Leicester’s Journey To The Top- Part 1: Championship Success

Leicester FC squad
Leicester FC squad

It is a dream that every team in professional football in England has- to win the Premier League title. However, many are aware that it is just a dream that could never be achieved. However, for one team, all of their dreams became a reality, as Leicester City shocked the world by winning the Premier League title in 2016. In this series, we will examine just how they were able to make this impossible dream a reality.

Alex Dudly
Alex Dudly

published 11:38, 10 October 2021

Championship Heartbreak

To begin the Leicester City story, we should start at the culmination of the 2012-13 season. The Foxes had been the form side in the Championship throughout the first half of the campaign, but their form drastically fell from January. So much so, that they fell from 2nd in the league table to outside the playoff spots. The Foxes showed the first of the character that would become synonymous with the club in the closing stages of the season, as they won a must-win derby game on the final day of the campaign against Nottingham Forest to secure sixth.

However, the season would eventually end in disappointment as Leicester were knocked out in the playoffs in the most dramatic of fashions. Anthony Knockaert missed a penalty, with what many believed to be the last kick of the game. That wasn’t to be the final twist, though, as Troy Deeney dramatically went up to the other end of the pitch and scored the winning goal. It could be argued that without this adversity in Nigel Pearson’s first full season at the King.

Resurrection & Title Winning Campaign

Leicester went into the 2013-14 Championship season with a point to prove, and they managed to overcome that playoff defeat in record-breaking fashion. After a strong start to the season, which saw the Foxes win seven of their opening ten games, Leicester hit their best form of the season at a pivotal stage during the Festive period. After losing back-to-back games against Sheffield Wednesday and Brighton & Hove Albion, the Foxes would drop their last points for two months in a 1-1 draw against Burnley.

After that draw at the King Power, the Foxes went on to win their next nine games, including all four games in January. Pivotal results in that month included a victory over Leeds United at Elland Road, and a win against Bournemouth at the Vitality. Leicester would taste just one defeat in the second half of the season, with that being suffered at home against Brighton in April. However, by that point, their promotion to the Premier League had already been assured. Regardless, the change of mentality in the changing room was clear for all to see.

Pivotal players such as Wes Morgan and Kasper Schmeichel altered what players coming in needed to aspire for. Instead of just aiming for a place in the Premier League, the stars wanted to win the Championship, and use it as a springboard for brighter things in the future. Few would have guessed just how great their impression would have been come two seasons later.

Leicester’s promotion to the top-flight was mathematically confirmed with a 2-1 home win against Sheffield Wednesday in early April. However, they still ended the campaign with four wins and a draw in their final five games.

Nigel Pearson

Record Breaking Campaign

‘Foxes never quit’ was the motto that lived with Leicester throughout their Premier League campaigns that followed their promotion-winning season in the Championship. But, the writing was always on the wall that they would excel in the Premier League. No side has won more second-tier titles than the Foxes, as their 2013-14 winning season emulated the number set by Manchester City.

That wasn’t the only record that Leicester broke on their way to winning the second-tier, as they smashed a number of long-standing records. Among the most prominent records that they eclipsed included the most points in a single season and the most wins. Their charge towards the title was also strengthened by going on a club-record nine consecutive win streak. Winning games was a mentality that proved to be pivotal in the season that followed, as it ensured that Leicester weren’t overwhelmed going into the final games of the season knowing that only wins would do.

Meanwhile, the form away from home was also very impressive. The Foxes broke the record for longest unbeaten away record after going 13 games without defeat. This record also continued into the following season, as the Foxes weren’t beaten away from home until a 2-0 defeat away at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea.

The mentality of never quitting in games that all the great teams have had in the past. You only need to look back to the great Manchester United and Arsenal teams to understand the importance of staying in games. Leicester immediately had that trait from their Championship campaign, but translating it over into the Premier League was always going to be the big factor. Special players can install that mentality regardless of the league they are playing in, and that’s precisely what Leicester had in the changing rooms.

Building Blocks Put In Place

Leicester’s Premier League-winning team began to take shape during their promotion-winning season in 2013-14. Most notably, the winter window during this season was when they brought in Riyad Mahrez. The Algerian signed for Leicester on the 11th January, and went on to play 19 games in the second half of the season, scoring three times. His immediate performances ensured that he became a prominent member of the squad to build the team around, but his first season at the King Power would only light the torch paper of what we would see over the following two seasons.

Mahrez’s signing was certainly having one eye on the future, as his dynamism in the final third was going to be something different that the Foxes would need if they were to survive in the Premier League. It also filled a slightly troublesome position for the Foxes, as they were competent on the opposite flank with Knockaert. However, Lloyd Dyer and Ben Marshall both had decent seasons, but both lacked the flair that Mahrez would bring.

His ability to glide past players, coupled with a fine delivery was the difference. Marshall was an excellent crosser of the ball and Dyer had fine pace. However, neither of the players had the mixture of the two, which the Foxes desperately needed to compliment the Frenchman on the other wing.

Bringing in Mahrez wasn’t the only crucial business that was done off the pitch during the season at the King Power. After signing the Algerian, Leicester managed to sign up captain Wes Morgan to a new one-year deal, which was later extended following his exerts in the top-flight season that followed. Morgan’s extension was one of the smartest moves that the club could have made. His impression behind the scenes was huge, and he was easily the player that the squad looked up to most.

In the title-winning Championship campaign, he played on 45 occasions, and his impressive displays also led to him being called up to the Jamaican national team for the first time in his career for games against St Lucia and Switzerland.

Two other stars that would later become Premier League-winning heroes also signed new deals in the same season, with Kasper Schmeichel and Danny Drinkwater both signing four-year deals in June.

Like Morgan, Schmeichel’s new deal was also smart long-term planning. The current Danish number one is now regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League, but the potential has always been there for all to see. The Dane is one of the vocal members of the locker room, and his experience of playing at the top level would have been integral for this team. Not just that, but he spent much of his childhood around the locker room of one of the most successful teams in British footballing history. The memories that he would have had from his father’s time with Manchester United during their 1999 treble-winning season would have still been in Kasper’s thinking throughout his career. He knew exactly what the mentality needed to be in order to have a winning team, and that is often the difference between finishing first and second.

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