On This Day: Leicester City Won the Premier League (2 May 2016)
What happened on this day in football history? Today, we look back at Leicester City’s astonishing Premier League title win in 2016.
On this day in 2016, Tottenham’s 2-2 draw with Chelsea gave Leicester City their first top-flight title, making them the first first-time winners of the English top division since Nottingham Forest in 1977-78.
Once the season wrapped up two weeks later with Leicester’s 81 points 10 clear of Arsenal, Claudio Ranieri’s Foxes went into the record books in rather unique fashion.
Leicester averaged 42.4% possession on the way to the title in 2015-16 – the lowest of any Premier League champion in recorded history (since 2006-07). This was also the third lowest in the competition that season, and they won eight matches with under 40% possession.
They were second to last in passing accuracy, yet they managed the second-most expected goals, just a fraction of a goal back of Arsenal. The Foxes had the highest percentage in the Premier League of passes directed forward. They underperformed their xG, yet they converted the highest percentage of their shots (13.0).
And they are absolutely the outlier in the last decade of top-flight champions when plotting direct speed upfield with passes per sequence:
Leicester had the fastest direct speed in the division (2.26 metres advanced toward goal per second), though that’s hardly ever indicative of success. The next three teams were West Brom, Sunderland and Norwich City. Those teams finished 14th or worse. Leicester’s average sequence time of 5.5 seconds was the lowest in the division. Their average sequence length of 11.5 metres progressed toward goal was the lowest in the division.
Ranieri’s side led the division in ball recoveries, and their 10 direct attack goals were tied with Newcastle for the most in the division. A press was at times a part of it. Leicester were fourth in high turnovers behind Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City, but that didn’t result in a rash of goals. Their three from high regains were tied with eight other clubs for eighth best in the league. More often than not, it was about letting the opposition come to them to give Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and others space going forward.
“It was so obvious at times for us to go, ‘We just need to let them come on to us. Let them come on, soak up the pressure, soak up the pressure,” centre-back Robert Huth said. “Then with one or two quick passes, we are 60, 70 yards up the pitch.”
With that approach, they had to be patient for their chances. Leicester were leading for 1,254 minutes overall that season, which is the third fewest by a Premier League champion – only more than Manchester United in 1992-93 (1,115 minutes ahead) and 1996-97 (1,156).
It made for a side that, in the end, won the league rather comfortably and closed the season unbeaten in their last 12 (W8 D4). Only seven other Premier League champions have won the title by a greater margin: 2017-18 Manchester City (19), 2019-20 Liverpool (18), 1999-00 Manchester United (18), 2020-21 Manchester City (12), 2004-05 Chelsea (12), 2003-04 Arsenal (11) and 2012-13 Manchester United (11).
Perhaps what’s most remarkable about this is 13 clubs finished ahead of Leicester City the previous Premier League season. They went from 46 points off Chelsea’s 2014-15 pace for a 77-point swing on the title holders.
The final day of the season, 15 May 2016, remained the last day they’d been top of the league before September of the 2020-21 season. Other than the 26 days in 2020-21, they have only spent 44 days leading the English top flight outside of 2015-16. Nine were in 1926-27, two in 1927-28, seven in 1933-34, two in 1937-38, nine in 1962-63, two in 1963-64 and 13 in 2000-01.
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