Lukas Podolski

Premier League Playback: Arsenal’s strength in-depth, festive madness, Liverpool’s reality check

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THE GUNNERS DON’T NEED TO SPLASH THE CASH IN JANUARY…

Some of you will read that sub-header with a smirk on your face, but honestly, Arsene Wenger may be able to keep his pennies in his purse in January and still lead Arsenal towards the Premier League title.

Over the Christmas period two new attackers finally arrived, as Theo Walcott scored twice and Lukas Podolski bagged a goal on his return from injury in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over West Ham on Boxing Day.

Those two hold the key to Arsenal’s success in the second half of the season, as both have been missing for lengthy spells and feel like brand new signings for the Gunners faithful.

“Podolski has been out for four months, he has not played one game. I try to get him slowly back to competitiveness and he has shown he can have a huge impact because he can score and make goals – he can give assists. On the pitch at the end we had Podolski and Walcott and Giroud and Ozil and Cazorla.” – Arsene Wenger on Arsenal’s attacking options

Following their win at Upton Park, the Gunners then relied on their leading front man Olivier Giroud to score the only goal of the game as they beat Newcastle on Sunday and went top of the PL standings. But the resurgence of Walcott and Podolski (who admittedly are both used on the wing but can easily be deployed in central roles) is cause for hope for any Arsenal fans fretting about which strikers will arrive at the Emirates in the next month or so.

Wenger doesn’t need to dip his toes into the murky waters of the January transfer window. He’s done that before and failed miserably. Look at the panic buy of Jose Antonio Reyes to name just one example, Wenger could do without wasting another $30 million on a player who won’t help him grab some silverware for the first time in eight years.

(MORE: Latest Premier League Standings)

So if Giroud gets hurt, he could do a lot worse than playing Walcott or Podolski centrally. Both are top internationals for England and Germany respectively, know how to finish and will cause problems for opposition defenses. A few months ago the attacking options at Wenger’s disposal were looking threadbare. The greatest gift Arsenal’s French manager got this Christmas was two top attacking players back to full fitness and his forward line bolstered in the process. And then there’s the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Serge Gnabry waiting in the wings for the second half of the season, too.

Who said Arsenal don’t have enough strength in-depth?

Premier League Schedule – Week 18, Boxing Day

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 0-1 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
Cardiff 0-3 Southampton Recap and watch here
Chelsea 1-0 Swansea Recap and watch here
Everton 0-1 Sunderland Recap and watch here
Hull 2-3 Man United Recap and watch here
Man City 2-1 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Newcastle 5-1 Stoke Recap and watch here
Norwich 1-2 Fulham Recap and watch here
Tottenham 1-1 West Brom Recap and watch here
West Ham 1-3 Arsenal Recap and watch here

FESTIVE FEAST DELIVERS

Boxing Day and Week 19 provided two match days of distinction around the holidays. It’s hard to sum it all up in this column, but the incidents, goals and drama we saw epitomized what the festive schedule is all about: unpredictability. Before the Boxing Day madness (the first time in five years that all 20 PL teams have played on the same day, excluding the final day of the campaign) I picked out three things we should watch and here they are.

GOALS -59 balls hit the back of the net in the 20 games that have taken place since Boxing Day, that’s an average of 2.95 goals per game. Not bad at all, plus there were some crazy 5-1, 6-0 and 3-3 score lines to go with it.

RED CARDS –There were four red cards alone on Boxing Day, as Stoke City imploded with two reds in two minutes vs. Newcastle, Antonio Valencia was sent off needlessly and poor Tim Howard was put in an impossible position and got a straight red.

THE UNEXPECTED – Hull City cruising after leading Man United 2-0 after the first 12 minutes on Boxing Day… then losing 3-2. Cardiff City 2-0 up against Sunderland on the 28th… then blowing it by letting in two goals in the final seven minutes. Plus Liverpool lead at Man City and Chelsea but blew it twice to lost back-to-back in three days.

LIVERPOOL REALIZATION: TOP FOUR AT BEST

A spoonful of sugar wasn’t dished out around Anfield during the festive season, just a bitter dose of reality.

The Reds always knew the past few days would have a big say in how seriously we could consider them as title contenders and heck, the way the PL is going this year they still have a great chance. But spirited back-to-back 2-1 defeats away at Manchester City and Chelsea proved that they can’t cut it with the big boys. Not just yet anyway.

