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NWSL Game of the Week: FC Kansas City at Western New York Flash

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Last week was a week of firsts for FC Kansas City and Western New York. The Blues ventured away from Overland Park for the first time in their short existence, their 1-0 win at Seattle maintaining their place among the NWSL’s undefeated. Prior to last Wednesday, Western New York was at the other end of the spectrum, but with their 2-1 win over Sky Blue, last year’s WPSL Elite champions finally broke into the win column.

This week, the two teams meet at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester, their Saturday, 7:35 p.m. Eastern kickoff serving as this week’s ProSoccerTalk NWSL Game of the Week.

THREE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Coming from opposite directions

Before January’s allocation, Kansas City looked like an isolated team without any history – a club, it was thought, that would not fair well in a dispersal which considered player preferences. But while Portland and Seattle hit (what then looked like) jackpots with the Jan. 11 assignments, Kansas City was quietly given the most balanced team in the league. U.S. internationals Lauren Cheney, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Nicole Barnhart provided a presence at each level. Canadians Lauren Sesselmann and Desiree Scott strengthened that spine, while Mexican international Renae Cuellar gave them a goal scorer to play in front of Cheney. While the Blues may not have gotten the marketing might of an Alex Morgan, Hope Solo or Abby Wambach, they did receive an enviable foundation.

When the NWSL landscape changed, Kansas City went from wild card to co-favorites, thought to be the one team that would rival Thorns FC for the league’s top spot. Off to a 2-0-1 start, the Blues haven’t disappointed, and while two games against the hamstrung Reign mean they’ve received some fortune with their first month’s schedule, an opening night draw with Portland remains the only points Thorns FC have dropped this season. The farther we get from that 1-1 at Shawnee Mission District Stadium, the more impressive it becomes.

For Cheney, FC Kansas City’s biggest name, the explanation for the team’s fast start begins with the coach, Vlatko Andonovski, while additions like midfielders Jen Buczkowski, Sinead Farrelly and Kristie Mewis helping to round out an already favorable allocation:

I think [Andonovski] letting us have a little bit of freedom as players on the field has given us the ability to gel. [Buczkowski] and Des (Scott), both holding midfielders, [are] two of the best in this league … Becky in the back line and [Nicole Barnhart]. They make it so much easier for Sinead, Renae, Kristie and I to do what we do offensively, because if we make a mistake, we know we’re going to win the ball right back. We know we’re capable of doing that.

Western New York, on the other hand, are still assessing their capabilities. Short-changed in allocation and handed a number of injuries over their first four games, the Flash have yet to have their entire team together. Abby Wambach’s already missed a game, while midfielders Carli Lloyd and Sarah Huffman have yet to see the field. Combined with a player dispersal that left the team light in defense and short one U.S. international, the Flash saw little of Kansas City’s fortune.

That’s starting to change. Wambach is back from her much-publicized concussion. Huffman returned to full training this week and could see her first action of the season on Saturday. And Lloyd, who most expected to be the team’s second-best player, has joined the team after a broken shoulder kept her sidelined through Western New York’s first four games.

source: Getty ImagesSet to go through her first full training on Friday, Lloyd (right) is still a ways away from full fitness, but for head coach Aaran Lines, the prospect of having his full team is cause for optimism.

“Very nice,” Lines answered, laughing with irony when asked what it will be like to finally have his team in place. “It’s nice to know that we have some really nice, good options [coming] back to us.”

Whether Lloyd will be an option Saturday remains to be seen.

“It’s a lovely option to have, Carli Lloyd,” Lines explained. “I’m going to give her the time she needs to get used to the team and get used to perhaps a different system and style of play … She’s just come back from a difficult injury. We’ll take it one step at a time and see how she does when she gets in there [Friday] at training.”

In the face of a tough start, Lines is looking at the season as “a marathon.” Once he has his full squad, the real race can start.

