How do you follow that?
Leicester City’s Premier League-winning coach Claudio Ranieri has been asked. He's laughed, shrugged, said it was impossible and that avoiding relegation is once again the primary target. But, remember, this is the man who said his team was still not thinking about winning the league only six weeks before the end of last season.
So let’s re-frame the question: how well can Leicester do this season? The first transfer saga of the summer went its way as Jamie Vardy rebuffed interest from Arsenal for a move before Euro 2016. This was a different type of rejection from others we have seen: Vardy is 29, this will likely be the last big contract of his career and he still turned down a so-called "bigger" side.
Just as significant was highly rated left back Ben Chilwell turning down Liverpool to stay at the club and challenge Christian Fuchs for a starting spot. As of now, Leicester is winning the battle to hold onto Riyad Mahrez, though that story may have a few twists to come before the end of the month.
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.
The big loss is the littlest man in the squad: N’Golo Kante, the heartbeat of the team in the midfield, sold to Chelsea for £32 million.
“Last season we lost Esteban Cambiasso and everybody was crying," Ranieri told reporters last month. “Now we are crying because we lost Kante. Don't worry. Football in Leicester will keep going.”
That showed in the Community Shield match against Manchester United. The more storied side won the game 2-1 but Leicester gave it a fright: Shinji Okazaki hit the crossbar and Ahmed Musa’s pace as a substitute gave United’s defense a headache.
There are plenty of reasons why Leicester can stay in the upper echelon of the table. One is its recruitment: it may have lost three members of the backroom team as a result of its success, most notably recruitment head Steve Walsh, gone to Everton, but not before it bulked the squad with smart acquisitions this summer.
Kante’s replacement will be Nampalys Mendy, who was Nice's captain at 22 and played under Ranieri at Monaco. He may not be as eye-catching, but he is a worthy partner to Danny Drinkwater in the center.
Elsewhere, Leicester has improved Ranieri’s options, so even if Mahrez is sold, cover is already in place. Last January it bought Demarai Gray from Birmingham, a talented English winger who earned a winners’ medal with some disciplined substitute appearances to help close out games last season. He has had more chances in pre-season, and impressed with his dribbling and shooting from distance.
Leicester broke its transfer record to sign Musa, a speedy Nigerian who can play on either wing and is ready-made for Ranieri’s counterattack system. Musa could either play out wide, alongside Vardy or instead of him. Ranieri could also bring in Bartosz Kapustka, Poland’s highly-rated teenage attacking midfielder. Last season, the Italian made the fewest changes to his lineup out of any coach in the league. Now, at least, he has options.
There is also greater depth at the back, where Ron-Robert Zieler is a real challenger to Kasper Schemichel in goal, and Sporting Gijon defender Luis Hernandez can offer cover at center back.
The biggest task for Ranieri will be to get the balance right between league and the Champions League, where Leicester, as English champion, will be a top seed. Getting through the group stage would be a huge achievement, and as for league finishes, anywhere in the top eight would have to be considered as decent.
We should know pretty soon how things are looking; Leicester’s first 10 matches include games against Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, Southampton and Chelsea and Tottenham. Twelve months ago, we might have tipped the Foxes to be in the drop zone after those games. Given some of them are against teams with new coaches getting used to new systems, they could find themselves in the top four again.
Why not keep the dream alive for a little longer? As Ranieri himself might say: “Dilly ding! Dilly dong!”