Everton-Leicester City Preview
The odds on whether Leicester City players went to bed between Monday and Saturday's now-meaningless match against Everton are in.
5,000 to 1.
If watching the Foxes win the Premier League was entertaining, there's no telling what's to come during the in-match celebration at their own ground. Get ready for the most unlikely victory lap in the history of English football with supporters free to celebrate regardless of result in the season's final match at King Power Stadium.
The most significant result of Leicester's majestic season came with the Foxes gathered at Jamie Vardy's residence to watch it on television. The team tuned in - not unlike the rest of us - to watch Chelsea rally from two goals down to draw Tottenham Hotspur and secure the Foxes' first top-flight title in the club's previously unadorned 132-year history.
The odds on that at the start of the campaign: 5,000 to 1, but no numbers can do justice in quantifying the enormity of the accomplishment.
"It's an unbelievable feeling. I've never known anything like it," Vardy told the club's official website. "We were scrapping to stay in the league last season and on Saturday we'll be lifting the trophy. That gives you an idea of how much hard work has gone into this season from every single player and member of staff.
"It's the biggest achievement in the history of a great club and we all feel privileged to be part of it. It's even more special to have done it with these lads. Every minute of hard work we've put in on the training pitch has been worth it for this moment."
The way the moment came to be - with Vardy hosting his teammates as they clinched - also proved Leicester supporters' early season chant to be prophetic:
"Jamie Vardy's having a party; bring your vodka and your Charlie."
Even during a promising fast start as Vardy set a Premier League record with an 11-match scoring streak stretching from August to November, there were few true believers even among the club's East Midlands supporters that the level of success was sustainable.
For any number of reasons, it was difficult to fault them.
Maybe the top among them was history - the last time a team not named Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal or Chelsea won a Premier League title, Claudio Ranieri finished in the bottom half of Serie A with a promoted Fiorentina side, PFA Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez was four years old and Leicester City were on their way to the Championship after a 29-point Premier League campaign had them prepared for the drop well before the end of that final 42-match season.
It was 1995, and Blackburn Rovers were in the process of splitting up four Manchester United titles to begin the new top-flight era. Twenty-one years later, the Foxes are only the sixth club to win the Premier League trophy.
"From the beginning, I felt something special but I could never imagine this, never," said Ranieri, who's managerial career started in amateur Italian football with Vigor Lamezia.
His first professional job came at Campania Puteolana, which was swiftly relegated to Serie C2 in 1987-88 before he first gained recognition the following season with Cagliari. That's where "The Tinkerman" began his first domestic climb, taking I Rossoblu from Serie C1 to Serie B and Serie A in successive seasons.
But that top-flight title remained elusive until now, having finished second four times - once in the Premier League with Chelsea in 2003-04, Serie A with Juventus in '08-09 and Roma the following season, and Ligue 1 with Monaco in '13-14.
"I know all the players, clubs and managers work so hard, but only one can win and this year it happened to me," he said. "I fight so hard to achieve all my goals. It is a special moment and I am very happy.
"… I would like to remember because you say this is a fairytale. My fairytale started in Cagliari a long time ago. … To win the Premier League is something special and more here in Leicester, more with these fantastic lads. Unbelievable."
But just how did it happen? Well, while some superstitious supporters point to the 29-13-4 record since King Richard III's reinterment ceremony in Leicester on March 26, 2015, the more logical truth is it's a season in which the right unlikely castoffs and smartly scouted emerging players converged at just the right time.
The backstory dating to last season's struggles and near relegation makes it all the more unlikely and serves as the tip of the iceberg. But the 5,000-to-1 odds have undersold the enormity of the longshot considering where the club was just seven years ago.
The best place to look for a first step in a comeback story is always rock bottom, and for Leicester, that was during their time in League One. The Foxes were relegated from the Championship to the third tier for the 2008-09 season and hired Nigel Pearson as manager.
At the time, an 18-year-old Mahrez was still a season away from turning pro and honing his skills on the youth level with French club AAS Sarcelles.
As for his PFA Team of the Year mates N'Golo Kante, skipper Wes Morgan and Vardy?
Kante was still three seasons from his professional debut in France's Ligue 2. He moved to Leicester last summer for the underwhelming fee of €8 million from Ligue 1 Caen after being scouted by Steve Walsh – the assistant manager who facilitated the moves for Mahrez and Vardy.
