LONDON – For a long time, the party at Jamie Vardy’s house, where Leicester City’s players had gathered to watch the game taking place at Stamford Bridge, must have been fairly muted. Tottenham Hotspur, needing a win to keep its title hopes alive, took a 2-0 lead at Chelsea and looked as though it would keep the title race alive for another week at least. Perhaps doubts were even beginning to set in.
But Chelsea, fighting with extraordinary ferocity in a game that degenerated into a catalogue of bad fouls and off the ball incidents, battled back, and, with seven minutes remaining, Eden Hazard curled in an equalizer that sealed Leicester an astonishing first championship in its history. The most extraordinary league title in history was secured after perhaps the most dramatic game of the season.
The bare facts have been recited often enough, but they bear repetition. Leicester was 5,000-to-1 to be champion at the beginning of the season. It was bottom of the table 13 months ago. Claudio Ranieri, its 64-year-old coach, had never won a league championship in his career in management. It’s the sort of story that would have seemed preposterous 30 years ago; amid the rigid financial stratification of modern football, it should have been impossible.
And there was, of course, something fitting in the fact the title should have been settled at Stamford Bridge. Twelve years ago on this ground, Ranieri bade his tearful farewells to Chelsea after 1-0 win over Leeds, still widely popular even as he was ousted to make way for Jose Mourinho. Nobody could have expected Ranieri’s first season back to end like this.
Leicester City's Top Moments of 2015-16
The first points; Aug. 8, 2015
In what turned out to be a sign of things to come, Jamie Vardy scored the club's first goal 11 minutes into the season and Riyad Mahrez scored two of his own to give Leicester a 3-0 lead 25 minutes into a 4-2 win over Sunderland at King Power Stadium.
Immediate response vs. Spurs; Aug. 22, 2015
Riyad Mahrez answered Dele Alli's 81st-minute goal a minute later, and even though Leicester suffered its first non-win of the campaign in the 1-1 home draw against Tottenham, it showed a promising resiliency against a club it would be fending off down the stretch.
Comeback vs. Villa; Sept. 13, 2015
Facing a 2-0 deficit at home to lowly Aston Villa, Leicester mounted a furious comeback, with Ritchie De Laet, Riyad Mahrez and Nathan Dyer scoring in the 72nd, 82nd and 89th minutes, respectively, to steal three points in dramatic fashion.
Another 2-0 comeback; Sept. 19, 2015
Again down 2-0, Leicester rescued another point from a losing position at Stoke City. The Potters raced out to their lead within 20 minutes, but Riyad Mahrez's penalty and Jamie Vardy's 69th-minute equalizer salvaged the point.
Vardy rescues a point; Oct. 17, 2015
Leicester found itself down 2-0 to Southampton (sensing a theme here?) but roared back late. Jamie Vardy scored twice, once in the 66th minute and the dramatic equalizer a minute into stoppage time, earning the Foxes another point from a losing position.
Clean-sheet pizza; Oct. 24, 2015
It took 10 games and a promise of a pizza party from manager Claudio Ranieri for Leicester to keep a clean sheet, but the Foxes did just that in a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace. The pizza promise became an instant part of Leicester lore, and the club went on to keep 14 more clean sheets–including six in seven games down the stretch.
Vardy's scoring record; Nov. 28, 2015
Jamie Vardy set a Premier League record scoring in his 11th straight game in a 1-1 draw vs. Manchester United. Ruud van Nistelrooy previously held the mark.
Sweet revenge for Ranieri; Dec. 14, 2015
With manager Claudio Ranieri facing Chelsea–the team that ushered him out in 2004–and squaring off against Jose Mourinho–the man who replaced him–Leicester wound up with the bragging rights and three points. Jamie Vardy scored off a perfect Riyad Mahrez pass, Mahrez added a gorgeous goal of his own, Leicester won 2-1 and Mourinho was promptly fired.
Schmeichel saves a point; Dec. 29, 2015
On the heels of a Boxing Day loss to Liverpool, Leicester proved its title chops by holding contender Manchester City to a 0-0 draw. Kasper Schmeichel made a pair of key first-half saves, and Leicester bounced back three days after the setback to secure a meaningful point.
Huth's header beats Spurs; Jan. 13, 2016
Defender Robert Huth's perfect 83rd-minute header from Christian Fuchs's corner–his first goal since last April–gave Leicester a 1-0 win over Tottenham at White Hart Lane, snapping a three-game winless run. Given how the title race would come down to the two clubs, the point swing has proven to be massive.
Vardy's wonder-volley vs. Liverpool; Feb. 2, 2016
Jamie Vardy scored twice in a February win over Liverpool, but it was his first goal that had the world talking. After running down a long ball from Riyad Mahrez, Vardy unleashed a 25-yard volley off the bounce to stun the Reds and help Leicester exact revenge for one of its three losses on the season.
Huth scores two at Man City; Feb. 6, 2016
A match at Manchester City was supposed to be the start of Leicester's downfall, but the Foxes were having none of that. Robert Huth scored in the third minute to shock the Etihad faithful, and he added another later to proclaim Leicester's intentions in a 3-1 win.
Ulloa beats Norwich late; Feb. 27, 2016
Both times Leicester lost to Arsenal it followed up with wins over Norwich City to right the ship. The second time was far more thrilling, with Leonardo Ulloa scoring an 89th-minute winner at King Power Stadium to put the title ship back on course.
