The 2015-16 soccer season will be tough to top, thanks in large part to two simple words: Leicester City.
The Premier League underdogs-turned-champions shocked Europe and made headlines all over the world in winning their first-ever EPL title. It was the kind of story that sports fans love – except perhaps for rival Premier League fans. Leicester City played David while Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and the rest of the titans of the Premier League played Goliath, unable to stop Leicester City’s meteoric rise to the top.
That was hardly the only great story, though. For example, Barcelona’s dominant trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar again won Spain’s mighty La Liga, but two other Spanish giants played in the European Champions League final. Real Madrid topped intracity rival Atletico Madrid for the crown. Perennial powerhouses Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich and Juventus took home league titles in France, Germany and Italy, respectively.
Still, nothing grabbed the attention of sports fans around the world like the stunning ascent of Leicester City to the top of the Premier League. Folks who weren’t soccer fans had likely heard about it. Heck, even NPR and the Wall Street Journal talked about what was happening.
A few months removed that glorious run, a new season is nearly upon us. Leicester City’s title sent shockwaves through the Premier League that are still being felt. Now, one big question remains… and it’s the biggest question in all of world soccer heading into the new season:
Can Leicester City do it again?
Short answer, probably not. As compelling and unexpected as their Premier League title was, it’s quite unlikely to have it happen two years in a row.
Why? Several reasons:
- Key losses: Midfielder N’Golo Kante left for Premier League rival Chelsea and winger Riyad Mahrez is expected by many to leave for Arsenal. Those were two key pieces to the storybook run from last season and would be difficult to replace. However, Leicester City isn’t standing still, having brought in CSKA Moscow striker Ahmed Musa and Nice midfielder Nampalys Mendy.
- Improved rivals: Kante figures to help Chelsea improve on a disastrous 2015-16 season. Mahrez would do the same at Arsenal. Manchester United named former Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho to lead the team and signed former Paris Saint-Germain megastar Zlatan Ibrahimović to their squad. They may soon be adding Juventus’ Paul Pogba, one of the world’s brightest young stars, as well. Manchester City added Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola.
- No longer under the radar: No team would ever admit it, but many great Cinderella stories are helped along by the underdog team simply not being taken seriously by its bigger, more established foes. That was almost certainly the case with Leicester City – and with good reason. Since 1992, only five teams had won the Premier League and Leicester City was not one of the Big Five. In fact, they had never won the title for England’s top soccer league, and there was no reason to expect that they would last year either. Now they’re the champions of English soccer and will participate in the UEFA Champions League against the giants of European soccer.
- Title hangover: Ask any championship team. Repeating as champions is incredibly difficult. Once you’ve reached the ultimate peak of success, it can be difficult to get motivated to put in the work again. It remains to be seen just how well Leicester City will handle their success. Their ability to do that will be crucial to their chances of defending their title.
Given all of that, the smart money is on Leicester City’s reign atop the Premier League being short-lived. However, last season showed the folly in underestimating any team’s chances of winning a championship. It also certainly gave Leicester City immense amounts of confidence in their ability to take down any foe.
Ultimately, the only thing that’s certain is that the eyes of world soccer fans will be firmly on Leicester City this fall. What they do under that spotlight is anyone’s guess.
Photo credit: Flickr.com/Phil McIver
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