“Can we play you every week,” chanted the buoyant fans of Leicester City as the clock approached full time at the Etihad. This was a Manchester City outfit that the Foxes were dispatching 3-1 at their own backyard to go FIVE, yes five points clear off the top of the table.
Quite an endorsement for the East Midlands side that found itself, only twelve months ago (Feb 2015), rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table, with just 18 points from 29 games, and destined to slip downward in the pecking order of English Football.
What followed was probably the most remarkable end-season run witnessed. Leicester picked up 22 points off a possible 27 from their last 9 games as they managed to save their season and also finish a credible 14th on the table.
That remarkable run seems to have kicked in a sense of belief and confidence into the side that has seen their current season transpire from a “fight for survival” into an unlikely (now highly likely) title challenge.
The “traditional Top 4” is a myth
Leicester’s rise is quite the stuff of dreams for a football romanticist and that is only the icing on the cake of an absolute bonkers of a Premier League season. The likes of West Ham, Tottenham, Stoke City, Watford, Southampton, Everton etc have done well to challenge and upstage the league’s big players both on and off the field.
Well scouted buys at bargain prices have helped a number of these sides improve on their quality within a shoe-string budget and hence enhance the competition between sides in the Premier League. This has thrown an air of unpredictability to each game every week and has often forced numerous fans and pundits to eat their own words, predictions and opinion.
It’s also heartening to see footballing principles, ideals, and talent triumph over money, even if just for this one season.
Newly promoted sides are no more pushovers
Jamie Vardy’s journey from non-league Fleetwood County to Premier League record goal scorer at Leicester City and Troy Deeney’s journey from jail to top-flight football have been top-class. Also, 16-year-old Reece Oxford’s blockbuster debut for the Hammers against the Gunners and the mercurial arrival of French genius Dimitri Payet at West Ham along with the meteoric rise of Algerian Riyad Mahrez have been tremendous.
The likes of Dele Alli and Anthony Martial bursting onto the international scene and Stoke’s unlikely signing of Swiss superstar Xherdan Shaqiri, among numerous others all make for incredible reading for the football fan and has proved to be a great global advertisement of the Premier League’s credentials in itself.
Young and aspiring coaches of the likes of Eddie Howe, Mauricio Pocchettino, Roberto Martinez and Alex Neill pitted against veterans of the pedigree of Claudio Ranieri, Manuel Pellegrini, Jurgen Klopp, Arsene Wenger, Louis Van Gaal, Steve Mclaren, Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce among others.
Not only that, they have managed to script many fabulous battles this season showcasing new styles of play, tactics and coaching methods all resulting in contrasting fortunes yet catching the eye of those taking notice.
If you’d walked into your local bookmaker at the beginning of the season in August and bet in favour of 1500/1 odds on Leicester winning the league, or Chelsea languishing at 15th place at Christmas, you’d have invited hopeless bouts of taunts, laughter and guffaws at your prediction.
If the first half of, what is now rapidly proving to be the most bizarre season in recent memory, is anything to go by, it can be incurred that no mathematically plausible outcome can be completely ruled out at this point in time.
A £400,000 worth Riyad Mahrez could outshine the rest in a league with Leicester, where a £59.5 million worth Angel Di Maria failed miserably with Manchester United. Massive changes in philosophies, players, managers and owners have helped mark the dawn of a new era for the Premier League.
With three months left in the Premier League, anything could happen, but one thing is for sure, the team that celebrates on the final day of the Premier League with their hands on that trophy will have well and truly deserved it.
Until then, let’s just see this humdinger of a league season through it’s final few months.