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.

Study: MLS improves racial hiring, slides in gender hiring

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A diversity report shows improved racial hiring practices for Major League Soccer but also highlighted a continuing decline in gender hiring efforts.

The annual report card from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at Central Florida on Wednesday gave MLS an A with 93.9 points for racial hiring in 2019 for its highest score in 15 years.

[ MORE: Top 25 players in USMNT pool ]

But the gender score of 72 points for a C grade fell for the third straight time, down from 76.8 points in 2018 and 81 points as recently as 2016.

The overall grade for MLS was a B at 82.9 points, falling from a B-plus and 85 points in 2018.

TIDES director Richard Lapchick, the lead report author, called lower gender hiring numbers across men’s professional sports a “systemic problem.”

Online: http://tidesport.org/

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

Medel: Chile players decline friendly over civil unrest

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Chile had already canceled a home friendly with Bolivia this international break, and now the players will not play Tuesday in Peru either due to unrest in their country.’

A nationwide strike and protests against the government, spurred by a rise in metro fares, have Chile on edge.

[ MORE: USMNT-Canada preview ]

La Roja stars Gary Medel and Arturo Vidal both posted lengthy messages on their Instagram accounts, saying that the decision was made “in response to the social moment in our country.”

They urged both protestors and law enforcement to turn away from violence.

From Mega.CL:

“We are soccer players, but above all people and citizens. We know that we represent a complete country and today Chile has other priorities much more important than next Tuesday’s game.”

Chile is ranked No. 17 by FIFA and 22 in Elo Ratings.

Slumping USMNT big favorites v. Canada

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Let’s start with two statements which might be a bit controversial given the tone and tenor of the United States men’s national team program.

  1. The CONCACAF Nations League very much matters to Gregg Berhalter’s era and the program in general, even if the coach’s job is not in jeopardy and the tournament is in its infancy.
  2. The USMNT are the oddsmakers’ heavy favorites to win (nearly +500), even given the current injury problems, and it will be shocking but not surprising if they lose to the Canadians.

Point No. 1 might be a bit surprising, but this is a competition with silverware and Berhalter hasn’t won any of it yet in his tenure as USMNT boss. It’s also relevant because losing to Canada twice in a month after not losing to them since the Billboard No. 1 single was the sensual “One More Night” by Phil Collins.

And even without Christian Pulisic and a raft of injury excuses, plus taking into account Canada’s sincere re-emergence on the CONCACAF scene, the USMNT has no business losing a meaningful match at home to a team that, while improved, has far more holes than the hosts.

If you remember from October, Berhalter didn’t call upon his men to press an inexperienced Canadian back line (I just realized I’m still angry about this). There is literally no way he’ll do that at home.

If John Herdman keeps his backs the same as the one that shut out the Yanks at BMO last month, he’ll have Kamal Miller, Derek Cornelius, Steven Vitoria, and Richie Laryea out there. Three of the four aren’t full-time starters for their MLS clubs (Vitoria is an every week man in Portugal’s top flight). Goalkeeper Milan Borjan (Red Star Belgrade) is capable of stealing a result, but shouldn’t have the chance if the Yanks pressure the ball on Friday.

The midfield and attackers are where the U.S. will have its hands full. Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David beg speedy and/or smart defenders. John Brooks being in the mix should help in both counts, plus he’s the best passing back in the pool right now.

Whether the match is cagey or comfortable will come down to the midfield. Scott Arfield is going to make it difficult on the Yanks, but Alfredo Morales plays with a nasty streak and will not be as bullied as his peers were in Toronto.

The one thing to fear is how bamboozled Berhalter was by Herdman’s plan in Ontario. This isn’t to pile on the coach, who is known for his tactics but hasn’t seen them deliver against too many opponents of quality. Herdman may be the novice in terms of overall club experience, but he’s got a better handle on the international game.

If the Yanks look out-foxed and unprepared on Friday, that’s a big problem.

How will the USMNT line up versus Canada?

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No Christian Pulisic.

No Tyler Adams.

No Timothy Weah.

No Michael Bradley, Matt Miazga, and no Zack Steffen, either.

Ugh.

[ MORE: NYCFC teen signs for Gladbach ]

Still, the United States men’s national team will be favored to get a home decision over Canada on Friday as the CONCACAF Nations League begins its final two match days of the group stage.

How will Gregg Berhalter line up his team without so many key components?

Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan is probably going to get the start here, and he won’t kill the team, but we’d love to see Sean Johnson get a chance to improve on his 100% clean sheet success rate across two tournament caps for the U.S.

Back line: It would be insane if Sergino Dest didn’t start at one of the full back spots given his election of the USMNT over the Netherlands. Also insane would be not starting a finally-healthy John Brooks.

After that, it seems likely Berhalter will opt for Aaron Long to pair with Brooks. If his left back option is Dest, then it’ll be DeAndre Yedlin at right back (or Reggie Cannon). If Dest is on his preferred right side, than Daniel Lovitz may get a look over Tim Ream on account of the speed in Canada’s attack.

Midfield: Might Berhalter pull back an attacker and use a four-man midfield against the Canucks? Weston McKennie and Alfredo Morales will take two spots, and it seems pretty likely Jackson Yueill will get the chance to be a deep-lying playmaker with McKennie and Morales running their shorts off to make his life easier. We suppose Berhalter could opt for Wil Trapp over Yueill. It’s possible. A little too possible.

Attack: Josh Sargent is going to get the center forward spot, and it would be wild if Jordan Morris doesn’t join him. Then it’s down to Tyler Boyd or Paul Arriola, exciting versus a bit safer. And Arriola would give him more of a midfield presence than the forward-thinking Boyd.

Here’s how we think Berhalter starts in Orlando:

Guzan

Yedlin — Long — Brooks — Dest

Yueill

Morales — McKennie

Morris — Sargent — Arriola