What a season for the newly promoted Foxes. Despite a really strong start to the campaign, which included a 5-3 win against Manchester United, people weren’t surprised to see Leicester struggling in the relegation zone for large parts of the season, but what came after defied everyone’s beliefs. They sat bottom of the Premier League table, gradually moving further and further away from safety, from the 13th set of games until the 31st. With just 4 wins from 29, many had conceded that Nigel Pearson’s side would the first to return back to the Championship, apart from the players.
Seven wins from the final eight games of the season, only losing one in that period to champions Chelsea, saw Leicester drive themselves out of the relegation zone and up to a 14th place finish in their first season back in the top league. It seemed like all of Leicester’s hard work throughout the rest of the season began to culminate in the final games of the season. Their first three wins in this sequence of results came with winners in the last five minutes of games, and this totally sums up the grit and determination of the whole squad to stay in the league. To end with a 5-1 win against relegated QPR showed some class as well, and with some good investments in the summer, without losing the team spirit and hard-working core they already have, Leicester could very easily beat the second-season syndrome.
From just looking at the league table, finishing six points from safety, it looked like a comfortable season for Leicester, but it was far from that. It was lucky that they did escape in the end and everyone will remember Leicester’s season because of that, and not some of the bizarre things manager Nigel Pearson managed to do throughout the season.
Seemingly strangling Crystal Palace’s James McCarthur, swearing and shouting at an abusive fan and famously calling a young news reporter an ostrich mid-interview, Pearson was a man with some strange tendencies. However, this could potentially go down as the greatest escape from relegation the Premier League has ever seen, and now we have to sit and watch Gary Lineker’s smug grin for another season!
Key Player – Esteban Cambiasso
I think it’s fair to say this was the strangest transfer of the summer window, when former Inter and Argentina midfielder Esteban Cambiasso moved to newly promoted Leicester City. He came in as an experienced head, and clearly became an influential figure both on and off the pitch. Seemingly pretty unnoticed in the first half of the season, he came to everyone’s attention when he became a Leicester fan favourite and started scoring some valuable goals in big games.
At 34 years of age, the holding midfielder picked up five goals, including what turned out to be the winning goal against Manchester United at the start of the season, which made him Leicester’s joint second highest goalscorer with Vardy and Nugent, only behind another Argentine summer signing, Leonardo Ulloa.
Although not being the stand out, flashy player, that some of these key players have been to their team, Cambiasso, with his experience and knowledge, kept everything ticking over in the midfield. Spreading the play to the pacey wingers such as Mahrez, Cambiasso took very much a back seat and dictated the game. This signing proved to be a master stroke from Pearson because the centre of their midfield coming into this season wouldn’t have been enough, I don’t think, to keep them in the league.
Not only was he a revelation on the pitch; you can only imagine the influence a player with the experience of Cambiasso brings to a changing room. Out of Leicester’s midfielders, Cambiasso was the biggest influence both creating chances and stopping the opposition. He had the same amount of key passes and chances created as Matty James, but defensively, with interceptions and blocks, he was the key man, as you can see in the graphic below.
Most Improved Player – Kasper Schmeichel
It was a close call for me, between Schmeichel and Jamie Vardy following his recent England call-up, but it was impossible to leave the Danish keeper out. Schmeichel arguably could’ve been awarded their key player, as he kept them in so many games during their incredible run, most notable the 11 saves at Burnley away in which Leicester managed to win the game. Having missed a number of months due to a broken hand, Schmeichel’s absence meant Leicester started to concede goals at a quicker rate.
It certainly was a top season for Schmeichel, who is finally starting to break out of the mould of just being “Peter Schmeichel’s son” and actually establishing himself as a Premier League keeper, arguably the best goalkeeper in the bottom half of the table this season. I’ve selected him as most improved purely for this reason.
Conceding quite a few goals in the early part of the season, many wrote him and Leicester off, but he completely turned his performances around to claim some vital points for the foxes. Having been named in the Football League Team of the Decade last month, it just highlights the journey the former-Manchester City man has been on and hopefully he can continue to perform next season and establish himself for the rest of his career.
Fans’ View – Asa McCoy (Trainee Sports Journalist)
After losing only one of our first five games, Leicester fans could be forgiven for thinking that the Premier League is not all that it is hyped up to be – how wrong we were. After stunning Manchester United in late September, City would lose 11 of their next 13, winning none.
The pressure on Nigel Pearson’s shoulders shone through in high profile incidents throughout the season. During a 3-1 defeat to Liverpool in December, he told an abusive fan to “F*** off and die” before petulantly man-handling Crystal Palace’s James McArthur during a 1-0 defeat. Despite his obvious flaws – he managed to keep most of the fan-base on his side and there was disappointment during the few hours that we thought he was sacked in February. The owners’ faith and patience would be rewarded.
After losing 4-3 to Spurs in March, the Foxes sat bottom of the pile, seven points from safety. Seven wins in our last nine games took us from relegation certainties to relaxing in mid-table. Our 14th-placed finish is pretty much what we expected at the start of the season, although it could have been less turbulent ride.
Influential loan-signing Robert Huth has been hailed as the catalyst for the Great Escape and there are calls for him to be signed on a permanent deal. Esteban Cambiasso is a hero among City fans but is out of contract while Andrej Kramaric has a lot more to come next season. The early singing of Christian Fuchs from Schalke shows real ambition and with the owners promising to spend big, you can be sure to see Leicester City having a more comfortable campaign next time around.