Leicester success saga continues with title triumph but Man Utd top four hopes go on
Lee Gormley | May 1, 2016
Foxes fairytale ending prolonged
Twelve months ago, Leicester City were battling to avoid relegation from the Premier League under former boss Nigel Pearson, with a surge of form in the final few weeks seeing them avoid dropping down divisions and finish six points adrift of the 2014/15 drop zone.
The Foxes had clawed their way to safety, with this being considered success for a side that had stormed to Championship supremacy the season prior, finishing the campaign with an impressive 102 points, but those previous heroics seem a distant memory now.
Claudio Ranieri was written off before he had even stepped foot in the King Power Stadium dugout for his maiden league game in charge against Sunderland, but against all odds (5000/1 with Coral at the start of the season to be exact), the Italian has guided Leicester to arguably the greatest success story in top-flight history.
With the recent 1-1 stalemate at Old Trafford, the Foxes closed in on doing the unthinkable and secured another point towards simply an unbelievable victory, one which eventually cost British bookmakers an incredible £20m after Tottenham failed to beat Chelsea, as they bare the brunt of this Foxes fairytale ending.
For those lucky enough to have backed that mammoth aforementioned price early before Leicester’s miraculous run started to become a stunning reality, a huge payout awaits, but the unfortunate punters who missed out can try to get involved for next term, with the soon-to-be champions now 33/1 to retain that deserved crown in 2016/17.
What next for Ranieri and his heroes?
Leicester’s line-up against Man Utd cost around £200m less than their opponents’, though they sit comfortably at the summit with their amazing victory, while the Red Devils challenge for a Champions League position in this season run-in and hope to end over a decade-long wait for an FA Cup triumph later this year.
Ranieri, the man that has masterminded such an incredible campaign, is undoubtedly set for many personal honours and financial rewards when the curtain closes on this fantasy 12 months, with the club’s final game set to bring with it plenty of individual redemption too.
The now much-adored Italian was dismissed from his previous Chelsea duties in 2004, with owner Roman Abramovich seeing eventual replacement Jose Mourinho as a more suitable leader to guide them to domestic silverware. This being despite Ranieri having built the strong core of the eventual successful Blues side and improved results season on season while in charge.
Although, fittingly, Leicester’s final game of the campaign comes against Ranieri’s old employers at Stamford Bridge, where he and his heroic squad of players will be presented with the Premier League title, while Chelsea can only look up from mid-table obscurity.
Italy role on the horizon?
The Rome-born tactician has enjoyed success with past clubs in his managerial career, most notably with Valencia in the 1990s, but his exploits with Leicester will see the now 64-year-old go down in top-flight folklore. So what’s next for the veteran boss?
Now in his sixties, Ranieri could well be tempted into taking the less demanding role of national coach after Antonio Conte completes his Euro 2016 duties before taking up the tainted Chelsea job, an Azzurri position which may suit the man previously dubbed ‘the Tinker Man’.
Ranieri’s remarkable success has been instrumented with the talents of Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, Kasper Schmeichel and a group of players that managed to escape relegation last term, as well as brilliant bargain buys last summer, including French midfield enforcer N’Golo Kante.
Each star of the Foxes set-up has their own sensational underdog story. Vardy going from non-league forward to unstoppable top-tier marksman, Mahrez from stuttering Championship substitute to 2016 PFA Player of the Year and Kante becoming the Premier League’s best defensive midfielder after previously helping Caen beat Ligue 1 relegation.
Vardy and co hot property
Such success has captured the hearts and imaginations of football fans worldwide this season, but Leicester will now face another tough task in retaining the services of their crucial cogs in from this wonderful winning machine.
The likes of skipper and gallant centre back Wes Morgan, who netted the equaliser against Man Utd, and Argentine poacher Leonardo Ulloa are likely to remain loyal at the King Power Stadium, but dynamic playmaker Mahrez and co have propelled themselves into pole position for moves elsewhere, if desired.
If Ranieri remains at the Leicester helm, after a sensational 2015/16 season, anything is possible, and the Italian may be able to persuade his reliant heroes to stay put, with focus then switching to emulating past glory.
Though, following what has taken place this term, there’s no questioning Manchester City (13/8 favourites for 2017 title success), Man Utd, Tottenham and Arsenal will all strengthen in the summer to boost prospects for what could be another truly mesmerising Premier League campaign.
What next for Red Devils?
In seasons gone by, Man Utd fans have become used to seeing their team go into the final games of a season in search of points which should clinch title glory, but they saw the current Red Devils crop take to proceedings against Leicester looking for a win to bolster chances of a European position for next term.
A single point on home turf against the likely title victors means top four hopes hang in the balance, with an FA Cup win being the most desired outcome at this point of an indifferent campaign. Although failure to reach Europe’s elite club competition would be a sickening blow to potential summer transfers, and also finances.
Dutch boss Van Gaal was entrusted with a substantial warchest last summer, and he delivered plenty of big names and promising captures to boost morale and hope within the club’s passionate fanbase. Though, many of those signings have proved to be underwhelming to say the least, compared to Leicester’s massively cheaper surprise packages.
After setting the Eredivisie alight, former PSV ace Memphis Depay was hailed as a potential superstar at Old Trafford, but as recent history has proved, for every Ruud van Nistlerooy that comes from the Netherlands’ top tier, there are also many more Mateja Kezmans.
Whether the talented winger will stick around for another term to prove himself remains to be seen, though he isn’t the only one to struggle. World Cup winner and Germany captain Bastian Schweinsteiger has been plagued with injury and hasn’t made the impact expected, while Matteo Darmian has impressed on occasion.
Van Gaal seeks cup coup
Things really didn’t go to plan on Man Utd’s return to the Champions League, as they haplessly exited at the group stage last year, when the frustration around the new signings’ form became apparent, and Van Gaal feeling the full force of that annoyance.
Although, ending the 12-year wait for an FA Cup victory will help ease that previous irritation, and such success will see United’s Dutch boss secure a domestic cup crown in a fourth country, following wins in his homeland, Germany and Spain.
The Red Devils are of course massive 3/10 favourites to triumph at Wembley under a coach that is adamant he is staying put in the red half of Manchester, despite ever increasing speculation surrounding the potential appointment of out-of-work mentor Mourinho.
Another season in the Europa League rather than its more rewarding sister competition could further damage the Man Utd brand and an already difficult path towards reinstating themselves as a top force in European football.
An FA Cup win will of course ease the pain of missing out on Europe’s top billing for a while, if the Red Devils cannot reach that goal, but in the long-term it’s obvious which is more productive for the club as a whole.
While the recent sharing of points at Old Trafford may have a significant bearing on Man Utd’s finish to this season, it simply just slowed Leicester’s eventual title success down, as they achieved sporting immortality on Monday night.
The Foxes’ remarkable Premier League success story is likely to have been a spectacular one-off like no other, one which may never be seen again, rather than the beginning of a switch in silverware dominance for years to come. But then again, after this rollercoaster campaign, odds and probabilities now mean very little.