Like Lazio’s season, Ciro Immobile continues to make strides with each passing day.
The 29-year-old’s hat-trick powered Simone Inzaghi’s side past Sampdoria 5-1, extending his goal count to 23, nine more than Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaka.
Lazio, who are three points behind top-of-the-table Juventus and one behind second-place Inter Milan, were up three goals by the 20-minute mark. By the 65th minute, Immobile reached the three goal mark, converting from the spot.
“We would need too much time to count his records,” coach Simone Inzaghi said on Immobile’s magnificent run of form. “We are talking about an extraordinary team player. He has shown that so many times. Immobile has been doing extraordinary things for four years, I’m not surprised.”
Full of confidence, Lazio turn one of the most challenging corners of the season, as they take on rivals AS Roma defend the Italian Cup against Napoli.
“We’ll enjoy this 11th win but we have to already be thinking about the next matches,” Inzaghi said. “We know what a derby means but I can’t allow myself to think about Roma.
“We play Napoli on Tuesday, we know what the Italian Cup means for us, what it meant last year, we have it on our shirts and we will fight for it again.”
When it comes to Sampdoria, things are going from bad to ugly, quick.
“Tonight I’ll add salt and pepper and I’ll eat them alive,” Sampdoria coach Claudio Ranieri said of his players.
“Lazio was too good for us, you could clearly see the difference between the two teams, but it was without doubt the worst Samp performance since I’ve been here.”
With the 2010’s nearly behind us, the last 10 years of Premier League action have been euphoric.
Stunning goals, great players, jaw-dropping moments, trophies lifted, and millions spent. It’s nearly impossible to recap all the action appropriately, but it is necessary to recognize the absolute best of the best. So, the ProSoccerTalk writers have selected their favorite moments, players, and managers to mark the end of the decade and usher in a new 10 years sure to be filled with new memories to be made.
Without further ado, our Of The Decade awards.
TEAM OF THE DECADE:
Joe Prince-Wright: De Gea; Zabaleta, Van Dijk, Kompany, Azpilicueta; Kante, David Silva, Hazard; Aguero, Kane, Mane
“De Gea has been the best goalkeeper over the decade, while Zabaleta and Azpilicueta are as reliable and dependable as they come. Kompany is a Man City legend, and Van Dijk will be one at Liverpool. In midfield I’m going with Kante, Hazard and David Silva for a little bit of balance, and in attack I have Mane (he just beat out Sterling and Salah) with Kane and Aguero. Don’t @ me.”
Kyle Bonn: De Gea; Walker, Van Dijk, Kompany, Azpilicueta; Kante, Yaya Toure; de Bruyne, Hazard, David Silva; Aguero.
“David De Gea has slipped over the last two years, but the incredibly high bar he set has partly contributed to why many have a somewhat negative opinion of his recent play, and he deserves to be the top goalkeeper for the consistency he showed for nearly half the decade. Yaya Toure was a pioneer at his position and won three Premier League titles, displaying excellent tenacity and discipline. Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, and Sergio Aguero represent Manchester City’s true stranglehold on this decade, while Eden Hazard leaves a legacy behind after leaving for La Liga. Leaving Harry Kane off was difficult, but his impact on the league was trumped by Aguero, and having two pure strikers on the squad seemed unfair to other more influential players at other positions.”
Nicholas Mendola: Cech; Kompany, Van Dijk, Azpilicueta; Toure, Kante, Silva, Bruyne; Hazard, Aguero, Kane.
“Petr Cech won with two teams while drumming on the side and preparing to be a semi-pro ice hockey goalie. Kompany, Toure, and Silva were the lynch pins of the decade’s best teams, while Kane spurred Spurs to relatively new heights. N’Golo Kante won titles in back-to-back years with different teams, and Cesar Azpilicueta somehow feels like he creeps into this list while also totally deserving his place.”
Daniel Karell: de Gea; Azpilicueta, van Dijk, Kompany, Robertson; Kante, D. Silva; de Bruyne, Hazard, Salah; Aguero.
“Imagine this team in action? My goodness. I know Salah’s impact has only been felt recently, but he has just been so good, and in some ways he’s getting better. Virgil Van Dijk is the standout though, just in how he’s single-handedly taken Liverpool to the next level.”
