- Lifestyle & Sports
- 03 May 16
Gary Lineker, Martin O’Neill and Robbie Savage are mong those doffing their caps to the 5,000/1 outsiders who have turned football logic on its head with an astonishing Premier League victory...
Leicester City are the new champions of the English Premier League. The little midlands club's title win was confirmed this evening, when second placed Tottenham Hotspur were held to a 2-2 draw by London rivals, Chelsea.
The ideal script would undoubtedly have been for the side managed by Italian maestro Claudio Ranieri to have clinched the win by defeating Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday. That game stuttered to a 1-1 draw, leaving it open for Tottenham to at least prolong the suspense. However, in the end, the North London side were not up to the task.
The moment of victory may have seemed anti-climactic – but so what? Spurs went 2-0 ahead through goals from top scorer Harry Kane and Son Heung-min. As tempers flared, there was a brief period when their their fans were still entitled to hope that this might yet be the season for Spurs to regain old glories. However, in a thrilling contest, during which nine yellow cards were shown to Tottenham players, Chelsea battled back. England centre-half Gary Cahill scored to make it 2-1. And then, in a denouement that was fitting for an astonishing, and frequently bizarre season, having come on as a substitute, the under-performing Belgian international Eden Hazard nabbed Chelsea’s second.
When the final whistle went, it was time for Leicester City to celebrate. With two games to go they were in an unassailable lead, seven points ahead of their nearest rivals.
Leicester’s victory has to be seen as one of the greatest sporting upsets of all time. They began the season as 5,000-1 outsiders. With the benefit of hindsight we can say that these were astonishing odds. And yet almost no one imagined that they would ever be overturned. Indeed, the biggest question on the lips of football pundits at the start of the season was: would Leicester be able to avoid the drop to the Championship. Well, they have – and then some!
Gradually, as the season unfolded a new set of heroes began to assert themselves, both individually and collectively.
Leicester’s strength began in the No.1 position: their goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel was superb throughout the season. With two games to go, they have conceded just 34 goals, which is less than one a game – and fewer than all but two of their opponents: Spurs and Manchester United. At the other end, however, they completely outscored United (62 .v. 43). In terms of goal difference, over the 36 games they have played so far, they were bested only by Spurs. But that reflects nothing more than their egalitarian style. Murdering the opposition was never their thing. But they were, above all, relentless.
Relentless, that is, after their own fashion. First and foremost they knew how to defend. And they stuck resolutely at this fundamental aspect of the game, allowing Wes Morgan and Robert Huth to do the necessary, providing the platform from which they could scuffle 1-0 wins, no matter how heavy the artillery being thrown at them. Frequently their victories were down to the fact that they defended like demons and hit opposing teams on the break, with ferocious pace and intensity. And it worked.
The stats suggest that no team gave the ball away so frequently. Well, if you are banging it into Row 109, as good defenders often do, then that is the way it appears. But they also knew, often enough, how to find Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, enabling these two unique talents to get the goals that would ultimately prove vital. Vardy bagged 22. Mahrez put his name on 17. Both emerged as brilliant players, capable of turning a game on its head. And, of course, that is precisely what Leicester have done all season.
Former Leicester, Everton and England striker Gary Lineker described his hometown team's achievement as "the biggest sporting shock of my lifetime.”
"I can't think of anything that surpasses it in sporting history,” he added. "It is difficult to put over in words. I got emotional. It was hard to breathe. I was a season ticket holder from the age of seven. This is actually impossible.
"Never, ever, ever, ever, in my lifetime did I believe that it was even remotely possible that Leicester would win any kind of league,” Linkeker said tonight, as he opened a bottle of champagne in celebration of the victory.
Meanwhile, the Match of the Day pundit and former Newcastle United, Blackburn Rovers and England striker Alan Shearer said Leicester's achievement was "the biggest thing ever in football”.
In a similar spirit, ex-Wales international Robbie Savage described the win as a turning point in Premiership history.
"In terms of domestic football, Leicester City winning the Premier League is the greatest achievement ever and I think it will never be surpassed," Robbie Savage – also a former Leicester midfielder – told BBC Sport. "It is incredible. This is a turning point in Premier League history."
Ireland manager Martin O'Neill, who led Leicester City to their previous highest Premier League finish of eighth in 2000, said: "Not only is it a brilliant story, but it gives everyone that little bit of hope again, that romance has not left football. It's been the talk of Europe, there's no question about that. Everything about this season has been remarkable.”
• It was a relatively good weekend for Irish football, with a number of positives for Martin O’Neill in advance of the upcoming Euro 2016 campaign. Chief among these was another superb, goal-bagging performance by Ireland striker, Shane Long, who opened the scoring for Southampton in their 4-2 demolition of Manchester City. Long has now scored 13 goals in 21 starts and five appearances as a substitute. Also getting on the scoresheet was Ciaran Clark, who performed well for Aston Villa, and put away a header into the bargain – earning himself selection in more than one “team of the week” as a result.
The weekend also saw a return to action for Irish midfielder Harry Arter, who played all 90+ minutes for Bournemouth; and for Jonathan Walters, who played the final 39 minutes, in Stoke’s 1-1 draw with Sunderland. Equally encouragingly, Darron Gibson appeared in the centre of midfield for the second game running for Everton and played well.
Less positive was the news that Ipswich striker Daryl Murphy’s Euro hopes are in doubt, following the announcement that he will not play again this season for his club.
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 11 Jan 18