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PST and the ultimate Leicester City roundtable: How did we get here?

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No one’s catching the Foxes, and their story hasn’t ruined anything about this special Premier League campaign (aside from the dreams of Spurs and Arsenal fans).

Leicester City’s run often gets the label of “fairytale” thanks to its marvelous manager and a trio of afterthought superstars in N'Golo Kante, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez.

[ EUROPA: Villarreal 1-0 Liverpool | Shakhtar 2-2 Sevilla ]

Barring the most ridiculous finish in ages, one more absurd than the Foxes’ run to get here, Leicester will be the Premier League champions. From Ted Lasso quip to the UEFA Champions League… what is going on here?

PST’s staff discusses.


Nick Mendola: Obviously this Leicester City run is very difficult to describe and even harder to put in perspective. So let’s start here: What is your favorite thing about this remarkable Foxes season?

Joe Prince-Wright: My favorite thing about this season has to be seeing the looks on the faces of Leicester’s fans. Having been at the KP and in and around the city on a match day, it is electric. Everyone is smiling, the team has given them so much joy and to me, that’s what sport and football is about. The fans. The atmosphere they generate leaves the stadium shaking, mini earthquakes have been recorded nearby and the players have all responded to the incredible support.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: A beer called 'Vardy's Volley' on sale in a city center pub. General views in and around Leicester on April 26, 2016 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

[ PL DOWNLOAD: The Leicester City story ]

Although it’s been wonderful to see the gentleman that is Claudio Ranieri work his magic with a squad many had pegged for relegation at the start of the season, seeing the overjoyed reaction of Leicester fans young and old has been my favorite thing. You can tell they are in dreamland.

Kyle Bonn: I can’t get enough of Claudio. Let’s not kid ourselves, Leicester has been the beneficiary of a cannibalistic league season and a spotless bill of health (which can’t be understated). But the way Ranieri has brought a band of professional athletes together to fight for one another is unparalleled in this profession. Jose Mourinho was often hailed as an expert in manipulating the media to his benefit. Ranieri instead has proven a mastermind in player psychology. His tactics have also been world-class this season, but seeing him bring this squad together through plenty of adversity is marvelous.

[ EUROPA FALLOUT: Klopp reacts | No Sturridge? ]

NM: I’ve stopped worrying about the American sports equivalent of Leicester, because salary caps sure stop the comparison from being interesting at all. But I do wonder who is the U.S. sports version of Claudio Ranieri, N’Golo Kante, and Jamie Vardy? Which coach over here could say some of the things Ranieri did — think “Dilly Ding, Dilly Dong” — and not be laughed out of the room as “not serious enough”? Culture clash, sure, but this guy is a special breed.

Leicester City's Claudio Ranieri takes to the touchline before his team's English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England, Saturday Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
(AP Photo/Jon Super)

Matt Reed: I think it’s interesting how people have tried to compare Leicester’s improbable run to other sports, but realistically I love their story because we’ve never seen a Leicester before. You’re talking about a team that has only two multi-goal losses all season. Even in what some may consider a down season in the PL, that is still something to tip your hat to. Then, there’s obviously the players. You have guys like Christian Fuchs, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, who all wear their heart on their sleeve and you can truly see their raw emotions when they play. What’s not to like about this team?

NM: The thing about a new ‘power’ is that there isn’t a lot of real emotional tumult when they win, especially when you consider that rivals in Nottingham Forest and Derby County aren’t even in the Premier League. And the marvelous thing for other teams’ supporters, aside from Arsenal and Spurs, is that they can take this sort of pride in Leicester’s story like, “My club didn’t win this year, but a mostly inoffensive side has done it! Take that, other teams I hate.”
And aside from some referee’s decisions and Jamie Vardy’s unfortunate casino incident, there’s such little controversy.
KB: Well, Claudio Ranieri reminds me a lot of Lon Kruger. Maybe not with some of the funny stuff he says, because Kruger isn’t known for that, but think about it. Lon is a player’s coach who is loved by every fan base he’s touched. He’s come close to championships (2 Final Fours, 1 Elite 8) but has never won one. And he’s always wearing a smile. They’re very similar to me. I hope Lon wins a title someday because he deserves it, and Ranieri deserves this one this year.
Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri congratulates Daniel Drinkwater, right, and Ngolo Kante, left, after the English Premier League soccer match between Leicester City and Newcastle United at the King Power Stadium in Leicester, England, Monday, March 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
(AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