Brendan Rodgers’ side looked sharp and dominated large spells against City and Chelsea but they lacked a cutting edge as Luis Suarez’ one-man band was locked down by two or three defenders marking him at a time. That allowed the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling to get more chances in on goal but they simply weren’t clinical enough when it mattered. I can’t help but think that if Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard would’ve been around and not injured, then Liverpool could be sitting top of the standings heading into 2014… instead they’re in fifth. That shows the small margins were dealing with this campaign.

Premier League Schedule – Week 19

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 1-1 Swansea Recap and watch here
Cardiff 2-2 Sunderland Recap and watch here
Chelsea 2-1 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Everton 2-1 Southampton Recap and watch here
Hull 6-0 Fulham Recap and watch here
Man City 1-0 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
Newcastle 0-1 Arsenal Recap and watch here
Norwich 0-1 Man United Recap and watch here
Tottenham 3-0 Stoke Recap and watch here
West Ham 3-3 West Brom Recap and watch here

RELEGATION BATTLE JUST AS TIGHT

So, this is the time of the season where the title race intensifies and the top five or six sort themselves out and pull away from the few hopefuls dragging on their coattails in the top half of the standings.

But let your eyes wander down a little… yeah, that’s right. There’s an almighty scrap about to take place at the bottom as a relegation battle.

Below is a snapshot of the bottom seven, as Sunderland somehow clawed themselves right back into things with a win at Everton on Boxing Day, followed by a marvelous two goal salvo in the final seven minutes to break Cardiff City’s hearts and drag the Bluebirds deep into the mire. Around them West Brom and West Ham scrapped it out in a fantastic 3-3 draw at Upton Park, while the likes of Norwich and Crystal Palace put up valiant efforts against the Manchester giants. Get ready folks, these small teams fighting it out at the bottom will be going hell for leather every single week in the second half of the season as they best form of defense is attack for these chaps.

In previous years there’s always been one side that’s been utterly doomed and never looked like staying up. Last season it was QPR and Reading, before that it was Wolves. But at the halfway point in 2013/14, only five points separates Sunderland in last place with Norwich in 14th, while just ahead of them Swansea, Stoke and Aston Villa are looking worriedly over their shoulders.

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Click to enlarge: The bottom seven are clustered tightly as we usher in 2014.

Who’ll be safe will only become more apparent as the winter months leave us behind and the relentless rain of an early English spring help the negative vibes soak into fans of teams embroiled in yet another relegation battle. This is unlikely to be sorted out before the final weekend of the season. That’s the beauty of it, this season nobody knows what will happen.

HUDDLESTONE HAS A HAIRCUT… AS HULL LEAD PROMOTED SIDES

After 54 games without a goal, Tom Huddlestone’s hair has become more of a feature than his vast spectrum of passes and impressively destructive displays in the middle of the pitch. But following his strike in Hull’s 6-0 shellacking of Fulham on Saturday, which also happened to be his 27th birthday, Huddlestone raced to the bench and grabbed a pair of scissors as his entangled locks were lopped away mercifully.

Sadly, a lonesome pair of shears has sat on the bench for quite some time now, as the former Tottenham midfielders strike was his first goal since April 2011. Since then he’s had a long-standing wager that he won’t cut his hair until he scored… he possesses a rasping right foot and I’d hazard a guess that he didn’t think it would take almost two and a half years to get his barnet trimmed.

Huddlestone was carrying on with his “no haircut ‘til I score” stance as charities were benefiting from the donations people sent in from all over the world. It was a bit of good fun that was for a good cause and sealed an utterly superb end to 2013 for Hull City AFC. Now Huddlestone can get back to the important things in life… speaking to his barber again and choosing a new hairstyle.

And just a word on Hull’s remarkable season so far, out of the three promoted teams many expected them to flounder the most with their heavy-handed, route one approach not the way modern PL sides are set up… how wrong those doubters were. Steve Bruce has built a robust squad that’s hard to beat at home and can cause plenty of problems with a direct style of play. While their fellow newly-promoted friends Cardiff City and Crystal Palace are embroiled in a relegation battle, Hull sit in 10th spot with 23 points from their first 19 games. Hats off to the Tigers.