2. Samantha Kerr’s impact transcending her youth

Most players her age are still in college, but the Flash’s Sam Kerr is on a different path. Instead of living in a dorm room, the 19-year-old Australian international is living in a house in Elma, New York, competing as one of the youngest players in the NWSL.

“It’s been a bit of a culture training, even though Australia and America are so close,” explains Kerr, a speedy winger who has been one of the league’s standout players over the season’s first four weeks. “It’s been two months and I’m still just getting used to it … I’m trying to get out of the football life and see things from a different perspective.”

After the months in the U.S., she likes the people (“very nice”), didn’t enjoy New York City (“I don’t like the rush and bush of things”), and with the weather starting to heat up, the climate’s beginning to fit her Aussie sensibilities.

But make no mistake, Kerr is here for that football life – the opportunity to train and compete with some of the world’s best players. Coming off a performance where she set up both goals against Sky Blue, Kerr has established herself as one of the most dangerous wide threats in the league.

“The games that we’ve playing in have been really exciting (and) to a high quality level,” Kerr says of her first month in the league. “The quality, even in training, I’m really enjoying it. I’m learning a lot, I’m gaining a lot of experience. That’s really what I wanted … I’m very happy with my decision.”

NWSL Standings

Pos. Team GP Pts. +/- PST
Rank
1 Portland 4 10 +4 1
2 Boston 3 7 +4 3
3 Kansas City 3 7 +3 2
4 Sky Blue 4 7 +1 5
5 W. New York 4 4 -1 4
6 Washington 4 2 -2 7
7 Chicago 4 2 -5 8
8 Seattle 4 1 -4 6

Undoubtedly, so is Lines. Originally brought in for depth, Kerr has made a place for herself in Western New York’s first XI, her ability to play on both flanks providing Lines with valuable tactical flexibility.

“She can play on the left and cut in but also get around the corner,” Lines explains. “She did that on a couple of occasions against Sky Blue. She can also [lineup] on the right hand side or cut in there on her left leg. That flexibility allows us to put her up against players we feel she might have a little advantage over.”

Last Wednesday, Kerr started on the left, opposite fellow Australian international Caitlin Foord (only 18 years old). Within six minutes, Kerr had set up Adrianna Martin for the opener. With a little help from Sky Blue defender Christie Rampone, Kerr created Western New York’s second in the 20th minute, Abby Wambach eventually finishing her first goal of the season.

Each time, it was Kerr’s speed that beat her mark. Each time, it was stellar service that provided for the Flash goals.

Cutting off that threat presents a challenge for FC Kansas City, particularly with a player of Wambach’s aerial ability on the end of Kerr’s crosses. Not only do Kansas City have to worry about where Kerr lines up. they also must consider whether the free movement of their attackers will work against them, leaving fullbacks Merritt Mathias and Leigh Ann Robinson isolated.

“Kristie, Sinead, and I are going to have to be aware of our positioning offensively and try to make it easier on each other to fill the spot where it needs to be filled,” Cheney explained, asked about Kerr’s threat. “We’re not get to away with leaving Leigh Ann or Merritt alone to go one [on] one. We’re going to have to track back. Just that awareness of, ‘Is there somebody on the left. Is there somebody on the right’ – making the correct runs and getting back into position as quickly as possible.”

Be it in the NWSL, Major League Soccer, or any other league in the world, it’s rare that a 19-year-old requires that kind of consideration. And perhaps Kerr’s month will prove nothing but a hot start. Yet after four games, the young Australian is rivaling Boston’s Heather O’Reilly as the league’s premier wide threat. With Wambach and Adrianna up top, that threat could prove particularly potent as the season develops.

3. Finally, the right position for Lauren Cheney

You try not to reduce teams to one trick, especially when there’s as much talent on the field as there will be on Saturday, but both the Flash and Kansas City have had one, distinct quality that’s jumped out through the league’s first month. For Western New York, Kerr has spearheaded wide play only the Boston Breakers can rival as the league’s best. With the Blues, an interchangeable line of three behind Cuellar gives Andonovski the league’s most versatile attack.