Joel Soria: Cech; Evra, Terry, Kompany, Walker; Kante, Gerrard, D Silva, Yaya Toure; Rooney; Aguero.
Andy Edwards:De Gea; Zabaleta, Kompany, Van Dijk, Azpilicueta; Yaya Toure, Kante, Silva, Hazard; Kane, Aguero.
PLAYER OF THE DECADE:
JPW: Eden Hazard – “One of the greatest players in Premier League history and won two league titles with Chelsea in the last decade and he was influential in both. When he ticked so did Chelsea and no other top six team relied so heavily on just one player. Hazard was untouchable when he was at his best.”
Bonn:Sergio Aguero – “Nobody in the league over the past decade has been at Aguero’s level for the same length of time. Full stop. The Argentine has logged at least 2,000 minutes in five of his eight full seasons in the league, falling less than 100 minutes short of the mark in another two. He has reached the 20-goal mark in six of his eight seasons and looks well on his way to that total this campaign despite dealing with injuries and heavy competition from Gabriel Jesus. With 174 goals since joining Manchester City, nobody comes close to his impact on the league.”
Mendola: David Silva – “Just twice in the PFA Team of the Year, I’ll make amends by giving this overlooked wonder his decade’s due. Arriving in 2010, he has 74 goals and 136 assists in 415 matches for Man City. For the decade, he’s posted 102 league assists and 57 goals. The gentleman’s only been carded 40 times in almost 32,000 minutes in Man City blue, and his trophy case for decade includes four PL titles, four League Cups, two FA Cups, a World Cup and a EURO.”
Karell: Virgil Van Dijk – “The signing of Van Dijk has been worth every penny for Liverpool. He’s one of the main reasons the club has improved so much – remember, just a few years ago Liverpool kept finishing in 7th and having to play in the Europa League – and Liverpool is on pace to set records this season and win the club’s first Premier League title.”
Soria: Sergio Aguero
MANAGER OF THE DECADE
JPW: Pep Guardiola – “Back-to-back Premier League titles with 100 points and 98 points on the board, and all the time his Man City are probably the best we’ve ever seen in terms of entertainment in PL and Football League history. They said he could never bring his style of play to England and dominate. Pep proved everyone wrong and to date has won five trophies domestically in three-and-a-half seasons.”
Bonn: Pep Guardiola – “Others have won as much as Pep Guardiola this decade, but nobody has had the influence on the game he has. His transformation of that squad into a perennially dominating side is nothing short of legendary. Jurgen Klopp has reached these heights, but his influence comes towards the end of the time period, leaving the German a cruel second in this category.”
Mendola:Pep Guardiola – “The Spaniard authored the best season in Premier League history and has won two titles in three tries, and the age of managerial tumult means it’s hard to put anyone ahead of him. Alex Ferguson also won two PL crowns and is a close second, while third and fourth would be a toss-up. Jurgen Klopp has done well, for sure, but hasn’t claimed a crown (and won’t inside this decade). Jose Mourinho’s in the discussion but he’s only won one PL and the Europa League. Claudio Ranieri deserves a shout, as does Mauricio Pochettino to round out our Top Six. Steve Bruce finishes just ahead of Arsene Wenger to round out our Top Eight (There’s a joke there somewhere, and it’s on me).”
Karell: Pep Guardiola – “Guardiola may be struggling a bit this season but what he’s done for both Man City and the Premier League is nothing short of sensational. It now feels like a disappointment when Man City “only” wins, 1-0 or 2-0, as Guardiola has created a juggernaut that usually scores for fun and runs up the score on a regular basis.”
Soria: Pep Guardiola
TRANSFER OF THE DECADE
JPW:N’Golo Kante (Caen to Leicester City, $9 million; Aug 3, 2015) – “Has become one of the best central midfielders in the world and only cost Leicester $9 million back in the summer of 2015 and was instrumental in their amazing title win. Kante has since moved to Chelsea and won the title there and the World Cup with France in 2018. Hard to see past this deal for value and how important he was in one of the greatest stories sports has ever seen.”