EVERTON AND SOUTHAMPTON SEND US OUT IN STYLE

Two of the seasons surprise packages put on a show at Goodison Park to see out 2013, as Everton beat the Saints 2-1 in an end-to-end clash that warmed the hearts of soccer purists. Intricate one-two’s, fast flowing counter attacks and possession built from the back ruled the day. Sprinkle into the mix a whole host of English talents and there’s hope for the English national side in Brazil this summer, at least if some of these players on show make the plane. Leighton Baines, Ross Barkley and even Leon Osman were superb, while Southampton’s Adam Lallana (who got married on Christmas Eve to avoid a clash with the World Cup), Luke Shaw, Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert all put in a good showing. Three fantastic goals were scored as Everton closed out the year by moving into the top four and above their arch-rivals Liverpool. The Saints finish 2013 in ninth, as you get the feeling that we’re only at the start of Mauricio Pochettino’s revolution at St. Mary’s. Two great teams who play soccer intelligently and are easy on the eye, it was hard not to drool watching some of that match.

This was also a glimpse into the future of the PL, as young English talent is being directed by young foreign managers (Roberto Martinez and Pochettino) who’ve got a track record of getting the best out of youngsters. Expect the Toffees and Saints’ model to be copied by many PL sides in the coming years.

Watch all the action from week 19 below, as we’ve reached the halfway point of the PL season. Here’s to hoping the second half of the campaign is just as dramatic as the first. Happy New Year to you all out there and don’t forget to celebrate New Year’s Day in the best way possible, a full slate of PL games live on NBC Sports!

Premier League Playback takes an alternative look at all the weekends actions from the PL, it comes out every week.

VIDEO: Previews of every Premier League game – Week 37

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The penultimate week of the 2015-16 Premier League season is here.

[ WATCH: Stream every PL game ]

Below you will find previews on all 10 games this weekend, as the relegation battle and hunt for European spots continues.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

Here’s what you need to know in each encounter.


Tottenham vs. Southampton

Leicester City vs. Everton

Manchester City vs. Arsenal

Norwich City vs. Manchester United

Sunderland vs. Chelsea

Aston Villa vs. Newcastle United

West Ham vs. Swansea City

Liverpool vs. Watford

Bournemouth vs. West Brom

Crystal Palace vs. Stoke City

What if the Premier League trophy could talk?

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Hello, it’s me. Not, this is not an Adele song. You’ve probably seen me before, usually glittering in the sunshine around May time.

Yes, that’s right, I’m the Premier League trophy.

For years I’ve been held aloft by some of the biggest stars in the game. Now, though, I’m ready for a change.

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

Once again, just like last season, I’m all dressed up in blue ribbons. As we speak I’m on my way to my new home for the next year. I’ve never been here before and I never thought I’d be living here.

But hey, that’s the life I live. Gone are the days of hanging out at Old Trafford for nearly a decade… Now I live a much more uncertain life. Wait. What’s that? They are joking about me spending the next 12 months with actual Foxes, right?

Leicester is my new home and I can honestly say that the excitement surrounding my unexpected arrival surpasses any of my previous jubilant hoists into the air.

I’m ready for Wes Mogran to thrust me into the Leicestershire sky and see all the happy faces of the fans, players and staff as Leicester became just the sixth team to win me.

[ MORE: Ranieri’s subtle transformation

Bit of background on me: my other homes have been at Manchester United, Manchester City, Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal and Chelsea. I’m made of sterling sliver and silver gilt mostly, plus have a golden crown and a plinth made of malachite. I was created by the Royal Jewelers of Asprey in London (hence my very proper accent) and I usually don’t tell people this but I weigh 55 lbs and I’m 30 inches tall.

I do have a replica but they are very shy and only come out in extreme circumstances such as two teams both going into the final day of the season with a chance of winning me. Tottenham’s recent results have put an end to that for this season so you’re just stuck with me, the original. Hi!

I’ve spent 13 years of my life with United, two at Man City, four at Chelsea, three at Arsenal and a single year back from May 1995 in Blackburn.

Since my days at Ewood Park over two decades ago, I didn’t think I’d be passed on to one of the so-called smaller clubs in England anymore. The days of being held up at Anfield by Tim Sherwood and Alan Shearer seemed so long ago but now Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and Mr. Claudio Ranieri will be holding me at the King Power this weekend.

Plus, the ways things are going in the league, I could have plenty of new homes in the coming years. This Leicester team has really shaken things up.

I used to be fond of bobbing up and down in front of the North Bank at Highbury, been worn on Didier Drogba‘s head at Stamford Bridge and Sir Alex Ferguson parading me around, once again, as the children of United’s players (Kasper Schmeichel, looking forward to catching up again!) celebrated on the Old Trafford pitch.

Now, though, this is a new era.