“It’s pretty obvious those three freestylers we have, they’re very creative players,” the 36-year-old Macedonian said after last week’s win at Seattle. “They have absolute freedom to go wherever they feel they can get the ball, and that’s what they are doing … They have a great feeling and understanding for the game. We work on certain ideas during practices, but most of it, it comes from them – from within.”

source: Getty ImagesThe key beneficiary of that approach is Cheney (right), somebody who projected as a target striker coming out of UCLA. Since then – through two years in WPS, another where her national team served as her club – Cheney’s slowly moved away from a number nine’s role. She’s spent time on the wing, as a holder Pia Sundhage’s brief 4-2-3-1 experiment, and more recently, as a box-to-box player for the U.S. She’s too talented to leave out, but being square pegged into a bunch of round holes, Cheney’s versatility has often left her in some suboptimal positions.

Yet when you see her as a number ten for Kansas City, serving as the focal point of the attack while playing behind a striker, you wonder why it’s taken so long for Cheney to be put in what seems to be her ideal spot.

“At UCLA, the majority of the time I was a forward, and I was the one that needed to score goals,” Cheney recalls, asking if she’s ever played the role Andonovski’s assigned her. “There was a time that I played underneath a bit in college, and I would say that would probably be my best position, or my favorite position, just because I have the ability to still play with my back to goal but I also am able to run and see the whole field.”

She makes Kansas City’s attack work, whether she has the ball or not. In Week 1, as she dropped deeper to help contain Portland’s threat, her passing helped keyed the Blues’ counters. In Week 3, a brilliant long ball from just outside her own penalty area created a breakaway for Cuellar, one of Cheney’s two assists on the night. In Week 4, her off-the-ball movement created space for her teammates as Seattle’s midfielders marked her through the middle of the park.

It’s a role Cheney’s played so naturally, so instinctively that you wonder if she’ll ever be able to play it with the national team. But to this point, the U.S. hasn’t utilized that kind of playmaker. If that changed, Cheney wouldn’t mind:

With the national team, I’ve played so many different positions that I’ve just kind of adjusted and made the best of it.

With Tom (Sermanni), we’re still figuring it out. Obviously Pia (Sunhage) didn’t play [with a number ten]. We had a little bit more of a direct style of play. With Tom, he’s still open to the idea of anything. We’ll see what happens the longer he’s with us and the longer he gets to see more players. I do like the way FC Kansas City plays, and if that worked for the national team, I would love to play that position.

Western New York is likely to play more of a 4-2-3-1 against Kansas City, the system Lines has started to employ over the last two weeks. That means when Cheney drops to pick up the ball, it will fall on Adrianna to help. As Cheney enters the attack, former UCLA teammate McCall Zerboni and potentially Sarah Huffman will have to immitate Seattle’s Jessica Fishlock and Keelin Winters, who did a decent job to tracking the Kansas City playmaker.

But even if she doesn’t see the ball, Cheney can dictate the game. With teams forced to account for her, Cheney’s movement back toward the ball, out to the flanks, and up toward the striker circulates the entire attack. If she doesn’t beat you, Cheney’s likely creating space for Cuellar, Mewis, and Farrelly to do it for her.