Bonn: Virgil van Dijk (Southampton to Liverpool, $95 million; Jan 1, 2018) – “Nobody has singlehandedly transformed a team from good to great like Virgil van Dijk has done with Liverpool. The Dutchman has been a model of consistency, durability, and rock-solid perseverance than van Dijk. Liverpool may be on the verge of a level of domination not yet seen in the English top flight, and none of it would be possible without the defender. The price tag was high, but he was worth every penny.”
Mendola:N’Golo Kante (Caen to Leicester City, $9 million; Aug 3, 2015) – “Transfermarkt says the now World Cup and 2x Premier League winner is worth 10 times that, as he won the league with Leicester and was instantly snared by Chelsea. Honorable mention to Sergio Aguero, Man City from Atletico Madrid, 7/28/11 – The Argentine carried a price tag of $46 million, huge at the time, but 244 goals and 71 assists later… yeah. Also a nod to Jamie Vardy, but Leicester City wasn’t in the Premier League when he was purchased from Fleetwood Town.”
Soria: Luis Suarez (Ajax to Liverpool, $30 million; Jan 31, 2011)
Edwards:N’Golo Kante (Caen to Leicester City, $9 million; Aug 3, 2015)
GOAL OF THE DECADE
JPW:Olivier Giroud v. Crystal Palace; Jan 1, 2017 – “If we are just talking about one goal and the difficulty and outrageous nature of it, leaving out factors like importance for trophies etc., then I’m going with Olivier Giroud’s scorpion kick for Arsenal against Crystal Palace. It defied belief and nobody has ever tried to recreate it. Emre Can’s bike was pretty special too.”
Bonn:Wayne Rooney v. Man City; Feb 12, 2011 – “The most spectacular goal scored this decade was none other than Wayne Rooney’s unbelievable bicycle kick in a derby atmosphere. The skill it took to not only meet the cross perpendicularly but also find the top corner from that far out…unmatched by any other moment.”
Mendola: Wayne Rooney v. West Ham; Dec 3, 2017andCheick Tiote vs. Arsenal; May 2, 2011 – “I’ve got two, including one from Wayne Rooney that didn’t come via overhead kick in Manchester United red. It came on his return to Everton, when he finished off a hat trick against West Ham United by smoking an absolute missile from inside his own half, one time. An emotional nod, and my 1B goal of the 10s is when the late Cheick Tiote scored the only goal of his 156-match career with Newcastle. It was a beauty. Of course Sergio Aguero and Wayne Rooney have authored better, but his 87th minute goal to lead Newcastle back from a 4-0 deficit in a 4-4 draw versus Arsenal was the stuff that makes football worth the down times.”
Karell: Jack Wilshere v. Norwich; Oct 19, 2013 – “If you grew up watching Arsenal under Wenger, but had seen the team really struggle to live up to the Invincibles from a decade earlier, this absolute flash of brilliance would bring tears to your eyes. Wilshere combines with Santi Cazorla before a wonderful one-touch sequence Olivier Giroud, with both players using the outside of their boots to perfection. Norwich was hoodwinked and Wilshere scored arguably the most Arsene Wenger goal you could draw up. Deft passing in a tight area and a perfect one-touch finish.”
Leicester City sits second place in the Premier League table in mid-November, eight points back of a historic Liverpool position.
Since winning the title, Leicester City has finished 12th, 9th, and 9th and suddenly are challenging for a Champions League place yet again. The simple fact that the Foxes have managed to sustain considerable top-flight success over the course of the last six seasons might be even more impressive than their lightning-in-a-bottle title run.
While there are a few holdovers from the title-winning campaign, like goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and striker Jamie Vardy who stand out among the crowd, there has understandably been considerable turnover from that title team. Midfielders N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater were sold for significant sums of money, as was winger Riyad Mahrez. Both members of the center-back partnership Wes Morgan and Robert Huth put together are 35 years old (Morgan is still with the club but has logged just 28 Premier League minutes thus far).
So, naturally, we thought it fitting to compare the two sides. In another universe where Liverpool doesn’t dominate the Premier League landscape in record-breaking fashion, could this current Leicester challenge for a title? The only way to find out is to pit them against the squad that did. Here we go.
