Tag Archives: Riyad Mahrez

Key games in the Leicester miracle (part 2)

This is part two of my list of key games in Leicester City’s amazing Premier League title winning season. I will list what were in my opinion the key games (not all Leicester’s) from the second half of the season (January 2nd – May 2nd).

1. Tottenham 0 Leicester 1. This game won by a goal from unlikely scorer Robert Huth was important first because it ended a slight wobble (no goals in Leicester’s last three League games) and second it was an away win against the team that turned out to be their main rivals for the title.

2. Leicester 3 Stoke 0. Important because Vardy ended a six game goalless streak and this win took Leicester back to the top of the table where – as it turned out – they would stay.

3. Arsenal 0 Chelsea 1. Arsenal could have knocked Leicester off the top spot the very next day. But their fragile temperament was exposed again. An early red card for Per Mertesacker and a goal by Diego Costa gave outgoing champions Chelsea the “double” over Arsenal and raised question marks about Arsenal’s ability to sustain a title challenge.

4. Leicester 2 Liverpool 0. Two goals by Vardy – one a goal of the season candidate – gave Leicester revenge over one of the two teams to have beaten them in the League and maintained their three point lead.

5. Arsenal 0 Southampton 0. Another bad night for Arsenal. They huffed and puffed but ran into a great performance from Saints keeper Fraser Forster. Arsenal were now five points behind Leicester and to their fans horror were below bitter rivals Tottenham in the table.

6. Manchester City 1 Leicester 3. This was the game. The game that made people sit up and take Leicester seriously. A seriously impressive performance with two goals by Huth and one by Mahrez put Leicester five points clear at the top. City would have gone top had they won but this game led to the end of their title challenge.

7. Arsenal 2 Leicester 1. Heartbreak for Leicester. 1-0 up and playing well until Danny Simpson was sent off. Even so Leicester looked like hanging on for a deserved point until sub Danny Wellbeck scored in the fifth minute of injury time. Arsenal celebrated like they had won the League – even taking dressing room selfies! A kick to the solar plexus for Leicester who now faced a real test of character.

8. Manchester City 1 Tottenham 2. This game showed that Tottenham were for real. Goals by Harry Kane and Erik Lamela gave Tottenham a huge win a “double” over City and meant there were just two points between Leicester, Tottenham and Arsenal at the top of the table. The heat was on…

9. Leicester 1 Norwich 0. And this was one of the key games of the season. Leicester struggled for 89 minutes and looked like dropping two points. But instead substitute Leonardo Ulloa scored to give Leicester the ugly, late 1-0 win that Ferguson’s Manchester United and Mourinho’s Chelsea specialised in. Wins like this win titles.

10. Manchester United 3 Arsenal 2. Another disaster for Arsenal embarrassed by 18 year old Marcus Rashford who scored two and had one assist on his Premier League debut. Arsenal were now five points behind Leicester and in trouble.

The next three games were all on one night – March 2nd. Leicester had been held 2-2 by West Brom the previous night and Tottenham had a chance to go top of the table while Arsenal and City had a chance to make up ground. Incredibly they all lost.

11. West Ham 1 Tottenham 0. West Ham were the seasons spoilers and were at it again. On a raucous night at Upton Park a goal by Michail Antonio prevented Tottenham from going to the top of the table.

12. Arsenal 1 Swansea 2. Of all Arsenal’s flops this was the worst. Swansea prioritising their relegation six pointer against Norwich on the next Saturday fielded a weakened team lost an early goal and still grabbed a famous victory. The natives at the Emeriates were getting seriously restless.

13. Liverpool 3 Manchester City 0. City had beaten Liverpool in the League Cup Final the previous Sunday but Liverpool gained instant revenge with a crushing win. City were now ten points behind Leicester and after this incredible night Leicester’s title win started to seem – to quote WWE star Randy Orton –  “destiny”.

14. Tottenham 2 Arsenal 2. The biggest most hyped North London Derby in years produced a result that suited only Leicester. Tottenham should have won and gone to the top of the table – they were 2-1 up against ten men – but Alexis Sanchez’s late equaliser gave Arsenal a point. Instead of being top Tottenham ended the day five points behind after Leicester won 1-0 at Watford (Mahrez of course!)

15. Leicester 1 Newcastle 0. Leicester had one piece of luck towards the end of the season. They usually played before Tottenham so if they won the pressure was on Tottenham to catch up and if they slipped up Tottenham still had to win to take advantage. But on this occasion Tottenham played first. They won putting the pressure on Leicester. Add to that Newcastle – hitherto a shambles – had a new manager in Rafael Benitez and new managers sometimes give struggling teams a lift. But a brilliant bicycle kick goal by Shinji Okazaki restored Leicester’s five point cushion.