QUICK HITS

W. New York FC Kansas City
Star to Watch Abby Wambach – If Sam Kerr was just a wide player sent into the nightmares of the league’s left and right backs, that’d be bad enough. That she’s providing service for the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year is a scary proposition for the rest of the league. Back, healthy, and (as of last Wednesday) on the scoresheet, Wambach is the player most likely to deliver another win for Western New York. Lauren Cheney – Along with Christine Sinclair, Cheney’s the best attacking midfielder in the league, and if the Thorns captain eventually returns to a forward’s role, Cheney will be alone as the league’s best No. 10. This role, which she’s never been able to play for club or country, makes her one of the league’s most influential players, essential to FC Kansas City reaching their potential.
Still Important McCall Zerboni – Her work rate in the middle sets the tone for her team. Against one of the best midfields in the league, she’ll need to replicate the passing she showed against Sky Blue, a performance that helped Western New York control last week’s game from its outset. Becky Sauerbrunn – Arguably the best defender in the league through four weeks, the Blues’ captain will be tasked with containing Abby Wambach. For a player whose known as more cerebral than physical, Sauerbrunn’s may to have to step out of her comfort zone.
Win if … … Zerboni’s strong in the middle, Kerr continues her dominance of the flanks, and Wambach can exploit the advantages she has against Sauerbrunn and Sesselman. … they continue to dictate play, are willing to sacrifice some ingenuity for defense, and stay patient, like they did last week in Seattle.

Other games, Week 5

Sky Blue FC 1-1 Chicago Red Stars (Wednesday) – Sky Blue’s perfect start seems like so long ago. Chicago, who’ve struggled to this point, grab a late equalizer in a telling match for both teams.

Washington Spirit vs. Boston Breakers (Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET) – After the Breakers’ 4-1 rout of Chicago last week, Boston’s now being mentioned by the league’s players and coaches in the same breath as Portland and Kansas City. If the Big Two has really become a Big Three, Boston will win in Maryland.

Sky Blue FC vs. Seattle Reign FC (7:00 p.m. Eastern) – Three of Seattle’s four games have been against Portland or KC. Their only other game, a visit to Chicago, ended 1-1. This is Laura Harvey’s chance to show her team’s slow start is a function of scheduling, not quality.

Chicago Red Stars vs. Portland Thorns FC (Sunday, 6 p.m. ET) – Portland makes their second visit of the season to Chicago, where they won 2-0 two weeks ago. There’s little reason to think this week will be much different.

Ranieri says club won’t repeat as Premier League champions, will “continue to build”

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on May 1, 2016 in Manchester, England.
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Claudio Ranieri knows there’s difficulty ahead for Leicester City, albeit on a relative scale.

The Foxes are Premier League champions after Spurs’ 2-2 draw with Chelsea on Friday, and the Leicester boss is already being asked about a repeat performance.

[ MORE: Ranieri thanks Chelsea | Fans react in Leicester ]

With UEFA Champions League play next year and what is sure to be a tempting transfer market, Ranieri is being pragmatic in his approach. He says they won’t win the PL next season.

From Sky Sports:

“We want to continue to build,” he told SSN HQ’s Rob Dorsett. “When I came here, the project was to build a very good foundation and slowly, slowly to grow up together in three to four years to fight for the Europa League and slowly come to fight for the Champions League.

“Now the season is out of our project but of course, the foundation is very solid. We know very well we have to fight for the position but we want to do our best. I’m positive and I want to fight.”

You’ll probably say he’s continuing a pattern of being sly — lowering sunglasses — like a fox, as Ranieri started 2015-16 wanting 40 points, then the Top Four, before finally admitting the title was an option.

You think he’s going to claim he’ll repeat? You can cue The Who, because Claudio… we won’t get fooled again.

Thrilled by USMNT prospects, Picault enjoying “freedom” at St. Pauli

St. Pauli. @Fafagoal23
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A few weeks back, we asked “Who is Fafa Picault?” and gave you the lowdown on the USMNT-eligible attacker for FC St. Pauli.

Now we’re hearing from the man himself thanks to American Soccer Now.

[ MORE: Story of Leicester’s season, game-by-game ]

He’s feeling well, thriving in a center forward-type role (He’s also played on the right and a bit on the left).

From American Soccer Now:

“I’m happy with the recent performances,” Picault told American Soccer Now from Hamburg. “I started out well when I first got to the club. It slowed down a bit. I felt a bit out of position. We had more of a defensive approach to the game. It wasn’t really fitting my style. With a few injuries I was able to be the sole striker up top.