A league and a life full of uncertainties. West Ham? Stoke? Southampton? Crystal Palace? Will I end up here next… Nobody knows and for the first time in a long time I really won’t be making any long-term plans for my living arrangements.

The status quo has well and truly been disrupted but with Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola arriving next season, maybe I’ll see old friends in the cabinet at City and Chelsea this time next year?

For now, I’m all dressed in blue and ready for a day of celebrations. Before I’m handed over to Morgan there will be a sing-song from Andrea Bocelli on the pitch, free beer, pizza and crisps on behalf of Leicester and it will be a day filled with delight. Then I arrive to cap it all off. Oh, it’s a glamorous life being the jewel in the crown of the world’s most recognized and watched league.

To sum up the life of the trophy, as I mentioned,  it’s very glamorous these days. Gone are the days when I’ve been sat in a dusty trophy cabinet all season. Now, I appear on TV shows as a centerpiece, get toured around the world by past legends who’ve won me and I’m handled with care by schoolchildren who get to see me as party of the trophy tour. I’m very busy.

Before I forget, one important reminder for tomorrow: if Vardy’s party into the wee hours does get a little out of hand, can somebody remind them to put me down for a bit of a rest? It will be a long, and very exciting, day.

Leicester, can’t wait to call you home for the next 12 months. See you soon.

Much love, PLT (Premier League Trophy)

Wenger: Tottenham supremacy would be a “one-off”

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Careful, Arsene, I wouldn’t want you choke on those sour grapes…

On a serious note, Arsene Wenger has been speaking ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Manchester City on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) and he believes that although Tottenham Hotspur may finish above the Gunners this season it is only a “one-off” event and nothing to be worried about.

[ MORE: Ranieri’s subtle transformation

With two games to go for both teams, Spurs currently sit in second place on 70 points while Arsenal sit in third on 67 points.

Wenger, 66, isn’t concerned with the thought that Spurs will rule north London for years to come if they finish above them this season.

“If they do that, you can at least say it is a one-off because in 20 years, it has happened once,” Wenger said. “But at the moment, it is not done.”

“Tottenham had a very good season. They didn’t manage to finish very strongly recently but overall, they had a very good season and they have a strong team. But our target is still, if possible, to get in front of them.”

Ever since Wenger has arrived at Arsenal they have finished above Spurs. That’s led to a tradition among the Arsenal fans to name the day each season where Spurs can no longer mathematically finish above them. Hence the invention of “St. Totteringham’s Day” which may not be celebrated by Arsenal fans this season.

Spurs could seal second-place and finishing above Arsenal this weekend as they host Southampton on Sunday (Watch live, 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

A win for Spurs, coupled with their superior goal difference, would all-but seal finishing above Arsenal but Wenger is focused on winning at injury-hit Man City who are also battling to finish in the top three. 

“It is still an important game, even if Leicester are champions and we are second best,” Wenger said. “It is still a very important game because part of the responsibility of being a professional is to prepare the future, and the future of Arsenal Football Club depends on this game. Our target now is to secure a position in the Champions League next year and, if possible, to get in second place or at least secure third place. On Sunday, we can achieve that.”

King Claudio: The subtle transformation of Ranieri, “The Thinkerman”

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“Never could I have imagined this. We work so hard. Everyone does, but only one can win. This year it happened to me! It’s my karma. I’ve fought so hard to achieve so this is special. I want to thank my players, chairman, staff and fans. Our Chairman gives to us calmness and positivity. Never have I seen him nervous. That is important to me.

“To the fans. They were dreaming. I say dilly-ding, dilly-dong, they woke up and the dream was a reality.”

[ MORE: Leicester news after PL win ] 

On Thursday Claudio Ranieri was reflecting on Leicester City’s top-flight title win, the first in their 132-year history, as he sipped champagne with the media after being applauded into the room. He oozed class, composure and humility.

If anybody deserves this kind of respect, admiration and a glorious coronation, it’s Ranieri.

The 64-year-old Italian coach has become the central figure in this remarkable fairy tale and on Saturday he will lift a top-flight trophy for the first time in his journeyman career which has seen him manage 15 clubs and the Greek national team over the past 28 years.

[ MORE: Mahrez to leave?

Slowly and very surely his transformation into a title-winning manager is complete. His persona, off the pitch, hasn’t changed much but there have been tweaks, and after Leicester’s triumph his life will never quite be the same again as calls for him to be Knighted by the Queen of England and many other accolades continue.