16. Liverpool 1 Tottenham 1. A point at Anfield is usually a good result but as Leicester were grinding out 1-0 wins Tottenham really needed a win. They played before Leicester this weekend but instead of cutting the lead to two points they only cut it to four. Next day Leicester had yet another 1-0 win – this time over Southampton. They were seven points clear with six games to play…

17. Leicester 2 West Ham 2. At half time Leicester were 1-0 up – Vardy again – and all was going well. Then Vardy got himself sent off for diving and everything changed. West Ham – who had played spoilers all season – scored in the 84th and 86th minutes to stun the King Power Stadium. But in the fifth minute of injury time Leicester were awarded a controversial penalty. Ulloa cooly converted to turn a morale denting defeat into a fighting draw. But Tottenham looked seriously impressive at Stoke the next night the gap was now five points and talismanic striker Vardy was suspended for two games (the extra game was for dissent after his sending off). The pressure was back on.

18. Leicester 4 Swansea 0. Leicester got a lucky break – an error by one of the best defenders in the League Ashley Williams who gave the ball to Mahrez of all people! – but once in front they played like Champions to score their biggest league win of the season. Tottenham had to catch up again…

19. Tottenham 1 West Brom 1. And they couldn’t. They took the lead in the first half but could not increase it and the longer the game went on the more nervous Tottenham got. When the equaliser came it was not a surprise. This meant if Leicester won at Old Trafford the title would be theirs…

20. Manchester United 1 Leicester 1. Which they could not do. But considering they fell behind had Danny Drinkwater sent off and they were playing a United team who had to win to help their own Champions League ambitions this was a good result. Captain Wes Morgan scored the goal that meant Tottenham had to win at Chelsea or the fairytale would come true.

21. Chelsea 2 Tottenham 2. And we know what happened here. Tottenham 2-0 up at half time looked like they would make Leicester have to beat Everton on Saturday to win the title. But like Liverpool at Crystal Palace on another May Monday night in 2014 they lost the lead and the plot ending the game with nine players being booked. And to show how amazing football is Chelsea’s equaliser was scored by last season’s player of the year Eden Hazard who had a terrible season just like his team. He had not scored a Premier League goal until Chelsea’s game at Bournemouth the previous week – Chelsea’s 34th game of the season. But his strike with seven minutes to go completed the fairytale and made him a Leicester hero.

So ends the story of what must be the most amazing story in football history. The Champions of Europe’s big five Leagues are Juventus, Paris Saint Germain, Bayern Munich*, either Barcelona, Atletico Madrid or Real Madrid, and Leicester City. It still does not seem right. But congratulations to Claudio Ranieri and his Leicester players. Whatever happens now they are in the history books for ever and will never be forgotten…

*Bayern have not yet clinched the German title but five points clear with two games to go a win at Ingolstadt on Saturday will clinch the title for Pep Guardiola’s team.

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Key games in the Leicester miracle (part 1)

The unthinkable has happened. Leicester City who started the season at 5000-1 to win the Premier League title, were favourites for relegation pre season and whose manager Claudio Ranieri was rated favourite to be the first Premier League manager to be sacked have won the Premier League. In my opinion the biggest shock in sport since Nottingham Forest won the title in 1978 (see previous post “Leicester’s success recalls another East Midlands Miracle”). I know you get shocks in sport. But they are usually in one off Cup ties or fights (ie Buster Douglas beating Mike Tyson or Holly Holm beating Ronda Rousey). But Leicester’s success is in a gruelling 38 game August to May marathon. There are no shortcuts to winning the title. Whoever wins it thoroughly deserves to. And Leicester do.

But how have they done it? I decided to pick out in my opinion what the key games were in the season (not all Leicester games).  This is quite a long list so I have split it in two. In this part : The key Premier League games in the first 19 rounds of matches (August 8- December 29).

1. Leicester 4 Sunderland 2. Must start with Leicester’s first game. Expected to achieve nothing but try and avoid relegation Leicester roared into a 3-0 lead in the first 25 minutes (two from Riyad Mahrez and one from Jamie Vardy a sign of things to come). The game finished 4-2 and can be called a declaration of intent. No one was paying attention for on the same day this happened…

2. Chelsea 2 Swansea 2. Enough has been written about this  game already but Chelsea’s failure to win and the Mourinho/Carneiro shambles was the first sign of a key early season event.  The implosion of the reigning champions. Arsenal fans enjoyed it. Until the next day…

3. Arsenal 0 West Ham 2. In a season of shocks the first one. Arsenal were convinced the signing of Petr Cech from Chelsea was the key to winning the title but his debut was poor and a West Ham team including 16 year old Reece Oxford produced a famous away win. Not their last either.