GOALKEEPER – Kasper Schmeichel (15/16) vs. Kasper Schmeichel (19/20)
Now 33 years old, Kasper Schmeichel has become one of the faces of Leicester City. Fans adore his leadership and calming presence, and respect his dedication to the club. But how does he stack up now against the likes of his younger self? With five clean sheets in 12 appearances under Brendan Rodgers this season, Schmeichel is up to his old tricks. Among qualifying goalkeepers, Schmeichel ranks second in the league in overall score according to SofaScore’s rating system, and has has managed to do so without facing a ton of shots – Leicester City has conceded the fourth-fewest xGA according to UnderStat.com.
So how does that stack up to the legendary title-winning season of 2015/16? That year, Schmeichel recorded 15 clean sheets in 38 league appearances, one behind Petr Cech‘s 16 for the league lead. He had the fourth-highest saves per goal conceded total in the league at 2.8, behind just Cech and a pair of goalkeepers with higher volume in Vito Mannone and Fraser Forster.
VERDICT: DRAW – Schmeichel is up to his old tricks, and has kept his level of play high through the years. Leicester City still has a rock between the sticks.
Wes Morgan and Robert Huth built an unlikely center-back partnership at Leicester City. A former Chelsea youth product, Huth was on his fourth club after spending six years at Stoke City toiling in the middle of the Premier League table. Morgan, meanwhile, had been a career Championship player, with the previous campaign his first in the top flight. Together, they logged a massive 6,570 Premier League minutes en route to a defensive performance that saw them concede just 36 goals in 38 games, one off the league’s stingiest defensive output. By April, the two led the top-four defenders in blocks, and both appeared in the WhoScored’s top 15 for center-back ratings at season’s end.
Today, an equally unlikely circumstance has led Leicester City to the league’s best defense. 23-year-old Caglar Soyuncu has developed into one of the best young center-back prospects in the league next to experienced former Manchester United defender Jonny Evans. Thanks to that pair, Leicester City is one of just two teams to have conceded a single-digit goal total through 12 matches alongside Sheffield United. Soyuncu ranks 3rd in WhoScored rating among CB’s with at least 7 appearances, while Evans is 11th, and the former is a beast in the air and pressures with accuracy. Also, he can dribble?
We were done, but this one was too weird not to do.
VERDICT: SOYUNCU/EVANS – While Wes Morgan and Robert Huth will live in club lore, the longevity potential for Soyuncu/Evans and their underlying statistics prove they are far more than a one-hit-wonder and can be a massive asset for this club moving forward.
One of the more under-heralded fan favorites of the 2015/16 title team, Christian Fuchs is another that will live on in club lore. He was energetic and a lively presence in the dressing room. Along with his full-back partner Danny Simpson, both players were seemingly on the decline before coming to Leicester – Fuchs had made 16 and 25 league appearances in his final two season at Schalke before being shipped out, while Simpson had lost his starting place at Newcastle two years prior and spent a season in the Championship with QPR before Leicester City gave him another shot at the Premier League. Somehow, things clicked under Claudio Ranieri and the two took off, providing both defensive cover and overlapping contributions moving forward.
With Fuchs a bit-part player and Simpson off at Huddersfield Town, they have been replaced by two of the best full-backs in the Premier League. Ricardo Pereira was the second-best right-back in the league behind Trent Alexander-Arnold last season according to WhoScored, while Ben Chilwell has earned a regular spot on the England national team.
VERDICT: Pereira/Chilwell – Fuchs is an absolute fan-favorite and Simpson’s revival was stunning to behold, but like the current center-back pairing Pereira and Chilwell have the longevity to serve the club for years or become valuable assets, and the two have already earned personal accolades the previous duo would not have achieved.
DEFENSIVE MID – N’Golo Kante (15/16) vs. Wilfred Ndidi (19/20)
This is one of the most fascinating player comparisons in recent soccer memory. N’Golo Kante’s rise to become one of the best defensive midfielders in the world, earning PFA Player of the Year in 2016/17 and finishing 8th on the Ballon d’Or list for 2017. Kante was the most important player on the title-winning squad – quite simply, Leicester City doesn’t win the title without Kante leading the league in tackles per 90 (4.7) and interceptions per 90 (4.2). His ability to halt opponent counters in their tracks was mind-numbing.
