Last year, fans of the Premier League were witness to history in the making. Little Leicester City, the team that nearly got relegated from England’s top flight the previous season, won the Premier League title – overcoming Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, as well as both Manchester clubs, in the process. Led by a charming Italian and a not-so-charming English striker, Leicester defied 5000/1 odds to win the Premier League, playing a brand of football that had purists purring, and so-called football experts scratching their heads.
Of course, fairy tales are often short-lived. Fast forward nine months from Leicester’s unprecedented triumph, and the mood around the King Power Stadium was markedly different. Claudio Ranieri, the manager who had delivered so much, was sacked in February, with the champions a point above the relegation zone. Star striker Jamie Vardy had scored 24 goals in 2015/16, but his goalscoring touch had seemingly abandoned him, and at the time, Leicester had failed to score in 2017.
There was, however, some light at the end of the tunnel – the Champions League. Despite putting together one of the worst-ever defences of a Premier League title, Leicester’s debut campaign in Europe’s premier club competition has gone swimmingly so far.
After seeing off former winners Porto to top their group, Ranieri’s men had booked a last-16 clash with serial Europa League winners Sevilla. Despite losing the first leg 2-1, Leicester were not beaten – but then the manager got his marching orders (reluctantly, so we’re told), and everything changed.
Within days, temporary boss Craig Shakespeare was at the helm, and things were on the up. Leicester went on to win six games on the bounce, with a 2-0 success over Sevilla sending the Foxes to the quarter finals of the Champions League. Now up against Spanish giants Atlético Madrid, it seems there’s one question on everybody’s lips: can Leicester City actually win the Champions League?
The last time I checked, the bookies were saying no – but this writer is not so sure. If Leicester can win the Premier League, then surely they can deliver an upset on football’s biggest stage? Remember, the bookies have been wrong before…
The return to form of many of Leicester’s influential players will have Leicester fans very hopeful of another European upset. Since Shakespeare took over in February, Jamie Vardy has scored six goals for club and country – while other key players such as Marc Albrighton and Riyad Mahrez (last season’s PFA Player of the Year) have also rediscovered their imperious league-winning form. With those guys on fire, most of the big names left in the hat will be wary of playing the Foxes.
This sentiment was echoed by legendary Juventus keeper Gigi Buffon, 39, who said concerning the Champions League quarter final draw: “Who do I prefer not to play? Leicester.
“They are a dangerous and passionate team who can cause trouble for opponents who take the initiative. We would have everything to lose.”
So with Italy’s greatest ever player already running scared, do Atlético Madrid have anything to worry about? The answer is undoubtedly yes. Under the enigmatic coach Diego Simeone, Atlético are not the force they once were. Since winning La Liga in 2014, Atlético have lost some key players, and experienced two morale-sapping defeats to Real Madrid in the 2014 and 2016 Champions League finals. What’s more, despite the excellence of French striker Antoine Griezmann, they are a league below sides like Bayern Munich, Juventus, Barcelona and Real Madrid. Leicester have already beaten Sevilla in this season’s competition, so what’s to say they can’t dispatch Simeone’s men too?
History is also on Leicester’s side. Despite the odds, small squads have won Europe’s top cup competition before. Back in 1982, Aston Villa marched to glory, beating Bayern Munich, Anderlecht and Dynamo Kyiv along the way. And who can forget 2004, when a little-known Portuguese manager by the name of José Mário dos Santos Mourinho Félix guided FC Porto to a 3-0 victory over Monaco in the Champions League’s showcase event.
With Leicester now almost safe from Premier League relegation, the players and management can afford to once again dream of bringing silverware back to the King Power Stadium. Obviously, to win the whole thing, they are going to need plenty of luck, but if there’s anything we know about Leicester City, they won’t give up until they hear the final whistle.
Oh, and one more thing, wouldn’t it be great to see Wes Morgan and Robert Huth lift the Champions League? As a football fan first and foremost, I don’t think I would ever forget that moment as long as I lived. Long live Leicester City.