“That is exactly what I needed: freedom. So I can express my speed and creativity to look to score or get assists and just be myself. It allows me to be me.”

The Brian Sciaretta-typed piece includes plenty of nuggets on Picault, including which USMNT player has served as his mentor. Read on.

Hiddink, Rose react to chaotic end to Chelsea-Spurs draw

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The dust has settled after an insane London Derby finish between Tottenham and Chelsea, one which has been on the back burner thanks to the 2-2 draw handing Leicester its unlikely title.

So, looking back, wow! Twelve yellow cards set the tone for a post-match fracas with Diego Costa and Michel Vorm at the center. Watch the video above, as men became boys again.

[ MORE: A game-by-game look at Leicester’s run to glory ]

In the fray, Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink ends up on the ground despite his best intentions of playing peacemaker. And both the manager and Spurs defender Danny Rose were left questioning the fray.

From the BBC:

HIDDINK: “Everyone started dancing around and pushing around. More people became involved and we shuffled around. You must not have these type of incidents but it happens and at the end we must all calm down.”

The Dutchman also played down the incident that saw him pushed to the floor, adding: “If you have done some judo and wrestling you can easily fall. Even at my age, I had no problem to fall down.”

ROSE: “It is not nice to see for kids here or kids watching on TV, I apologise if it looked bad on TV,” said Rose.

“It is a London derby. It is to be expected. We wanted to win and they wanted to stop us having any more say in the title race.”

Forget the kids, Danny: The ruckus could’ve set the table for London Derby problems outside the ground. Things happen, for sure, and the end of that match on the pitch was pretty bonkers. Let’s be grateful nothing came of it (besides inevitable suspensions).

Story of Leicester’s success: Game-by-game look at title-winning season

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Leicester City were crowned the 2015-16 Premier League champions on Monday after a magical season which defied belief.

Claudio Ranieri‘s Foxes won the club’s first-ever top-flight title in their 132-year history after starting the season as 5000-1 outsiders and among the favorites for relegation.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

Now, they’re champions of England and will be playing in the UEFA Champions League next season. It has been an unforgettable season, one of the greatest in sporting history and it is a story that has encapsulated the soccer, and sporting, world.

Here’s a look back at every game this season to remind us of just how magical this journey was.

[ VIDEO: Leicester players celebrate

Nicholas Mendola takes us through the first half of the season as momentum built, while Joe Prince-Wright talks us through the second half where they got the job done.


Mendola kicks things off – Game 1 – Leicester 4-2 Sunderland

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 08: Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Sunderland at The King Power Stadium on August 8, 2015 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

How did we not see this coming? Leicester had an undefeated preseason with wins over mighty Lincoln City, Mansfield Town, Burton Albion, Rotherham United and Birmingham City before turning its attention to Sunderland.

Leicester’s four goals boosted the Foxes to the top of the Premier League on Opening Day, as Marc Albrighton helped produce three goals and Riyad Mahrez scored twice. Leicester scored three times in the first 25 minutes, and Sunderland sank to 20th.

Game 2 – West Ham United 1-2 Leicester

Mahrez stayed hot, and Mainz transplant Shinji Okazaki scored his first Premier League goal as Leicester took a 2-0 lead by halftime. This victory looks even better in retrospect, as Slaven Bilic‘s Hammers went to the next level.

Game 3 – Leicester 1-1 Spurs

Again, the headliner here is Mahrez. Spurs went up 1-0 with 10 minutes to play thanks to a debut PL goal from some guy named Dele Alli, but Leicester’s Algerian wizard quickly equalized with a gorgeous move from the right to score his fourth goal in three matches.

Game 4 – Bournemouth 1-1 Leicester

Leicester again trailed late thanks to a Callum Wilson bicycle kick goal, but Jamie Vardy threw himself a penalty kick party. The 29-year-old dribbled into the box only to get knifed down, and the 86th minute saw him scoring the penalty off a diving Artur Boruc to give the visitors a point.