A charming, modest, quiet man from the San Saba neighborhood in the heart of Rome, Ranieri grew up close to the Circus Maximus and has never forgotten his roots. The butcher’s son flew home to have lunch with his 96-year-old mother on the day Leicester were crowned champions of the Premier League.

He has stayed true to himself but over time his personality has transformed subtly. Perhaps disappointments along the way have altered his outlook, sharpened his focus and taught him the keys to success. It seems like his entire career has been building to this moment.

[ MORE: What does winning the PL really mean for Leicester? ]

Ranieri’s persona as a loveable grandfather figure is one which slightly contrasts his past image when he was in charge at Chelsea from 2000-04. Those who knew Ranieri during his time in charge at Chelsea speak of him as a gentleman and a humble, quiet man, but one who sometimes seemed confused and easily flustered. It didn’t help that he didn’t speak English when he first arrived in England 16 years ago and the translator Chelsea handed to him hardly gave Ranieri’s comments the character we know now he has.

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 21: Leicester City's manager Claudio Ranieri congratulates Jamie Vardy of Leicester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle and Leicester City at St James Park on November 21, 2015 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images)

Since 2004 when Ranieri left England there has been this lingering notion that yes, Ranieri was a nice man, but the puzzled look he often had on his face on the sidelines at Stamford Bridge was because he often confused himself. Nicknamed “The Tinkerman” for consistently changing his players and lineups, Ranieri has never shrugged off that tag. Until now.

He chose his first press conference (in front of the media, who he has referred to as “the sharks” all season long) since becoming a title winner to give himself a new nickname.

“I am now the Thinkerman, not Tinkerman!” Ranieri laughed

This incredible season isn’t about redemption, resurrection or re-invigoration for Ranieri. If he wasn’t handed another job after a disastrous spell in charge of the Greek national team which ended in 2014, then he probably would have been just fine.

[ MORE: How will Leicester’s success change the PL? ]

However, when the opportunity arose to return to England it was about returning to a land where he enjoyed being a manager, where he enjoyed the culture and was at ease. We’ve seen that during every press conference this season. Ranieri even refers to himself as “an English player” during his playing days and that he loves the dedication and commitment. He has coached in Italy, Spain, France, Greece and England but it seems as though Ranieri is enamored by the English culture and vice versa, and he always maintained his home in London despite not working in the country for over a decade.

Fans in Leicester have multiple songs in his honor, the local market has named a spicy Italian sausage after him and during games the connection with the supporters has been immense to help drive the Foxes over the line. Often he would raise his arms and gesticulate to the crowd for help to inspire the players in the final minutes of games. The supporters would respond, realizing they were on the edge of greatness.

Ranieri would have picked up tricks like that over the years and was it the difference in Leicester’s 14 one-goal wins this season? It certainly didn’t hurt.

“The fans understood our difficulties and they pushed a lot,” Ranieri told ProSoccerTalk after their 1-0 win over Southampton in April. “They were not nervous, they understood our momentum and they are pushing with us. It is a fantastic link. It is unbelievable. They are very, very close with us. They understand when we need support or when I asked for support… but I didn’t even ask today. They started early to help us.”

Despite all the current euphoria surrounding Ranieri and his team achieving the unthinkable, the initial reactions from Leicester’s fans to his appointment was in stark contrast. Let’s cast our minds back to July 13, 2015…

Leicester legend Gary Lineker wasn’t impressed.

Pretty much everyone believed they were doomed for relegation and in all fairness, it was a strange appointment. Leicester had hired a manager who had never been involved in a PL relegation battle, hadn’t worked in England in over a decade and had just crashed and burned with the Greek national team. Simple logic saw it as a “strange appointment” as one leading Leicester fan told me back in the summer.

What was to come was something Ranieri admitted he didn’t start believing would be a possibility until their win at Manchester City in February.

“I was so satisfied when we won at Manchester City,” Ranieri told the Guardian. “We made a fantastic performance away. Unbelievable. Maybe when we won there 3-1, maybe my players believed in something: ‘Maybe we can win, maybe we can fight until the end’. I never spoke about this to them. I said: ‘OK, clean everything, next match. Start again.’ So when I said to you [the media] we play match by match, it was true.”

Claudio Ranieri, Leicester City FC

That game-by-game battle to achieve the title when everybody thought they would slip up has gripped Leicester, England and most of the soccer, and sporting, world. Ranieri has used every ounce of his experience to ease any pressure on his players, never truly admitting they were in a title battle until the final weeks of the season. He is famous for using sdramatizzare to put his players at ease and team trips to pizza parlors after recording a shutout and waxing lyrical about local rock band Kasabian has helped Ranieri fit in and make the situation seem much more normal.