And yet, Leicester City’s only gone and produced his clone.
Wilfred Ndidi leads the league in interceptions per 90 minutes and is second in tackles behind tackle machine Aaron Wan-Bissaka. At just 23 years old, the Foxes are staring another N’Golo Kante in the face, a player who many believed – rightly so – was a once-in-a-generation type midfield product.
VERDICT: N’Golo Kante – while Ndidi is a massively promising player who is producing another season like Kante’s in 15/16, it will be hard to top one of the most legendary performances of the past decade, one backed up by Kante’s rise to stardom over the past few years.
CENTER MID – Danny Drinkwater (15/16) vs. Youri Tielemans (19/20)
Danny Drinkwater has flopped since his move to Chelsea, but don’t let that cloud your memory of his performance as N’Golo Kante’s midfield partner. Drinkwater was massively important to Leicester City during the title run, scoring two goals in 35 league appearances and assisting seven more, providing a dynamic presence in midfield to both calmly hold possession and provide dangerous moves forward. Still, admittedly being next to Kante made Drinkwater look better, and that proved true through the rest of his career.
Tielemans, on the other hand, is putting up numbers of his own that prove he’s his own player outside of any lift he gets from being slotted next to Ndidi and James Maddison. His passing percentage is way up from his days at Anderlecht and Monaco, and while he still struggles with turning the ball over on occasion, his heavy volume (55 passes per 90, 13th among non-defenders) and key passes (1.8 per 90, 17th in the league) suggest Tielemans has settled into an important role with the club.
VERDICT: Tielemans – While Danny Drinkwater was important to Leicester City’s run, his peripherals suggested Chelsea probably should have been more careful with its money. Tielemans has made significant strides since his disastrous time at Monaco and has become an important cog in midfield.
ATTACKING MID/WINGER – Riyad Mahrez/Marc Albrighton vs. James Maddison/Ayoze Perez (19/20)
Riyad Mahrez’s road to becoming Leicester City’s record sale was at times a bumpy tale, but there were no higher highs than he had in the 2015/16 title run. The Algerian international became a Premier League sensation with his 17 goals and 10 assists, doing it all for the Leicester City attack. He produced an xG of 11.88 for himself, with a silly goal conversion rate on top of that. In addition, he set his teammates up for a nearly equal 11.45 xA total, picking up 20 big chances created and dribbling successfully at a rate of 3.5 per 90 minutes. By contrast, Mahrez’s wing partner Marc Albrighton is a mostly forgettable player for casual fans, but he was massively important in other ways. Playing in every single Premier League match that season, Albrighton helped keep the shape and offered a more rigid foil to Mahrez’s marauding, with Fuchs overlapping on the left.
This season, James Maddison is the standout attacking player for the Foxes, with the 22-year-old developing into a key contributor up front. The youngster is eighth in the league in key passes per 90 minutes, and he himself is ripping off over three shots a game, with four league goals already to his name. Still, Maddison could be creating more – with 23 shot assists on the season so far, only two have qualified as “big chances” according to SofaScore. Ayoze Perez has not quite brought the explosiveness we saw in his Newcastle days over to the King Power Stadium, but his three-goal haul is also proving important early on.
VERDICT: Mahrez/Albrighton – while this duo was sorely one-sided, the season Riyad Mahrez had for Leicester City that title-winning campaign was an attacking display for the ages. Maddison is an extremely solid future asset contributing at a high level for such a young age, but he still has distance to cover to reach the heights of Mahrez that fateful year, who finished as the highest rated player in the entire league according to WhoScored.com.
STRIKER – Jamie Vardy (15/16) vs. Jamie Vardy (19/20)
Alongside Schmeichel, Jamie Vardy is the face of Leicester City. His out-of-nothing story makes him special to Leicester City fans, and his goalscoring prowess has been critical to the club ever since they were promoted to the Premier League. Vardy has made a career of scoring out of nothing – his top-flight career has seen him score 91 goals, a massive +11.5 differential over his 79.5 career xG.