Game 5 – Leicester 3-2 Aston Villa

during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Aston Villa at the King Power Stadium on September 13, 2015 in Leicester, United Kingdom.

Those impressive moments aside, this is where the magic starts to feel incredibly real. At the time, we didn’t realize Tim Sherwood hadn’t fixed much of anything from the year before, and that Villa was in big trouble.

Villa scored on both sides of halftime, and led the derby 2-0 with about a half hour to play. Ritchie De Laet made it 2-0 thanks to goal line technology, and Vardy tied it up within 8 minutes. Substitute Nathan Dyer scored in the 89th minute to win it, and fans on both sides had very different intonations of “Wow”.

Game 6 – Stoke City 2-2 Leicester

These guys! Vardy and Mahrez scored again, and there was no change in the dramatics from the previous week. Stoke had opened up a 2-0 lead before the twin terrors tabbed late goals, Mahrez by penalty, as the Foxes claimed a point and kept the Potters scrambling near the bottom of the table.

Game 7 – Leicester 2-5 Arsenal

Vardy’s early goal gave Leicester’s home faithful hope that this remarkable run could be on a championship path, but Arsene Wenger‘s Gunners weren’t interested in that sort of story. Alexis Sanchez had a hat trick to join scorers Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud on the sheet. Vardy had another in the blowout, as Foxes don’t quit.

Game 8 – Norwich 1-2 Leicester

Vardy won and converted another crafty penalty to keep his goal-scoring streak alive, and Jeff Schlupp also scored in lifting Leicester to its first win in three matches.

Game 9 – Southampton 2-2 Leicester

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 17: Jamie Vardy of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Leicester City at St Mary's Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Southampton, England. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

Yet another Vardy-inspired comeback from another 2-0 hole, as the PL’s leading scorer made it nine on the season in canceling out an equally-remarkable pair of unlikely goal scorers on the home end: defenders Jose Fonte and Virgil Van Dijk. The Foxes had 16 points and remained in the Top Five at the close of business, three more than a Saints club they’d need to hold off if European competition was to be (Hint: They did),

Game 10 – Leicester 1-0 Crystal Palace

At the time, it looked like Leicester and Palace would be duking it out for a top half spot, and most would’ve still thought Palace was a more legit option. But… Vardy, again. Palace had a late giveaway that the striker used to beat Julian Speroni and move four points clear of the visitors.

Game 11 – West Brom 2-3 Leicester

Salomon Rondon opened the scoring for Tony Pulis‘ Baggies, and surely it’d be hard to break down a lead-holding WBA. Marc Albrighton’s magical crosses continued to find the mark, and Mahrez tied the match at 1 before using a back post volley to make it 2-1. Danny Drinkwater then played in Vardy for an insurance tally that made the English striker the third player in PL history to score in 8-straight games, joining Ruud van Nistelrooy and Daniel Sturridge. Impressive company, no?

Game 12 – Leicester 2-1 Watford

Kasper Schmeichel‘s big saves prepared another feast for Leicester, and Vardy devoured history on the way. N'Golo Kante gave the Foxes the lead when Heurelho Gomes bungled a fairly routine save, and the keeper later took down Vardy for yet another PK. Nine-straight.

Game 13 – Newcastle United 0-3 Leicester

“Leicester City is for real, and so is Jamie Vardy‘s place in history.”

So began our recap of the Foxes’ thumping of the Magpies at St. James Park, as Vardy worked a 1-2 with Leonardo Ulloa to join Ruud van Nistelrooy as the only players in Premier League history to score goals in 10-straight matches. Ulloa later added one of his own, joining Okazaki on the list of scorers in the clean sheet victory.