Kante fought his way into Ranieri's starting XI after coming off the bench for four of his first five matches. He's since capped and scored for the France national team and likely to represent the host country at this summer's European Championship.
A newly 26-year-old Morgan was competing against Leicester with East Midlands rivals Nottingham Forest in the third tier, but the Jamaica international left his boyhood club to join the Foxes in the January 2012 transfer window.
He was tabbed captain for the 2013-14 season and is the Premier League's first Jamaican champion.
Vardy is, of course, the story of stories, having risen from being released from the Sheffield Wednesday youth program at 16 to featuring for the Stocksbridge Park Steels in the eighth level of English football while Leicester attempted their ascent from the third.
He moved to Northern Premier League side Halifax Town and Conference Premier club Fleetwood Town before being signed by Leicester before the 2012-13 campaign. It's been written that the now international sensation who once made a habit of showing up to training still drunk from the night before predicted he'd compete on the international stage on the very day he signed with his present club.
Well, he's since been capped and scored for England, emerging as a lock for the Euros. With 22 top-flight goals, he's still got an outside shot at the Golden Boot.
His future manager Pearson guided Leicester to the 2009 League One title in their first season outside of the top two tiers, and he remained with the club through five seasons in the Championship before finally earning promotion by winning the league in 2014.
In the top flight with pieces of the current roster, Pearson engineered a great escape as the Foxes narrowly avoided an immediate return to the Championship by dropping just five points in their last nine matches after residing at the foot of the table.
Ranieri, available after a disastrous turn with the Greece national team that ended after four matches following a loss to the Faroe Islands, took over as players funneled in having been found under this stone and that.
There's a similar story behind each player - how they came to be a part of this season and how their careers almost took a much different step. There's Robert Huth, a former Ranieri teenage prodigy at Chelsea who's now 31 with a knee that was reconstructed a few times over as the clock ran out on his time with Stoke City. There's Aston Villa castoff turned crucial winger Marc Albrighton. There's Kasper Schmeichel, the goalkeeper son of a former Manchester United great who's now living up to the expectations bestowed upon him by those who first wrote about the Great Dane, Peter.
All these pieces fit perfectly, and here we are with a story of a club that's lost three matches – something Schmeichel's father never bettered with some of United's most storied sides. If the Foxes earn points in their final two matches, they'll become the 12th team in the Premier League era to finish a season with three losses or fewer.
To help avoid a fourth defeat, they'll have Vardy back from a two-match ban for his outburst at referee Jon Moss versus West Ham United on April 17. It just wouldn't be a proper party at the KP without him.
However, they'll be without Danny Drinkwater, the Manchester United academy boy who could never find time at Old Trafford. The key central midfielder saw a second yellow in the 86th minute of Sunday's 1-1 draw at that very ground as Leicester earned the point that would a day later contribute to his title for a very different club.
Huth is also out, having earned a three-match ban from the FA for pulling Marouane Fellaini's hair while battling on a set piece.
As for this match, Leicester (22-11-3) won the reverse fixture 3-2 at Goodison Park on Dec. 19 with Mahrez completing a brace in the 65th minute before Shinji Okazaki scored four minutes later. Romelu Lukaku tied the match in the 32nd, and Kevin Mirallas brought the Toffees back within one in the 89th, but they failed to find an equaliser.
It was one in a series of disappointments for Everton (10-14-11) – one of this season's letdowns with manager Roberto Martinez finding himself wrapped up in the negative rumours Ranieri endured at his previous stops.
The Toffees, who ended a seven-match winless streak with a 2-1 home victory over Bournemouth last weekend, are 11th in the table on 44 points - four behind both Chelsea and Stoke. At the start of the season, the odds for Everton to win the title were 25 times better than Leicester at 200-to-1.
"We know we are facing a team in the best moment of confidence that you could find," Martinez told the club's official website. "We're facing the champions and when you become a champion of this league, you feel nine feet tall. They play with a lot of intensity and tempo and you don't know if (having the title won) will affect their style.
"I expect a historic environment – they've won the league for the first time in their history and it's going to be a well-celebrated achievement."
So what are the odds of Leicester beating Everton after a five-day party?
It simply doesn't matter after they've already overcome so much.