Flying foxes turn Premier League upside down
December 16, 2015 | Filed Under: Blog
At the start of the season, the Premier League had an air of predictability about it.
The big four of Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United, who occupied the top four league positions at the end of last season, were all investing heavily, and it seemed unlikely that their closest challengers would threaten to break that dominance.
Pundits speculated about whether Liverpool could rebuild and challenge despite not having the kind of financial force that allowed City to poach Raheem Sterling from them for £49 million, or whether Ronald Koeman could steer Southampton to another remarkable season despite having relatively meagre resources at his disposal.
Few dared to pick out a team from the bottom half of the table that might upset the Premier League applecart and break into the top four, and the odds on that team being Leicester City were so long that you’d have needed nerves of steel to bet on Claudio Ranieri’s men being the side to make the leap.
Leicester finished the 2014/15 season in 14th place, just six points clear of relegated Hull City, and 21 points behind Liverpool in sixth place. As the new season neared, the odds on Leicester to be relegated were 11/4 at some bookmakers, where you could also get odds of 1000/1 on the Foxes finishing in the top four, and 5000/1 on them winning the Premier League title outright.
But what a difference half a season makes. Leicester have been the country’s form team, losing just once in the Premier League and picking up deserved victories over the likes of West Ham, Crystal Palace, Newcastle and Chelsea. At the time of writing, they sit at the top of the Premier League with 16 games played, and bookmakers frantically adjusting their odds on Leicester’s potential achievements this season, recognising the fact that no team in Premier League history has been top at this stage of the season and gone on to finish lower than fourth in the table.
Since the start of the season, odds on Leicester have been slashed everywhere, and if you visit 32Red on mobile here you’ll find them priced to finish in the top six, but if you want to take a punt on them being relegated, you can also have a look at those odds at 32Red, Betway and any other bookmaker.
It would take a remarkable unravelling to see Leicester’s season collapse from this point, given that they have already amassed 35 Premier League points with 22 games left to play. In his post-match interviews, Claudio Ranieri continually speaks of the golden target of 40 points that will secure his side’s safety from relegation. He surely knows in his mind that his side are in no danger whatsoever of being dragged into a relegation battle, but the wily Italian is doing everything he can to keep expectations low at the King Power Stadium, where Leicester fans who have become used to being a Premier League yo-yo side over the years are now dreaming of glory.
Rather than benefiting from an influx of expensive signings, Leicester’s success so far has been built on a group of players that have been gelled by an astute manager who knows this division. Ranieri’s guidance has allowed certain players, previously viewed as steady Premier League professionals at best, to flourish and blossom into some of the game’s hottest properties.
The man getting all the plaudits is record-breaking striker Jamie Vardy, whose rags-to-riches story has had parents on the terraces explaining to their children who Roy of the Rovers was and why Vardy reminds them so much of him. Just four years ago, Vardy moved from FC Halifax Town in the Conference North, where he had scored 27 goals in 37 games, to Fleetwood Town in the Conference Premier. He plundered 31 goals in 36 league games for Fleetwood and was snapped up by Leicester for a non-league record fee of £1 million.
It has taken Vardy three seasons to find his feet, netting four in 26 in his first term, before improving in 2013/14 when he scored 16 league goals in 37 games. Last season he was quiet, scoring just five times as Leicester struggled, but now he is on fire, and earlier this season he broke Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record for goals scored in consecutive Premier League games, finding the net in 11 back-to-back games.
Leicester’s recent victory over Chelsea might be considered Leicester’s biggest scalp yet in any ordinary season, but this is no ordinary season. Jose Mourinho’s champions are a shadow of the team that won the league by eight points last season, when they were undefeated all campaign at Stamford Bridge.
That Vardy and his in-form teammate Riyad Mahrez were able to pick their way through Chelsea’s defence and score easily to secure a 2-1 win came as little surprise to anyone who has watched the Blues capitulate at the back with frightening regularity this season.