Last May, Leicester City pulled off arguably one of the greatest triumphs and upsets in sporting history by, at odds of 5000-1, winning the English Premier League by 10 points. They produced consistent, astonishing team performances – with real desire and spirit – culminating in achieving the seemingly impossible. The Foxes found a way to play almost everyone, only losing three games all season (twice to Arsenal, once to Liverpool) and, more often than not, found ways to win really tight matches. Having fulfilled such an accolade, a huge weight of expectation hung over their shoulders as the 2016/17 season began – something they (as a usually-bottom-of-the-table club) had never experienced before.
Leicester had a tricky start to the current Premier League season – leaving them in the relegation zone – and so Leicester took the radical decision to sack the mastermind of their title-winning triumph: their manager Claudio Ranieri. The Italian famed for his passionate and emotive speeches, who always saw the positives in a performance, had fallen out of favour with the Thai owners of the club and seemingly too with the players who were at the forefront of both the past heroics and more recent demise of the Foxes.
It seemed a ridiculous decision. Former England and Tottenham Hotspur forward Gary Lineker (famed for saying that he would present Match of the Day in his underpants if Leicester won the league called the decision “crazy”. However, since the sacking, things have been improving.
Under assistant manager Craig Shakespeare (who, after a few impressive games, was appointed manager until the end of the season) they have won their first six matches – five in the Premier League; one in the Champions League – which has been a big leap towards Premier League safety. Not only that, in Ranieri’s final game in charge of the club, they got a crucial away goal against Sevilla in the last 16 in the Champions League – the main knockout competition in Europe – losing 2-1. This left them with a great opportunity to progress and, in a thrilling encounter at the King Power stadium in Leicester, they beat a good Sevilla side 2-0 to advance to the quarter finals, where they will play Atlético Madrid, who have made it to the final of the competition twice in the last three years. But, can they do the impossible again?
Why Leicester are so hard to beat
Last season, Leicester’s main weapon was how they were portrayed: they were always considered the underdogs. They played such an effective counter-attacking tactic that teams – even England’s best – seemed unable to cope and play against them. One reason was their formation: Leicester, when so many other teams nowadays have switched to different, more complex formations, kept with an ‘old-fashioned’ 4-4-2 lineup, with two strikers continuously pummelling and battering the opposition’s defence. In addition, with the extraordinary pace and incredible finishing skill of eventual Golden Boot runner-up Jamie Vardy, Leicester couldn’t stop scoring. But they were, by no means, a one man team; their incredible link-up play, generally involving talented Algerian playmaker Riyad Mahrez, combined with great communication and energy for a devastating mix.
This season, even though Leicester lost one of their main assets, midfielder N’Golo Kante, to current Premier League leaders Chelsea for £30 million, that passion and desire seems to still be there. Against Sevilla, Leicester proved they can compete amongst one of Europe’s best, but can they repeat the impossible?
Can Leicester do it?
That is the question. Performing alongside Europe’s best has been something English teams have struggled with in previous years, with Arsenal recently losing a whopping 10-2 on aggregate to German giants Bayern Munich. It is unlikely that Leicester could win the competition, simply because other teams still in the mix have been in the quarter finals many times before, and are just generally more consistent. If Leicester do play their best, however, and luck is on their side, of course it is a possibility.
The first leg of the tie is to be played in Madrid, Spain on April 12, with the return leg in Leicester on April 18. Although teams have, generally, worked out a way of playing Leicester now, the champions of England have the talent, have the passion and, most importantly, have the determination to be able to produce one, or many, upsets.
But can they do it? Let’s just wait and see.