4. Manchester City 3 Chelsea 0.The first heavyweight clash of the season turned into a catch-weight contest. City were awesome Chelsea were awful. City looked like they would take advantage of Chelsea’s implosion and romp away with the title…

5. Chelsea 1 Crystal Palace 2. It’s one thing losing away to Manchester City but to Crystal Palace? At home? A sign that things were going seriously wrong for Chelsea.

6. Leicester 3 Aston Villa 2.This game defined two seasons. Since their first day win Leicester had won one and drew two without people noticing. When Villa were 2-0 up with 18 minutes to go it looked like Leicester’s unbeaten run was over. Instead goals by Ritchie de Laet, Vardy and Nathan Dyer propelled Leicester to a sensational victory. Leicester gained confidence, Villa lost it. In my opinion the key game of the season for both Leicester and Villa who went down without a whimper.

7. Chelsea 2 Arsenal 0. A sign of Arsenal’s mental fragility. The Gunners allowed themselves to be provoked by Diego Costa losing both the game and two men throwing doubts yet again on their ability to cope with the pressure of a title race.

8. Stoke 2 Leicester 2. Leicester up to their old tricks again. 2-0 down at half time but yet another fightback brought goals by Mahrez and Vardy and showed Leicester’s “never say die” spirit.

9. Manchester City 1 West Ham 2. City had won five out of five scoring eleven and conceding none. They looked unstoppable… until West Ham who had already won at Arsenal and Liverpool caused more mayhem going 2-0 up. City pulled one back before half time but their aura of invincibility had gone and did not return.

10. Southampton 2 Leicester 2. And again. By now Leicester had lost a game (2-5 to Arsenal) and people thought the bubble had burst. At St Mary’s they went 2-0 down (again) and fought back to claim a point (again) with Vardy scoring two (again). Leicester sending a message that they never give up!

11. Leicester 1 Crystal Palace 0. Vardy scored again (for the seventh game running) but this is more significant for it being  Leicester’s first clean sheet in their tenth game. Ranieri rewarded his players with pizzas!

12. Manchester United 0 Manchester City 0. A terrible game but I’ve mentioned it as it showed that the Manchester clubs – who had won four of the last five titles – were not the force they were and the title race was wide open…

13.  Chelsea 1 Liverpool 3. …Especially as Chelsea were not recovering. Jurgen Klopp’s first great result as Liverpool manager kept Chelsea marooned in the bottom half and piled the pressure on Mourinho.

14. Newcastle 0 Leicester 3. An easy win over a pathetic Newcastle with Vardy scoring for the tenth successive match equaling the Premier League record. I’ve mentioned this game as it was the day Leicester went top for the first time (November 21). Still they wouldn’t last long surely…

15. Stoke 2 Manchester City 0. And they didn’t. Held by Manchester United despite Vardy setting a Premier League record by scoring for the eleventh game in a row they lost top spot to the other half of Manchester. But the next week a terrible performance by City gave Stoke an easy win and if Leicester won that afternoon they would return to the top..

16. Swansea 0 Leicester 3. Which they did. Despite Vardy failing to score a hat trick by the brilliant Mahrez sent Leicester back to the top and cost Swansea manager Garry Monk his job. Still they had not beaten a big team said their critics…

17. Bournemouth 2 Manchester United 1. Although United were near the top of the table their performances had been poor and they had just been knocked out of the Champions League. An embarrassing defeat to Premier League new boys Bournemouth piled on the pressure on Louis van Gaal and United’s title ambitions faded away.

18. Leicester 2 Chelsea 1. A significant game as Leicester gained their first win of the season against one of the “big five”. Vardy and Mahrez scored in a game which is also significant for the fact Chelsea finally sacked Mourinho after this defeat. They only lost two more League games after this but it was far too late for them.

19. Everton 2 Leicester 3. Notable for the fact that this clinched Leicester top spot in the table on Christmas Day. But everyone thought they would come down with the decorations….

20. Southampton 4 Arsenal 0…Especially when Leicester lost at Liverpool on Boxing Day. If Arsenal won at Southampton they would go top. But they crumpled to a humiliating defeat that caused more questions about their ability to sustain a title bid. They would end 2015 top when Leicester and Manchester City drew 0-0 but still with lots of questions to answer.

21. Manchester United 0 Chelsea 0. The Premier League’s fallen giants showing how far they had fallen. It was clear after this game that the duo who had won all but two of the titles since 2005 were not going to win it this season and that the door was wide open. Even for little old Leicester…

Part two coming up….

Leicester’s success recalls another East Midlands miracle

The Leicester City bandwagon shows no sign of crashing. Quite the opposite in fact. The surprise Premier League leaders looked seriously impressive in beating Manchester City 3-1 at the Etihad on Saturday to go five (repeat five) points clear at the top of the Premier League table. For the first time the bookmakers have Claudio Ranieri’s team as title favourites (at odds of 7-4). If results go their way on Sunday when the top four play each other Leicester could go seven points clear (if they win at Arsenal and the Manchester City v Tottenham game is a draw). We would really have to take them seriously as title contenders.