The media has hung on his every word, laughing along with his jokes and giving him gifts at press conferences. Books have been commissioned and will be written about Ranieri’s journey and released in the opening months of next season. His players also seem encapsulated by the Italian’s seamlessly never-ending stream of charm.

Ranieri has read the situation he came into at Leicester perfectly, keeping plenty of the existing backroom staff, adding a few of his own and not changing an awful lot from their incredible run of seven wins from the final nine games last season to stave off relegation and set themselves up for this magical campaign.

But don’t be fooled by all of these niceties, there is a harsh soccer coach in there. One who is deeply demanding that his players work hard and deliver.

NBC Sports analyst Graeme Le Saux played for Ranieri at Chelsea.

“That’s all veneer, don’t be fooled, that’s part design,” Le Saux said recently regarding Ranieri’s charming demeanor. “He’s a very shrewd operator and he wouldn’t shirk a big decision. Behind the smile there’s a ruthless football manager, a guy who is happy to make big decisions.

“At Leicester he hasn’t had to, the team picks itself. He’s not had to deal with dropping big names and moving people on. Once he’s established his team and his shape, he’s been the polar opposite to what we were calling him, the Tinkerman.”

Even though Leicester will be in the Champions League next season, Ranieri has already said he doesn’t want big name players to arrive and for the Foxes to get away from who they really are.

“I don’t want big names,” Ranieri said. “I don’t want it in my dressing room. My lads are special. Who arrives must have the same spirit.”

It turns out he’s used the “dilly-ding, dilly-dong” tactics throughout his career to keep his players focused and despite his penchant for squad rotation, this season he’s kept a settled team in a solid 4-4-2 formation. He has used just 23 different players this season, fewer than any other PL club, and although it may have been out of necessity rather than design Ranieri didn’t tinker and look what happened. That Tinkerman tag has finally fallen off.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

He’s shaken off another tag as “the nearly man” too. He was a top-flight runner up with Chelsea in 2003, AS Roma in 2010 and AS Monaco in 2014. Any lingering doubts people had about Ranieri’s ability to get the job done and not confuse himself along the way are over. His journey really started with little Cagilari in 1987 who he took from Serie C to the Serie A. He won cups in Spain with Valencia and Fiorentina in Italy as he took La Viola to Serie A where they became a force. He has had some incredible moments during his long, winding managerial career but this is the best. This is the icing on the cake and perhaps a sizable cherry on top too.

His transformation from Tinkerman to Thinkerman is complete and it is rather fitting that on the final day of the season he will return to Chelsea, last seasons champions, and receive a guard of honor onto the pitch, replicating what occurred when he last stood on the turf of Chelsea’s home stadium.

“I am satisfied, of course, but not in terms of ‘it is revenge’. No, no, no. I am not a man who wants revenge,” Ranieri said. “I know my job very well and sometimes maybe the owner wants to change you because you don’t fit in with him. It is good because last time I left the Premier League (in 2004) I went through my players and they made the guard of honor. It was amazing. Now I will come back in the same way. It is unbelievable.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 19: Claudio Ranieri Manager of Leicester City looks on prior to 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)

What has been unbelievable is this season. Ranieri and his players have become immortal, they’ve sealed their place in soccer folklore forever and even if they crash and burn next season in the UEFA Champions League and the Premier League, they will always have the memories from the 2015-16 campaign when they ruled England.

Stood in his tracksuit by the side of the training pitch, the Roman looked annoyed when asked by one journalist the day after Leicester had won the title if he could quite believe what they’d done. He spoke of his ambition to always win a top league and even now, despite the evolution of his personality into a calm, calculated and humorous individual, there was still a glimpse that he could become a little flustered and slip into his old ways, momentarily.

What could possibly be on the horizon for Ranieri? The charming, humble manager from the Italian capital wants a little more, even if he’s currently savoring the moment.

“This is a moment when you have to leave a little more time and taste slowly, like a good wine, and savor it,” Ranieri said, speaking to the Guardian. “Maybe now is too early to think what we have done. Maybe one or two years could be better to understand but now it is important to stay high in the world.

“I am very happy to win because when you start to make a manager you hope you can win some league. I won the most important league in Europe, I think, not just Europe but the world, the Premier League. It is a fantastic achievement, my career is fantastic but I want to achieve a little more if it is possible.”