Game 14 – Leicester 1-1 Manchester United

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28: A message to congratulate Jamie Vardy of Leicester City on the new Premier League record of scoring 11 consecutive games is displayed at the screen after the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester United at The King Power Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

The first of Leicester’s 1-1 draws with the Red Devils was the day Vardy became immortal (so to speak, as an actual immortal Vardy is pretty terrifying). How fitting that Vardy became the first PL player to score in 11-straight games against RVN’s team, and that he slotted past impressive backstop David De Gea to do it. Bastian Schweinsteiger provided the equalizer, and Leicester was level on points with first place Man City.

Game 15 – Swansea 0-3 Leicester

As we’d later learn from a 4-0 decision at King Power, Leicester was a major matchup problem for the Premier League’s Welsh mainstays. Mahrez was greedy, scoring all of Leicester’s goals as Vardy’s streak ran its course in Wales.

Game 16 – Leicester 2-1 Chelsea

If you’re like me, you thought the Foxes were entering a four-match run that would halt their title momentum for good. So, if you’re like me, you were really wrong. Mahrez found Vardy before scoring himself, and Chelsea could only manage a Loic Remy goal near the end in a notable win for Leicester.

Game 17 – Everton 2-3 Leicester

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 19: Riyad Mahrez (R) of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal with his team mate Marc Albrighton (L) during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Leicester City at Goodison Park on December 19, 2015 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

This was one of those days that symbolized the good fortune needed to win a title, as Mahrez converted penalty kicks in both halves. Shinji Okazaki added a third goal to make it 3-1, and Leicester held on for a win at Goodison Park.

Game 18 – Liverpool 1-0 Leicester

DYK: The Foxes were capable of being blanked? Christian Benteke, of all people, gave the Reds a home win to put Leicester in the loss column for the second time this season.

Game 19 – Leicester 0-0 Manchester City

Another day without a goal for Leicester wasn’t too worrying, as the Foxes held Man City off the scoresheet to stay ahead of the visitors on the Premier League table.


JPW takes up the story – Game 20 – Leicester 0-0 Bournemouth

A game where the Cherries were reduced to 10-men but somehow Leicester couldn’t find a way through. This definitely felt like two points dropped for Ranieri’s side.

Game 21Tottenham 0-1 Leicester

Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane, right, lifts the ball over Leicester City’s goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel but fails to score during their English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City at the White Hart Lane stadium in London Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Spurs hit the crossbar, went close on several occasions but Leicester held on. Then, on a cold January night at the Lane, Robert Huth scored a late winner to send the away fans wild.

Game 22Aston Villa 1-1 Leicester

Another little blip for the Foxes against their Midlands rivals Villa. Okazaki gave Leicester the lead but Rudy Gestede‘s late equalizer got Villa a point.

Game 23Leicester 3-0 Stoke

This win sent Leicester three points clear at the top as Danny Drinkwater netted his first Leicester goal, plus Vardy ended his seven-game drought.

Game 24Leicester 2-0 Liverpool

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02: Jamie Vardy (C) of Leicester City controls the ball against Dejan Lovren (R) and Mamadou Sakho (L) of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Liverpool at The King Power Stadium on February 2, 2016 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

Vardy belted in a sensational volley to down a spirited Liverpool side who had looked the more likely to go ahead. The Foxes were now starting to truly believe.

Game 25Manchester City 1-3 Leicester

If the Liverpool win gave them belief, victory at title rivals Man City almost handed Leicester the advantage in the title race. Mahrez dazzled City and Huth scored two crucial goals and the Foxes were now six points clear. “We’re going to win the league!” was sung by the Leicester fans, perhaps for the first time they truly believed it.

Game 26Arsenal 2-1 Leicester

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14: Robert Huth and Kasper Schmeichel of Leicester City react after Danny Welbeck of Arsenal scored the winning goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Leicester City at Emirates Stadium on February 14, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

This was the game where everybody thought the wheels had come off. Vardy’s PK gave them an early lead but a goal from Walcott and then a last-gasp winner from Welbeck had everyone believing Arsenal would now take hold of the title and the Foxes would crumble…

Game 27Leicester 1-0 Norwich

Perhaps one of the most important 1-0 wins, Leicester left it incredibly late with Leonardo Ulloa scoring a stoppage-time winner. His goal actually caused mini-earthquakes at the KP Stadium, according to records of seismic activity.