If Leicester do go on to win the title it would be the biggest shock in English football since Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest won Division One (what the top division was called before the formation of the Premier League in 1992) in 1977-78. It is fascinating to compare the two as there are similarities between the two teams – and differences.

The key similarity between Leicester and Forest is that both teams were lucky to be in the top division at all. First Leicester. On March 21st 2015 they lost 4-3 at Tottenham. It left Leicester bottom of the table after 29 games with just 19 points and four wins all season. They were seven points short of safety and were doomed to relegation unless something remarkable happened. Which it did. Leicester won seven out of their last nine games and drew another. Only champions Chelsea beat them. They finished on 41 points six points clear of the bottom three. They won more points (22) in their last nine games than they did in the first twenty nine (19).

If that was remarkable Forest’s story was even more astonishing. On May 7th 1977 they played their last Division Two game of the season, beating Millwall 1-0 – the goal was an own goal another piece of luck. They were in third place in the table (the top three went up without play offs in those days). But Forest were not promoted yet. Nearest rivals Bolton were two points behind with two games to play (it was two points for a win at the time). Three points from those two games and Bolton would go up instead of Forest. But on May 14th 1977 Bolton lost 0-1 at home to Wolves and Forest were promoted while they were in Spain (not the first time this happened to Clough. In 1972 his Derby team needed Arsenal and Leeds not to win in order to win the Division One title. Incredibly neither did and Derby were champions. They clinched the title when they were in Spain just as Forest were in Spain when they clinched promotion. Clough was indisputably a great manager. But he was also lucky).

Understandably neither Leicester or Forest were given much of a chance of doing much. Especially as in the case of Leicester they changed their manager in the summer of 2015 when after a racism scandal in Thailand which saw his son sacked manager Nigel Pearson was also sacked. He was replaced by Ranieri best known for being the first Chelsea manager of the Roman Abramovich era.

But Leicester and Forest both got off to fliers. And here again two similarities. Both Forest and Leicester got off to fliers but were written off. A joke about Leicester were they were like the elephant at the top of a tree. No one knew how they got there but we know they’ll fall down eventually.  Both Forest and Leicester’s first defeats were against Arsenal and heavy (0-3 for Forest and 2-5 for Leicester) and when those defeats happened it was thought Forest and Leicester would collapse. Neither did. On October 4th 1977 Forest went to the top of the table and were never headed again. But it was not until they beat Manchester United 4-0 at Old Trafford on December 17th that they became title favourites. Leicester first hit the top of the table on November 21st 2015. Since then they have been never lower than second or more than two points behind the leaders. And (as I mentioned earlier) they became title favourites with a win in Manchester just like Forest.

Whether Leicester emulate Forest remains to be seen. But there are similarities between the two teams namely the managerial skills of Ranieri and Clough and unknown players rising to unexpected heights. For Leicester the attacking success of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy plus the less heralded contributions of Danny Drinkwater, Robert Huth and Kasper Schmeichel. For Forest the emergence of players like Tony Woodcock and John Robertson as First Division quality players.

Also both were shrewd in the transfer market. Mahrez and Vardy were bought for cheap fees. Forest signed Kenny Burns and Larry Lloyd for cheap fees because they were considered to be a trouble maker and past his best respectively. Only Clough thought differently and was rewarded.

But if Leicester win the League it will be a far better achievement. First apart from Liverpool the big clubs were not as good as they are now. Arsenal, Chelsea and both Manchester clubs weren’t as highly placed and Tottenham were in Division Two. Secondly Forest were not a poor club. For all Clough’s managerial skills would they have won the League had they not signed Peter Shilton the best keeper in England and a player arguably worth ten points a season for £250000? That was a big fee at the time – the UK transfer record was then £440,000 which Liverpool paid Celtic for Kenny Dalglish. And less than a year after winning the title in February 1979 they became the first British club to pay a million pounds for a player when they signed Trevor Francis. Leicester will not be breaking the British transfer record anytime soon. While Forest’s success was remarkable it was due to a great manager in Clough. Most teams that win the title for the first time in ages or ever win because of a great manager (Clough at Derby and Forest, Alf Ramsey at Ipswich  and Don Revie at Leeds to name but three) or a rich benefactor (Blackburn, Chelsea and Manchester City). Leicester have neither. Ranieri has never won a League title in a long career. Leicester’s Thai owners have not thrown money around. The team that beat City cost £22 million which by current standards is peanuts. Liverpool flop Christian Benteke cost £32 million on his own. If Leicester win the title there is a case for saying it would be the best achievement in UK football history.