Yet, a closer look provides a fascinating underscore of the evolution of the 32-year-old’s career. This season, in just 12 matches, Vardy has bagged 11 goals on an xG of just 5.19, meaning nearly 6 of that +11 career differential has come just this campaign. The Foxes striker is taking just two shots per 90 minutes, and yet has scored on nearly half of them – absolutely astronomical conversion numbers that are surely unsustainable, even if Vardy’s career has been built on exceptional finishing.
While those numbers are surely inflated by the relatively small sample size of 12 matches this year, they aren’t all that different from the title-winning season. That campaign, Vardy took 115 shots – 3.28 per game – and scored on 24 of them, and his 0.19 xG per shot is quite close to the 0.21 he is putting up this season. Most interesting, he scored 18 of those 24 goals with his right foot, a variance which has evened out this season as Vardy becomes more competent with his off side – four goals with his right, four with his left, and two with his head.
VERDICT: 15/16 Vardy – This season’s Jamie Vardy just isn’t shooting at the volume you’d expect from a striker of his finishing caliber, and he needs to find a higher volume if he wants to keep up the ridiculous goal conversion rate that will surely regress towards the mean.
It is impossible to discuss the epic season Leicester City had in 2015/16 without talking about Leonard Ulloa and Shinji Okazaki, who combined came off the bench 30 times in league play and were often called upon to rescue points. Andy King became a club icon as a Leicester City youth product who fans took a liking to, brought off the bench 16 times himself to close a game down.
Brendan Rodgers has Demari Gray and Harvey Barnes at his disposal to inject life into a game, while Hamza Choudhury is a talented young player who has shown flashes of being able to do the job himself should anything happen to Ndidi. Still, Grey – who was a member of that title-winning squad – has not become the star many thought he would a few years ago and Barnes is still showing his age at 21 years old. The group has yet to become true super-subs and Rodgers has been somewhat forced to run with his main group – five players have played every minute of this Premier League campaign so far (Schmeichel, Soyuncu, Evans, Vardy, Pereira) while another (Tielemans) is has seen just seven minutes of rest.
VERDICT: 2015/16 – It felt like every time Ranieri called upon the cavalry, they would deliver in the given situation. Gray has yet to develop into the player many believed he would years ago, and Barnes is still a raw product.
Ranieri takes over for Di Francesco for the second time this calendar year, having served as Roma caretaker manager in March after Di Francesco was fired. The Italian’s first match in charge of Sampdoria will come against Roma next Sunday on his 68th birthday.
The former Leicester City and Fulham boss reportedly signs on a two-year contract with an option to terminate should the team be relegated. Sampdoria has been a fixture in Serie A since 1950, relegated four times in that span but only spending 11 combined seasons outside the top flight in that span.
Aside from winning the Premier League with the Foxes against all odds, Ranieri has won silverware with Valencia and Fiorentina, plus lower-league silverware at Cagliari and Monaco.
According to reports, a pair of other managers in Stefano Pioliand Gennaro Gattuso both turned down the position before Ranieri accepted. Pioli accepted the AC Milan position just three days ago, while Gattuso reportedly considered the job before turning it down. Former Sampdoria manager Marco Giampaolo became available after being fired at AC Milan just days ago, but Serie A rules stipulate that a manager can only work for one top flight club in a season.
Sampdoria has been miserable this season, scoring just four goals while conceding 16 through the first seven matches of the season. Their lone win, a 1-0 victory over Torino in late September, is sandwiched by a pair of three-game losing streaks. For what it’s worth, their early-season schedule has been difficult, with home defeats to Lazio and Fiorentina plus a home loss to Napoli. Things get a bit easier for Ranieri despite the opener against Roma, facing just one more top-seven side before meeting Juventus in late December.
Ranieri takes over at his eighth club in Italy, having won silverware in four countries. The latest was Leicester City’s amazing run to the 2015-16 Premier League crown, while he’s won Ligue 2 with Monaco, Serie B with Fiorentina, and the Copa del Rey with Valencia
While Di Francesco is a very good manager, he did not have the love of the room. Perhaps Ranieri can at least restore Samp to its mid-table place.