As far as the players, it’s hard to say. Kurt Warner comes to mind when thinking of Vardy’s improbable rise, but their personalities don’t really line up. Kante can be likened to a guy like Howard Griffith. A 9th round draft pick, Griffith ended up as a bruiser out of the backfield, a guy who wasn’t a big name given that he was lining up behind future Hall of Famer John Elway and lead blocking for Broncos superstar Terrell Davis, but he was a crucial part of that offense in the trenches and ended up scoring 2 touchdowns in Super Bowl XXXII, one of 2 Super Bowls he’d win.

KB: I have a question for everyone that I also think makes for a fascinating topic:
Will Leicester have staying power at the top of the league, or will they suffer a quick demise?
I hate that I’m saying this, but I think their time at the top is short-lived. Countless teams new to the top have found the fixture congestion with European play impossible to navigate, and Leicester’s bill of health this season was practically unparalleled. Nobody got hurt. There’s no way their fortune remains that high through next year. Depth is nearly impossible for many smaller clubs to attain, so I think they may be doomed. I hope I’m wrong.
MR: I think you bring up a great point, Kyle. I’ve been asking myself this all season long, and I think this also plays into how special their season is. They could very well be a one hit wonder considering the coaching additions of Conte and Guardiola at Chelsea and City. You’d imagine there will be retooling jobs with Man United, Arsenal and Liverpool as well.
WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - APRIL 11: Jamie Vardy of Leicester City (R) with Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City (L) celebrates scoring the third goal with team mates during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Leicester City at The Hawthorns on April 11, 2015 in West Bromwich, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
In most cases, outside of Messi and Ronaldo, one or two players don’t make a team but in Leicester’s case I think Vardy and Mahrez do. You can throw Kante in there as well. I’m not sure if they’ll be able to keep all these guys, but if they don’t this has been one heck of a ride.

JPW: I was with you on this theory for quite some time, Kyle. And although I don’t think Leicester will repeat this season or even finish in the top four again… I think they have the financial muscle of their Thai-based owners to really go out and spend big and potentially make it out of the UCL group stage next season. After all, with the way the tournament seeds are now picked, Leicester will be a top seed. In theory, they should make it to the last 16. Should be some memorable European nights at the KP.

The biggest concern is adding too many players this summer. They have to get the balance right. Throwing this out there to the group: what if they sold Mahrez, Kante and Vardy this summer? How disappointing would that be? Or is that the harsh reality of the big boys having more cash? For me, I can’t understand why they’d pass up the opportunity to see this through and stay one more season to play in the Champions League with Leicester. I know money talks… But come on!

NM: There are similarities to a sophomore slump in other sports here. On top of Leicester’s issues dealing with the European schedule, the Foxes also have to negotiate the opposition spending all summer learning what worked best against them.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02: Ngolo Kante of Leicester City and Roberto Firmino of Liverpool compete for the ball 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 Michael Regan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Kante is their MVP, and he’s going to fetch Leicester a load of dough. I have concerns whether he can go at his breakneck pace and physical play without facing injury woes (long-term). They should cash in on a 29-year-old Vardy to be honest and do whatever they can to hold onto Mahrez. Then find someone to slot in next to Drinkwater — maybe Idrissa Gueye, who’s been massively overlooked because Aston Villa has been a trash tornado — and find a pair of hard-working strikers to help adapt and stay in the top half.

It will be very difficult, but it won’t be hard for the club to stay in the mix for European qualification. In a way, though, that makes the story even better. This is a perfect storm, a force of nature, not a manufactured storm like Blackburn in the mid-1990s.

Kyle Lynch: I think you also have to remember how poor the rest of the league was this season. Teams dropped a lot of points you wouldn’t expect, and it’s hard to imagine things don’t shift a little bit back to “normal” next year.

