The Premier League In Review: It’s Leicester City, After All
In the end, what is as stunning as anything else is the way in which they won it. There was no Hollywood-esque script written around this weekend’s fixtures – as the assorted press who turned up in Leicester city centre yesterday on the off-chance that the local team would win at Old Trafford – and, whilst much of the media hung around an extra twenty-four hours waiting for their story, when it came, it came without Leicester City even needing to kick a ball. And if that sounds less than complimentary, it isn’t intended to be. To win anything with, say, a last minute goal or a desperately clung on for point on the last day of the season is bad for the blood pressure and good for the headline writers, to win with a degree of comfort is the mark of a team of true champions. And true champions Leicester City undoubtedly are.
Last night was the night when the pressure finally got to Tottenham Hotspur. A team that has, for the most part this season, been brilliantly organised and studiously disciplined lost its head at Stamford Bridge last night. A sign perhaps of the relative youth of the team, perhaps, but also a mark of the shortcomings that ultimately prevented the Premier League title from heading to North London. To lose a two goal lead in a match of such importance is hardly a dereliction of duty, particularly when the opposition have got themselves fired up for this match in a manner that has been largely conspicuous by its absence for much of the Premier League season, but Spurs supporters could well be forgiven for wondering how different the end of this season might have been looking had Spurs taken more than four points from their four matches against Arsenal and Chelsea.
On Sunday afternoon, Leicester themselves had refused one last time to fit with the media’s most desired narrative. The sight of Claudio Ranieri’s team winning the league title at Old Trafford might have been the ultimate irony of a remarkable season, but this had to wait after they could only draw against a Manchester United team that seems slightly more alert than it did a couple of months ago, but not by very much. An early goal from Antony Martial was soon cancelled out by an equaliser from Wes Morgan, and from here on it felt a little as if both sides might be content to play for a draw, with Leicester comfortable in the knowledge that Chelsea would do all they could to prevent Spurs from getting the win that they needed the following day.
There didn’t appear to be any visible nerves on the part of the Leicester players, and it is perhaps this sang froid that has been the decisive factor amongst their players this season. When it has felt as though a step to trip on might be just around the corner, they have elegantly swerved it. Losing at Old Trafford might have caused some nerves to jangle. Picking up a draw there maintained their record of having lost just three times in the league all season. On such wafer-thin psychological grounds may titles be won and lost. Something similar happened a couple of weeks earlier against West Ham United, and on both occasions a draw – a result which at this stage of the season and at this end of the table might well feel like two points dropped rather than one gained – felt more like a victory than anything else.
Meanwhile at the bottom of the table, the Rafael Benitez revolution – we don’t use the word “Rafalution” around here, no matter how appropriate it may seem at the moment – continued at St James Park as Newcastle United edged outside of the bottom three with a one-nil win against Crystal Palace, thanks to a goal from Andros Townsend and a late penalty save from goalkeeper Karl Darlow. Sunderland could only muster a one-all draw at Stoke City, where Marko Arnautovic gave the home side the lead five minutes into the second half, only for Jermain Defoe to bring Sunderland back into the game five minutes into stoppage time at the end of the match from the penalty spot, after Geoff Cameron fouled Defoe.
All of this was bad news for Norwich City, who have now dropped to second from bottom place in the table after a one goal defeat at Arsenal on Saturday evening. This wasn’t, of course, the most interesting thing going on at The Emirates Stadium on Saturday evening. The most interesting thing going on was, of course, the apparent descent into civil war now going on between Arsenal supporters over the ongoing employment of one M. Arsene Wenger. The Wenger Out faction seemed to be the loudest on Saturday evening, but on which side does the silent majority sit? It doesn’t matter, of course, because their opinions count for little in comparison with those of the owner, and it has long felt as though, so long as Champions League football is being maintained and supporters are forking out more than £1,000 for season tickets, nothing else really matters.
Just below Arsenal, the race for the other Champions League place – which may yet become a phantom Champions League place, depending on how European tournaments end up this season – continued what still looks like an arduous crawl towards its conclusion between a clutch of teams who only sporadically give much of an impression of wanting to finish fourth in the first place. Manchester City lost by four goals to two at Southampton thanks to a Sadio Mane hat-trick and, most likely, with a little assistance from an under-strength team, with one eye on next week’s Champions League return leg against Real Madrid clearly in the forefront of Manuel Pellegrini’s mind. With Manchester United being held at home by Leicester City and West Ham United winning comfortably away to a West Bromwich Albion team that was settling back into their end of season doze after briefly rousing themselves for their match at Spurs last week, any one of these three could yet snatch fourth place. It’s just weird that none of them seem to actually want to very much.
This weekend, however, belonged to Leicester City Football Club. Four times runners-up in the FA Cup without ever having won it. Seven times champions of the second tier of the English league system without ever having particularly troubled the top end of the top division. The forgotten bridesmaids of the past have become not just the talk of the town, but the talk of the country and indeed the world, and there are likely no superlatives that can quite do justice to the scale of achievement that they have managed to climb this season. The biggest clubs will be back. The biggest clubs always come back. And there’s a case for saying that this won’t be allowed to happen again. But for this week, for the remainder of this season, through the summer and until such a point that they cannot defend their title, Leicester City are the champions of English football, a victory for the also-rans, the by-products, those that we are constantly told have no place in the Brave New World of corporatised, top end modern football. A victory for the ages, no matter how long they have left to run before social stratification sets in again.