Last summer, Leicester badly needed a left-back. Jeffrey Schlupp had filled in manfully as the Foxes won seven of their last nine Premier League games, after Paul Konchesky had been... well, Paul Konchesky for the bulk of the season.
What they wanted was someone dependable, a guaranteed seven-out-of-10 every game to provide Schlupp with some competition. What they got was the best full-back in the league.
Of all the surprises that Leicester have pulled this season, Christian Fuchs’s transformation from prosaic defender to paragon of uber-consistency must rank among the most unexpected. Not even Claudio Ranieri turning up 24 hours early to Fuchs’s surprise birthday party in April measures on the Foxes’ Richter scale of unexpected arrivals.
The Austrian signed on a free transfer from Schalke 12 months ago, when even his own personal goals could be summarised as ‘getting to play in England’. Don’t take our word for it, ask him. “It was always a goal for me to play in the Premier League,” Fuchs smiled back then, “and I’m happy that this dream has come true.”
God knows what the Premier League champion – his first major honour as a professional, if you don’t count the 2011 DFL Supercup, which we don’t – thinks now.
Get ball, use ball
Beginning the season as Schlupp’s back-up, Fuchs got his first start in October’s 2-1 win at Norwich. From then – save for one game sat out through injury – he missed only 11 minutes for the rest of the campaign; looking at Stats Zone, it’s easy to see why. If the modus operandi of a modern full-back is to be solid in defence and get forward as much as possible, then few perform the role better.
No full-back made more interceptions that the 30-year-old’s 98 in 2015/16. Meanwhile, having the won the ball back with such regularity, Fuchs generally did something with it, creating 45 chances all season, 11 more than Bournemouth right-back Simon Francis (pending the Cherries’ rearranged closer at Old Trafford). Stoke’s Erik Pieters (116) and Chelsea full-back Cesar Azpicilicueta (1114) made more tackles, yet neither provide the same threat going forward.
Tottenham’s Danny Rose and Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin may have delivered more eye-catching displays to be voted into the PFA’s team of the year, but Fuchs's dependability is what a manager craves from full-back.
Indeed, his acknowledgement is a triumph for stout cloggers everywhere, ending three years of Everton dominance in the position after Leighton Baines (2015 and 2013) and Seamus Coleman (2014) surged to the title with their attacking zest over defensive nous. Eventually, it seems, playing in a Roberto Martinez backline catches up with you.
Two games in particular stand out. In what proved title-shaping victories, Fuchs’s dead-ball delivery was vital in the 1-0 win at Tottenham in January and the 3-1 victory at Manchester City the following month.
In both matches, the Austrian’s corners found Robert Huth’s granite forehead to create vital goals. The former was especially important, coming after a Christmas wobble of no wins in three games that had set tongues wagging that the Leicester crumble was on.
That he was man of the match in two of the Foxes’ last three games – the 1-1 draw with Manchester United and 3-1 demolition of Everton to secure the title – speaks volumes for this fiercely determined competitor.
Every team, then, would love a Christian Fuchs. And we haven’t even mentioned the endless pun possibilities that his surname – and MEGALOLZ #NoFuchsGiven brand – affords. Until now. Bugger.
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