2015-2016: Leicester’s happy ending
|Champions||Leicester City||Biggest Win||Aston Villa 0-6 Liverpool FC|
|Runners-Up||Arsenal||Highest Scoring Game||Norwich City 4-5 Liverpool FC|
|Third Place||Tottenham Hotspur||Top Goalscorer||Harry Kane (25)|
|Relegated||Newcastle United, Norwich City, Aston Villa||Goals Scored||1026|
2015-2016 saw the greatest story ever in Premier League history. Leicester City captured the hearts of a nation. 5000-1 outsiders to win the Premier League at the start of the season, the Foxes’ turned the formbook on its head to clinch the championship in May 2016 with two matches left to play. They won the title by nearly 10 points. It was the fairytale that would have a happy ending.
Leicester began the season as relegation favourites and with a new manager at the helm with Claudio Ranieri replacing Nigel Pearson. The appointment was seen as a surprise to many. Ranieri’s last job had not ended well; overseeing Greece’s embarrassing defeat at home to the Faroe Islands in European Championship qualifying. Yet, the charming Italian would win the hearts of the supporters, the neutrals and the journalists with a counter-attacking style of football that no-one seemed to handle.
The likes of Wes Morgan, Robert Huth, Danny Drinkwater and Kasper Schmeichel had the seasons of their lives. The acquisition of the unheralded N’Golo Kante was one of the best bits of business in the transfer market and in Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, Leicester had a couple of diamonds in their pack. Vardy smashed the record for scoring in the most consecutive games, reaching 11 games with a strike against Manchester United in November. Mahrez dazzled throughout with some crucial goals including a hat-trick away at Swansea City in December. He won the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award.
It wasn’t the established elite that were Leicester’s main challengers either. Over at White Hart Lane, Tottenham Hotspur put in their own exciting title bid that only hit the buffers in the season’s closing weeks. On 2 May 2016, they had to win at Stamford Bridge to keep the title race going. On a stormy evening, they went 2-0 up through Golden Boot winner Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son. However, Chelsea rallied to draw 2-2 and that result ensured Leicester couldn’t be caught. Tottenham eventually finished third, pipped to runners-up spot by Arsenal after crumbling 5-1 on the final day to already relegated Newcastle United.
It was a year of upsets. Liverpool FC sacked Brendan Rodgers in October and turned to Germany to revive their fortunes with the charismatic Jurgen Klopp taking over. Two cup finals were a sign that progress was being made. At Manchester United, Louis van Gaal came under tremendous pressure from fans as his side became very negative to watch. They did win the FA Cup but a fifth-place finish meant failure to qualify for the Champions League and van Gaal was dismissed. Also leaving at the season’s end was Manuel Pellegrini after Manchester City staggered to fourth spot. Pep Guardiola would succeed him.
The biggest decline came at Chelsea. Champions the previous season, the players downed tools on manager Jose Mourinho, who didn’t help himself by getting involved in a tetchy argument with doctor Eva Carneiro on the opening weekend. He dropped the likes of John Terry, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa in an attempt to provoke a reaction but nothing changed. Chelsea began losing matches on a regular basis. After a 2-1 loss to Leicester in mid-December, Mourinho admitted in a post-match interview that he felt his work was being “betrayed.” Roman Abramovich sacked him three days later with the club sitting 16th in the table and just a single point above the drop zone with Christmas looming. Guus Hiddink returned in interim charge until the end of the campaign but apart from ending Tottenham’s title bid, there was nothing to celebrate. A 10th-place finish meant Chelsea’s title defence was the worst in Premier League history upto that point.
Aston Villa’s season was calamitous. After saving the club from relegation the previous season, Tim Sherwood was axed just three months’ into this campaign. Remi Garde was hired as his replacement. He only oversaw two victories and a 6-0 home massacre at the hands of Liverpool FC on Valentine’s Day; Villa’s biggest home defeat in 81 years. He was sacked before the season’s end and they were relegated in mid-April to the second-tier having won just three matches all season.
Sunderland once again looked in dire straits. Sam Allardyce returned to football management after a brief break to replace Dick Advocaat in October but they were seven points adrift of safety heading in 2016. An excellent January transfer window though and the goals of Jermain Defoe saw the survival experts do it again. A 3-0 win over Everton on the final week of the season was enough to keep them in the top-flight.
That result meant Norwich City and Newcastle United were relegated. AFC Bournemouth finished a creditable 16th in their first season at this level whilst Watford were 13th and reached the FA Cup semi-finals on their return to the Premier League. However, that wasn’t enough to keep Quique Sanchez Flores in a job. 11th place for a second successive season meant Roberto Martinez also didn’t see the season out at Everton.
This was the season where fairytales can have the ending we all want them to have. Leicester City’s title success of 2015-2016 was proof that team spirit, a mental toughness and the will to win can triumph over individual genius. It was a moment which will never be forgotten in the realms of Premier League folklore.