Officially safe! March 1, 2016
Not that it was ever remotely in doubt, but Leicester ensured safety from relegation with a 2-2 home draw vs. West Brom. Given Claudio Ranieri's cautious approach to overstating goals, the preseason expectations and last season's heroic charge out of the drop zone, the achievement was still notable and allowed Leicester to officially look ahead to bigger things.
Kante returns, Mahrez scores vs. Watford; March 5, 2016
Vital midfielder N'Golo Kante returned from an injury and Riyad Mahrez scored a highlight-reel goal–again–as Leicester won at Watford 1-0 to keep pressure on Tottenham and Arsenal in the title chase. The club's record away from home (11-2-4) is a big driver of its overall success.
Okazaki's bicycle kick beats Newcastle; March 14, 2016
Shinji Okazaki's bicycle kick goal gave Leicester a nervy 1-0 win over Newcastle on a day which Leicester entered leading Tottenham by just two points in the Premier League table.
Captain Morgan helps Leicester extend lead; April 3, 2016
With Tottenham dropping points to Liverpool the previous day, Leicester took full advantage. Defender and captain Wes Morgan scored his only goal of the season in a 1-0 win over Southampton that stretched the club's lead atop the table to seven points.
Leicester clinches Champions League place; April 10, 2016
It went overlooked given the club's title aspirations, but Leicester clinched an almost equally improbable place in next season's Champions League with a 2-0 win at Sunderland, cementing a top-four place. Jamie Vardy's two goals did the honors.
Ulloa's late equalizing PK vs. West Ham; April 17, 2016
Leonardo Ulloa calmly converted a penalty kick deep into second-half stoppage time to cap a game full of controversy and secure a vital point in a 2-2 draw with West Ham.
Ulloa scores two in Vardy's absence; April 24, 2016
With leading scorer Jamie Vardy suspended because of a referee altercation in the previous match vs. West Ham, Leonardo Ulloa stepped into the starting lineup and scored twice in a 4-0 rout of Swansea City. A Tottenham draw the following day put Leicester in position to clinch the title with three points from its final three games.
The Vardy Party; May 2, 2016
Leicester players gathered at Jamie Vardy's house to watch Chelsea take on Tottenham in the decisive match in the title race. It was the Vardy Party to top all Vardy Parties, as Leicester was crowned champion following the 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge.
Ranieri's Guard of Honor; May 14, 2016
Claudio Ranieri returns to Stamford Bridge, where he was jettisoned in 2004 for Jose Mourinho, and steps through Chelsea's guard of honor, which the outgoing champions provided for Leicester City.
Tottenham players, in the end, lost their heads. In the draw against West Bromwich Albion last Monday there had been a sense that Tottenham had lost its nerve. Here, it lost its discipline in a way that is sure to bring FA charges. Seven players were booked and Eric Dier was extremely fortunate not to be sent off after clattering into Cesc Fabregas having already been booked. Mousa Dembele is almost certain to be banned for jabbing a finger into Diego Costa’s eye in a melee at the end of the first half, and Erik Lamela could also be in trouble after standing on Fabregas’s hand. Kyle Walker had kicked out at Pedro earlier in the game.
Not that Chelsea was blameless, with John Terry shoving a forearm into Jan Vertonghen’s face. At the final whistle, there was a further fracas, Fabregas and Danny Rose clashing at the mouth of the tunnel and Costa then squaring up to Tottenham’s reserve keeper Michel Vorm.
A number of Chelsea players had spoken in the build-up to the game of their desire to help Leicester win the title over their City rivals Tottenham and there was a greater hunger to their play than in a number of games this season. Certainly the desire of the Chelsea fans to end Tottenham’s title bid couldn’t be mistaken. From the off, there were chants of “We hate Tottenham” and “Champions of Europe – you’ll never sing that.” A banner near the touchline read “Let’s Do It for Ranieri.”
Chelsea fans, fired by the urge to beat Tottenham, perhaps weren’t too bothered, but they must wonder why it had taken stopping Spurs to fire their players into action. After perhaps the worst season ever produced by a reigning player of the year, Hazard was an entirely inappropriate figure to score the goal that decided the championship.
At the start, it looked like Tottenham would postpone Leicester's day until at least the weekend. Fabregas had rolled a shot just wide and Hugo Lloris made a fine tip-over from Diego Costa. Tottenham’s threat had been a little muted, but after 35 minutes, Kane ran on to a perfectly weighted pass with the outside of his right foot from Lamela, rounded Thibaut Courtois and rolled in his 25th goal of the season. Eight minutes later it was 2-0, with Christian Eriksen judging the pass superbly as Heung-Min Son ran on and finished neatly.
But even then, Chelsea kept fighting and the tackles kept flying in. Gary Cahill pulled one back, volleying in superbly as Willian’s corner dropped to him in the box. Tottenham suddenly, looked panicked. Its defense wobbled. Chelsea had chances. A Walker touch deflected a Fabregas cross away from Costa when he seemed to have a tap-in. On the touchline, Pochettino became increasingly agitated.
And then, with seven minutes to go, Costa, playing with a passion he hasn’t shown in a year, barreled through the Spurs defense and laid the ball off. Hazard ran on and curved a shot high and around Lloris’s dive and into the top corner. In Leicester, the parties began, probably nowhere more than at Vardy’s house.
The impossible had happened.