Leicester City has won the 2015–16 Premier League title.
Yes, Leicester City. And yes, the English Premier League—the same league that includes Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and other traditional heavyweights.
Leicester clinched the title on Monday after Chelsea drew Tottenham at Stamford Bridge. Spurs led 2–0 at the half, but Chelsea scored twice in the second half to deliver a title to Leicester City.
There’s no real appropriate comparison in American sports for what Leicester City has accomplished, but SI’s Grant Wahl compared it to a Double A baseball team somehow reaching Major League Baseball and winning the World Series. With 5,000–1 odds of winning the title before the season, one British bookmaker considered the Foxes winning the Premiership far less likely than discovering the Loch Ness monster (500–1).
After the unfathomable became reality, relive the most significant moments in Leicester City’s incredible run to glory.
Rise to the Premier League
What makes Leicester City’s story so remarkable is that over the last decade, the club has spent seven seasons in the Football League Championship, the second tier of English soccer. In 2008, Leicester City was actually relegated to League One, though they were quickly promoted after winning the League One title in 2008–09.
Leicester made the Football League playoffs in 2009–10 but failed to earn promotion. Still stuck in the Championship a few years later, Leicester City reached the playoffs again and proceeded to suffer one of the most gutting defeats you’ll ever see.
In stoppage time of the second leg of their semifinal against Watford, Leicester’s Anthony Knockaert was awarded a penalty that would have sealed an aggregate win for the Foxes. But Watford goalkeeper Manuel Almunia saved Knockaert’s penalty and then saved a rebound attempt. In the wild sequence that follows, Watford somehow gets the ball up the field and scores to advance and knock Leicester out of the playoff. There are no words that can do this chain of events justice—you just have to watch. (Turn up the volume to hear the outstanding SkySports call.)
Fortunately, Leicester City didn’t have to wait long to earn promotion to the Premier League—the Foxes won the Championship the next season, securing a spot in the 2014–15 Premier League.
Bound for relegation, saved by King Richard III
Leicester City didn’t exactly take the Premier League by storm. The Foxes spent most of last season at the bottom of the table and appeared destined for relegation. On March 22, they were in last place with just 19 points—seven points away from safety.
Suddenly, Leicester’s fortunes changed. There’s no tactical explanation for why Leicester City suddenly became the hottest team in English soccer, but as SI’s Grant Wahl and others have noted, the miraculous turnaround could have a supernatural cause: The burial of King Richard III.
Let me explain: King Richard III, who became king in 1483, was killed two years later in battle during the War of the Roses. His brief reign came to a morbid end at Bosworth Field, which is near Leicester. But his remains were missing until 2012, when they were discovered under a parking lot in Leicester. He was finally put to rest at the Leicester Cathedral on March 26, 2015—coincidentally (or not) just before the Foxes began their incredible run.
Leicester City won seven of its last nine games of the 2014–15 season, only losing to eventual champion Chelsea during that stretch. Since Richard III’s reburial, the Foxes have only lost four league games. Long live the king.
Claudio Ranieri hired
Somewhat controversially, Leicester City sacked manager Nigel Pearson following the season even though he had guided it to safety. Leicester City's ownership turned to Claudio Ranieri, recently sacked by Greece after the team lost to the Faroe Islands. Ranieri's new gig marked his 16th coaching job.
A hot start to 2015–16
In a sign of things to come, Leicester City opened its 2015-16 campaign with a 4–2 victory over Sunderland. Jamie Vardy opened the scoring just 11 minutes into the season, and Riyad Mahrez quickly added two goals to make the game 3–0 after just 25 minutes. After one week, Leicester was technically on top of the league based on goal difference—not that anyone thought it would last.
The Foxes kept winning. After beating West Ham, which had opened its season with an impressive 2–0 win at Arsenal, Leicester hosted Tottenham. Dele Alli put Spurs up 1–0 in the 81st minute, but Mahrez scored just one minute later to seal a draw that would later prove critical.
The early–season magic continued on Sept. 19 at Stoke City. Down 2–0 after 20 minutes, the Foxes clawed their way to a draw after goals from Mahrez and Vardy, who equalized in the 69th minute.
A rare defeat—and ensuing success
Leicester remained unbeaten after six Premier League matches, a small miracle considering that the team had lost 19 matches the year before.
The Foxes hosted Arsenal on Sept. 26. Vardy gave them a 1–0 lead in the 13th minute, but Arsenal scored four unanswered goals and ended up winning 5–2.
But instead of stepping aside for the big clubs, Leicester City improved. On Oct. 17, down 2–0 to Southampton, Vardy scored twice in the second half, including a stoppage–time equalizer. Ranieri’s side then reeled off four straight victories, including the team’s first shutout of the year—which meant….
Leicester City’s early–season success came in spite of the team’s shaky defense. So Claudio Ranieri turned to a timeless coaching mechanism to inspire his team to improve defensively: pizza.
Ranieri promised his side that he would buy them pizza if they were able to clean sheet. And on Oct. 24, Leicester City finally came through, topping Crystal Palace 1–0. Ranieri indeed bought the team pizza, and he promised his players a pizza party after future clean sheets.
The motivation seems to have worked: Entering Sunday’s game against Manchester United, the Foxes have kept 15 clean sheets in the Premier League this season.
Jamie Vardy makes history
A few years ago, Vardy was playing for the Stocksbridge Park Steels, several divisions below the Premier League on the English soccer pyramid. Because he was only making $50 per game, he worked full–time until he was 25 at a carbon-fiber splint factory to pay his bills.
Vardy joined Leicester in 2012, but before this season he was hardly expected to contend for the Premier League Golden Boot. Vardy was only in the news last off–season after he was caught racially abusing someone at a casino.