Game 28Leicester 2-2 West Brom

The Baggies battled hard with Leicester and Craig Gardner‘s fabulous free kick grabbed the Baggies a point. Leicester’s lead was now down to just three points at the top.

Game 29Watford 0-1 Leicester

This was the start of the Foxes incredible run of 1-0 wins. Mahrez, again, provided a magic moment with a fine, curling goal from the edge of the box. The Algerian wizard was the difference.

Game 30Leicester 1-0 Newcastle

Okazaki’s fine overhead kick was the winner this time as Rafael Benitez tasted defeat on his managerial debut for Newcastle.

Game 31Crystal Palace 0-1 Leicester

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 19: Riyad Mahrez (R) of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's first goal with his team mate Jamie Vardy (L) during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Leicester City at Selhurst Park on March 19, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Mahrez, again, was the hero as Vardy crossed for him in the first half and he swept home. Palace hit the bar and had shots cleared off the line late on. Leicester fans sing “We’re going to win the league!” louder and longer than ever before. They were now eight points clear at the top.

Game 32Leicester 1-0 Southampton

I was at the KP and said it on the day: this felt like the day Leicester won the Premier League. Wes Morgan‘s powerful first half header won it for the Foxes, with penalty calls going their way in a tight game. Doughnuts and beer were handed out to all home fans to celebrate the chairman’s birthday in the sun. A real party atmosphere and the dream was inching closer.

Game 33Sunderland 0-2 Leicester

Vardy scored twice in the second half and Jack Rodwell missed a glorious chance as the Foxes overcame the Black Cats. Ranieri was overcome with emotion at the final whistle as he began crying on the pitch.

Game 34Leicester 2-2 West Ham

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 17: Leonardo Ulloa of Leicester City celebrates with team mates after scoring his team's second goal of the game from the penalty spot during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and West Ham United at The King Power Stadium on April 17, 2016 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Controversy galore. Vardy put Leicester ahead early but was sent off in the second half for simulation. Pandemonium as he then launched an attack on the referee and received a further game ban. At the other end West Ham scored twice in three minutes to turn the game on its head, the first a penalty kick, as the Hammers look to have ruined the party. However, a very dubious late penalty kick was awarded by the under-fire referee, Jon Moss, and Ulloa slotted it home to send the KP wild. Leicester had dodged a massive bullet.

Game 35Leicester 4-0 Swansea

No Vardy, no problem. Ulloa scored twice as the stand in and he Foxes moved eight points clear. Spurs slipped up at home the following day against West Brom, so they were now within three points of the title.

Game 36 Manchester United 1-1 Leicester

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 01: Wes Morgan of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's opening goal with team mates during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on May 1, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Morgan canceled out Martial’s early strike and despite penalty calls and United pushing late on, the Foxes held on. That meant anything other than a win for Tottenham against Chelsea on Monday meant they would win the title. Spurs were 2-0 up… then crumbled and Eden Hazard’s late equalizer sealed their first-ever title win in their 132-year history. Cue parties, euphoria and excitement on the streets of Leicester.

Game 37 – Leicester – Everton – TBD

The title will be handed to the Foxes in front of their own fans on Saturday. The players were partying long into the night so don’t expect too many goals or fine performances this Saturday. Who cares though? A ticket to this game will be the hottest ticket in town and were being sold for more than $11,000 each three weeks ago.

Game 38 – Chelsea – Leicester – TBD

On the final day Leicester will travel to the team they took the title from, Chelsea. The Blues drew with Spurs to clinch the crown for Leicester and former Chelsea boss Ranieri will return to his former club as a champion. You couldn’t have written the script better. Bellissimo.