved two-goal cushion, and while the Blues pushed for an equaliser after Loic Remy halved the deficit in the 77th minute, Leicester held out pretty comfortably for yet another victory.

“They [the fans] are dreaming and that is good,” Ranieri said afterwards. “But the team and me – we have to stay very, very calm.” It was so far, so good for the man Mourinho once claimed had the “mentality of someone who doesn’t need to win. He is almost 70 years old.” (This was in 2008. Ranieri was 56.)  

4. Tottenham 0-1 Leicester

January 13, 2016

Looking back on it now, this match seems to mark the point where Leicester’s season changed. Before Christmas, the Foxes often played with a carefree abandon, regularly conceding goals but generally managing to score more than the opposition anyway.

This trip to White Hart Lane in mid-January came off the back of consecutive goalless draws at home to Manchester City and Bournemouth, with Leicester’s focus seeming to shift from attack to defence as they demonstrated a hitherto undiscovered ability to grind out victories even when not playing particularly well.

This meeting on a cold Wednesday night did not seem significant in terms of the title at the time, with many still expecting Leicester to fall away and fourth-placed Tottenham to be more concerned with the battle for the Champions League.

Robert Huth’s late header settled it, taking Spurs’ tally of dropped points against Leicester to five – a figure that would later prove pivotal.

5. Leicester 2-0 Liverpool

February 2, 2016

Mahrez dropped his shoulder, turned inside and assessed his options. Although N’Golo Kante and Marc Albrighton were both available to receive short passes, the Algerian elected to fire a long ball forward towards Jamie Vardy, who had taken up his customary position in line with the last defender.

As the ball arced over Mamadou Sakho’s head and into the striker’s path, Vardy was expected to bring it under control and wait for his team-mates to get up the pitch in support. Instead, he hit a scorching first-time shot over the head of Simon Mignolet and into the back of the net from 25 yards, sending the home crowd into raptures.

Leicester then proceeded to turn on the style, with one sublime tiki-taka passing move drawing thousands of Vine loops within minutes. Vardy’s second, prodded home after Shinji Okazaki’s deflected pass fell perfectly into his path, sealed a 2-0 win that kept Leicester at the summit after 24 games.

6. Manchester City 1-3 Leicester 

February 6, 2016

Back-to-back away games at Manchester City and Arsenal in February were supposed to see the Leicester surge come to an end, but the Foxes made the world sit up and take notice with a thumping triumph at the Etihad Stadium.

It was a fantastic display from start to finish, the visitors solid at the back and sharp and incisive on the break, with Mahrez’s goal a fine example of counter-attacking football at its best.

City simply had no answer to Ranieri’s rampant charges, who were belatedly installed as the bookmakers’ favourites for the title after extending their lead at the top to five points.

7. Leicester 1-0 Norwich

February 27, 2016

A last-gasp 2-1 defeat by Arsenal two weeks previously heaped the pressure on Leicester ahead of their next game against relegation-threatened Norwich. With the campaign now in its final third, the Foxes suddenly had something to hold onto and were expected to breeze past such opponents with ease, particularly at the King Power Stadium.

Their showing against Norwich was a nervy one, though, Cameron Jerome and Nathan Redmond both went close to opening the scoring in the second half as Leicester struggled to break down a team who were happy to sit deep and deny them space in behind.

There was an explosion of joy and relief, then, when substitute Leonardo Ulloa – introduced to supply greater presence in the penalty box – turned in an 89th-minute winner at the back post.

8. Leicester 2-2 West Ham

April 17, 2016    

This felt like two points dropped for Leicester in mid-April, particularly when Spurs smashed Stoke 4-0 a day later to close the gap at the top to five points. But it now looks far more like a point gained.

Ranieri’s men initially reacted well to Jamie Vardy’s sending-off early in the second half, successfully holding West Ham at arm’s length for long periods – but Andy Carroll’s 84th-minute penalty and Aaron Cresswell’s wonderful strike seconds later left Leicester staring a fourth loss of the season in the face.

It took until the final minute of stoppage time for the table-toppers to get back on level terms, Ulloa converting from the penalty spot after Jeff Schlupp was bundled over by a clumsy Carroll.

Referee Jon Moss felt the wrath of fans on both sides and countrywide, but it kept Leicester’s unbeaten run going and again demonstrated their ability to pick up results by any means necessary – even when the odds appeared to be heavily stacked against them. That's a characteristic usually associated with seasoned champions.

“Our job is done,” Ranieri said post-match. “At the beginning… 40 points is OK. Now everything that arrives: it’s fantastic.”

Now their job is done. 

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