So Vardy’s emergence as one of the Premier League’s top strikers this season was just a tad surprising—particularly after he scored in his 11th straight game, breaking Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record. The goal came in the first half of a 1–1 draw with Manchester United.
Leicester sends Jose packing
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the first half was not Leicester City’s success, but defending champion Chelsea’s ineptitude. Entering the two teams’ meeting on Dec. 14, Leicester City had 32 points, just one behind leaders Arsenal with a game in hand. Chelsea, meanwhile, had 15 points—one point above the relegation zone.
Against the club that sacked him in 2004, Ranieri guided Leicester City to a 2–1 victory behind goals from—who else?—Vardy and Mahrez. Leicester moved to the top of the Premier League, and Chelsea sacked manager Jose Mourinho later that week.
Righting the ship
Leicester City was on top of the Premier League entering Boxing Day, but the Foxes fell 1–0 to Liverpool at Anfield with Manchester City looming. But the Foxes managed a 0–0 draw against Manchester City, putting them level on points with Arsenal at the top of the table.
The most critical win of Leicester City’s season may have been the team’s Jan. 13 victory over Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. Robert Huth scored an 83rd minute winner to give the Foxes all three points against the team that would ultimately prove to be Leicester City’s biggest challenge.
Ironically, Leicester’s only loss in January was a 2–0 defeat to Tottenham in an FA Cup replay—a loss that may have been a blessing in disguise, as it allowed Ranieri’s side to focus solely on the Premier League. While Manchester City, for instance, competed in the Champions League, FA Cup and Capital One Cup in addition to the Premier League, the Foxes could avoid the fatigue and injuries that come with participation in so many other competitions.
A critical stretch—and Valentine’s Day heartbreak
February saw Leicester City play Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal in consecutive games—with the latter two fixtures away from home.
The Foxes did away with Liverpool courtesy of a Vardy brace, including a spectacular strike from 25 yards that whizzed over Simon Mignolet’s head.
Leicester City was widely expected to fall at Manchester City the following week, but the Foxes played aggressively and came away with a surprising 3–1 win. Huth gave Leicester the lead in the third minute and added another goal in the 60th minute. Mahrez contributed the team’s third goal. Manchester City failed to score until the 87th minute.
The shocking victory against Manchester City put Leicester five points clear at the top of the table entering a Feb. 14 clash against Arsenal in North London. Unfortunately for Ranieri’s side, Valentine’s Day proved heartbreaking.
Vardy gave Leicester City the lead on a penalty in the 45th minute, but defender Danny Simpson was sent off in the 54th minute after a second yellow card following a foul on Arsenal forward Olivier Giroud. Theo Walcott scored for Arsenal just over 15 minutes later, but the Gunners and 10–man Leicester seemed headed for a draw. Until this happened in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
If the Leicester City bubble was to finally pop, that seemed like the moment. Welbeck’s winner also seemed like it could very well propel Arsenal to the title. Except pretty much the opposite happened.
Leicester soars toward a title—and the Champions League
Instead of faltering following the last–second blow at Arsenal, Leicester City resumed winning. After a win against Norwich and a draw with West Brom, the Foxes reeled off four consecutive 1–0 victories, doing enough to stay in front of a surging Tottenham side. After a 2–0 victory at Sunderland on April 10—which sealed the club’s place in the UEFA Champions League for the first time ever—the Foxes looked like they might run away with the title.
A potential crisis averted
Leicester City’s title challenge suddenly appeared to be in jeopardy on April 17 against West Ham. Vardy gave Leicester City the lead in the 18th minute with his 22nd goal of the season, but in the second half, the referee sent him off for diving.
The Foxes held off West Ham for nearly half hour, but in the 84th minute conceded a penalty, which Andy Carroll converted. Just two minutes later, Aaron Cresswell gave the Hammers the lead with a beautiful goal scored top shelf.
Yet somehow, 10-man Leicester managed to salvage a point. In the fifth minute of stoppage time, the referee awarded Leicester a penalty after Carroll fouled Jeffrey Schlupp in the box—a penalty Carroll claimed the referee gave because he was “trying to even it up”—and Leonardo Ulloa converted. The final score: Leicester City 2, West Ham 2.
The bigger issue for Leicester City appeared to be the status of Vardy, who faced a mandatory suspension following his red card. With Spurs in top form and only five points back with four matches to play, Leicester City could hardly afford to drop points at home to Swansea City on April 24.
The Foxes responded with a convincing 4–0 victory behind a brace from Ulloa and additional goals from Mahrez and Marc Albrighton. The team’s good fortune didn’t stop at the final whistle, either: The following day, West Brom earned a surprising 1–1 draw at White Hart Lane, putting Tottenham seven points back of Leicester with just three games to play.
Vardy—who, along with teammates Mahrez and N'Golo Kante, was a finalist for the PFA Player of the Year Award (it was ultimately won by Mahrez)—was suspended for Sunday’s game at Old Trafford, where the Foxes could have lifted the Premier League trophy. After Anthony Martial struck in the eighth minute to put Manchester United ahead, Wes Morgan equalized in the 17th minute off a set piece. The match ended 1–1, putting Leicester City eight points clear of Spurs, with Tottenham still to play on Monday.
Leicester City won the Premier League title on Monday—without stepping onto the field.
After Leicester City drew at Old Trafford, Tottenham had to win on Monday against Chelsea to keep its title hopes alive. After the first half, Spurs appeared to be well on their way to a victory at Stamford Bridge following goals from Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min.
But down 2–0, Chelsea turned the game around. Gary Cahill scored off a corner in the 58th minute to cut the deficit in half, and then Eden Hazard scored a beautiful goal in the 83rd minute to equalize.
The game finished in a draw, sending Leicester City players into delirium.
Long live King Richard III.