The Premier League this season has seen some of the most bizarre turn in fortunes for various teams with Chelsea and Leicester being the two teams that have shown the biggest turn around. If we backtrack just one year, Leicester City were bottom of the Premiership on 19 points with nine games to go and looked odds-on favourites to be relegated. Since then, The Foxes went on to win seven of the last nine games to see their survival maintained for one more year and no one could have expected what happened next.
Since the 2015/16 Premier League season started back in August, Leicester were in many ways favourites again for relegation, but little did anyone know they had other ideas. Leicester now sit top of the league table by five points over Tottenham with just seven games to go and three players in particular have been instrumental in Leicester’s extraordinary campaign. Riyad Mahrez, N’Golo Kanté and Jamie Vardy have all played a massive role in Leicester’s rise and although these players could not have done it without the help of the other eight players on the pitch, these are the keys that turned The Foxes from relegation candidates into top flight contenders.
Remarkably, it is the upturn in form for Leicester’s deadly strike partnership, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez and the signing of N’golo Kante that shows the difference one season can make to the next. It has been well documented about the rise of Jamie Vardy from non-league obscurity to Premier League stardom and in his first season in the division, scored just five goals in 34 games with ten assists. Now fast forward to the 2015/16 season and he currently boasts 19 goals and eight assists with seven games still to come.
Mahrez himself has shown massive improvement from the 2014/15 season with just four goals and three assists, compared to 16 goals and ten assists in 2015/16. In many ways, it is Vardy’s willingness to run all game in the channels and drag defenders out of position using his pace that gives Mahrez more room to use his impeccable skills and trickery. This pairing have offered Leicester City 35 out of their 54 Premier League goals and 18 assists and could be compared to other great partnerships such as Shearer and Sutton in Blackburn’s winning title team in 94/95.
This is not the only area Leicester have improved, and while Mahrez and Vardy gain most of the applause, the signing of relatively unknown midfield player N’Golo Kanté from Caen for around £5.6 million has proven to be one of the season’s best signings. Kanté is a tireless worker in the midfield for Leicester and has been an ever present force in breaking down play from opposition teams during in attacks. Although not your typical big-hitter at just five foot six tall, he has gained plaudits from many managers and pundits in the footballing world for his interception rate, tackles made, area and distance covered and his general breakdown in play of opposition teams. It is without doubt his tireless work in midfield that allows Leicester’s counter attacking game plan to work. So far this year, Kanté has made 116 interceptions, 86 tackles and 49 clearances making him top of the Premier League in these categories, and recently earned well-deserved recognition by the French squad. Danny Drinkwater is another player who has gained plaudits this season in midfield alongside Kanté and in the process earned a call-up to the England squad for the upcoming friendly games over Easter.
It is easy to see why Leicester have improved so much on the previous season but no one could have foreseen the kind of season they are having. A shout-out does have to go to the other players in the team, as we all have to remember it is a team game, but it is special individuals such as the ones above who shine to make dreams come true. What is certain though, is that all three of these players will need to carry on their fine form in order for Leicester to see out this campaign at the top and see them win their first ever Premier League title. If any of these three players fall foul of injury or lose any form in the final sevens games, it could prove costly for Leicester who are being chased hard by a great Tottenham team who in itself is full of young talent. Can Vardy add to his ever growing profile and goal-scoring record and finish the season with the golden boot and title? What a story that would be – certainly fitting for Hollywood.
Is it time for Leicester fans to start thinking of the open top bus parade around the city or is it to early yet to call? All we know is with seven games left in the season the main protagonist; Claudio Ranieri, will need to keep his players on ground level like he has done all season and make sure his three main players in Vardy, Mahrez and Kanté, see Leicester City home to their first ever Premier League title.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Alex Hannam