With the money coming in this summer, you know the top teams are going to spend big, and Leicester shouldn’t be afraid to either. But what makes Leicester so great is their spirit and togetherness as a team, so the ownership has to be careful not to disrupt that. With Champions League matches and the uncertainty of injuries, I don’t know if they’ll be playing in Europe for more than one season.

NM: The rub on Kyle’s point here has two big points.

1) Leicester will need to start well and pile up points before the Champions League group stage begins, and they’ll likely have to do it while integrating new players. It’s easy to forget that the Foxes didn’t find their true title form until Ranieri found Kante’s spot on the pitch (He started on the left, and also played a bit more advance before settling alongside Drinkwater).

during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Southampton at Goodison Park on April 16, 2016 in Liverpool, England.

2) It’s not just the big boys seeing that influx of money. Clubs like Swansea, Stoke, Southampton and Everton all have zero reason not to spend more than their usual. That’s also why being one of the 20 clubs in the league next season is so critical for all the Championship promotion chasers, and the three teams hoping to avoid one of the final two relegation spot.

But now we’re talking way too much about the future. The title’s not even clinched yet! What a year… and what could still remain in the Leicester City tale?

Leicester City 4-0 Swansea City: Mahrez, Ulloa move Foxes eight points clear

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Well, it turns out Leicester City isn’t a one-man team. Not that there was any doubt.

Without Jamie Vardy, the Foxes grabbed a pair of goals from his replacement Leonardo Ulloa and another from Riyad Mahrez as they stormed Swansea City 3-0 at the King Power Stadium to move eight points ahead of Tottenham at the top of the table.

The game took some time to build off the opening whistle, but a cataclysmic moment for Swansea was all Leicester needed to move in front. Mahrez stole a horrible Ashley Williams pass in the Swansea defensive third, and the Foxes went in front as Mahrez slotted it into the bottom corner for a 1-0 lead.

It was a disastrous moment for Swansea, who have relied on Williams for years as their defensive rock, but his lumped ball struck Mahrez in the torso, and the Leicester attacker was able to settle and do the rest.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

As Leicester maintained possession while holding the lead, the King Power Stadium was absolutely exploding with noise. Leicester City got a second on the half-hour mark as captain Wes Morgan won a free-kick on the left flank, and the free-kick by Daniel Drinkwater met Leonardo Ulloa’s head, and the man in place of Jamie Vardy scored.

The move was all made possible by a mind-boggling run from Swansea defender Federico Fernandez, who ran around the back of the pack and played three Foxes onside as Drinkwater sent in the ball. Had he stood his ground, the flag would have gone up.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Swansea moved into the ascendency as Leicester hoped to hold at 2-0 until halftime. Gylfi Sigurdsson took a free-kick from straight on with less than five minutes to the break, and his swerving, bouncing effort was turned aside by Kasper Schmeichel.

Leicester wrapped it up in the 60th minute as Schmeichel distributed to Jeffrey Schlupp down the left. Schlupp took Fernandez to school, freeing him to go for goal. He looked to find Ulloa streaking down the other end of the box, and while his first attempt at a cross was blocked, Schlupp worked to get it back, and Ulloa tapped it in with a slide to the post.

For posterity, the Foxes grabbed one more with five minutes to go as substitute Marc Albrighton finished a selfless bit of play by fellow substitutes Demarai Gray and Andy King. Gray found King at the far post with a lofted cross, and while King’s header back in front of net for Albrighton missed its target, it fell back to Schlupp. His initial effort rebounded to Albrighton who crashed home Leicester’s fourth.

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The only worry for Leicester in the match would be the end of Ulloa’s day, which came early due to what appeared to be a back problem. He was substituted off in the 79th minute in clear pain, and should Vardy find himself suspended extra matches, it could leave Claudio Ranieri with a lack of strikers.

All in all, it was a stunning response by Leicester to the draw last time out, and the Foxes moved a whopping eight points clear of Tottenham, although Spurs have a game in hand. The magic number for Leicester City is now five, meaning a combination of five points for Leicester and dropped by Spurs would officially hand the Foxes the title.

Swansea, meanwhile, has little to play for, already safe on 40 points in 14th position but without another target to aim at.