The English Premier League was founded in 1992, and though its goals were to establish a new division and new opportunities within English football, the list of competitors in its early history remained rather unchanged. Manchester United and Arsenal maintained their central roles whilst Newcastle United and Liverpool narrowly missed out on the league trophy on a few occasions. Chelsea joined in on the action in the early 2000s, and Manchester City entered the race in the 2010s.
The events that unfolded in 2015/16 and 2017/18, however, were simply remarkable.
During the 2015/16 season, Leicester City went on a miraculous run to win their first title in the English top flight. Meanwhile, Manchester City became the first team in English football history to register 100 points in a single 38-match campaign.
Whilst the events that unfolded in these two seasons were unique in their own way, these two clubs have transformed the English Premier League. What unfolded in these two seasons? How will these events affect the future of English football?
The Sly Foxes: Leicester’s Cinderella Story
Following the conclusion of the 2014/15 Premier League season, the newly-promoted Foxes narrowly avoided the drop into the Championship. Having sat at the bottom of the table for a large portion of the season, the Foxes made a series of changes during the Summer 2015 Transfer Window. Nigel Pearson was sacked as manager, and the East Midlands club signed Claudio Ranieri in his place. The decision to hire Ranieri was largely criticized, as the Italian had recently managed the Greek national team that failed to qualify for the EURO 2016 competition.
The Foxes then went on to make several signings during the Summer 2015 Summer Transfer Window, which included the acquisition of Christian Fuchs, Robert Huth and N’Golo Kanté. Despite their changes to the squad, however, the Foxes were one of the three teams favored to be dumped into the Championship at the conclusion of the 2015/16 season.
What transpired next was unexpected. Between August and October, the Foxes started the season with six victories, four draws and one defeat. Leicester striker Jamie Vardy had scored in eight consecutive matches, and with the Foxes sitting in fourth place in the league, a few of their doubters began to turn their heads.
The Foxes showed no signs of letting up. In November, Jamie Vardy scored his eleventh consecutive goal, setting a record for most consecutive goals scored in a single campaign. Riyad Mahrez emerged as a contender for the English Premier League Player of the Year, and by Christmas Day, Leicester sat at the top of the table.
Remarkably, following the congested winter schedule, Leicester lost only one of their remaining 19 matches of the season. The resilience of the team saw them dispatch the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur whilst drawing against Manchester United and Chelsea. Throughout the entire season, only Arsenal registered the double over the Foxes, but the players of the East Midlands club would not be bothered by this statistic.
Against all the odds, the fairy tale would be cemented on 2 May. Following Tottenham’s 2-2 draw with Chelsea, the Foxes were crowned the Champions of England. For the first time in their history, the Foxes secured their place in the UEFA Champions League, but more importantly, they won their first title in the English top flight.
There are several reasons that made Leicester’s title winning run so remarkable. First, the odds of Leicester winning the title were 5000/1. In other words, it was more likely that the Foxes would be relegated into the Championship (11/4 odds) than winning the English Premier League title. Second, the cost of Leicester’s squad ranked seventeenth out of the twenty Premier League teams. Finally, Leicester’s wages ranked nineteenth out of twenty places. The accomplishments of Leicester simply showed that money is not everything when it comes to world football.
With these statistics in mind, the Foxes have given hope to future English Premiership teams that look to break into the traditional top six. Though another miraculous run may never occur, anything is possible in football.
Centurions: Manchester City’s Rampant Run
Whilst an incomparable achievement to that of the Foxes, Manchester City also left their mark on the English Premier League. Following Pep Guardiola’s first season in England, many pundits lambasted the Catalonian, stating he could not replicate the same success that he had in Spain and Germany. Despite the criticism, Guardiola sought to disprove his critics.
During the Summer 2017 Transfer Window, Manchester City released several players, including their entire brigade of fullbacks. This resulted in the Mancunian club spending £130 million on three new fullbacks. Many saw this as another opportunity to criticize the Catalonian, claiming City were throwing money at overrated players.
These criticisms were quickly disputed, however, when the 2017/18 English Premier League season began. Following a last minute victory at Bournemouth, the Blues went on a remarkable 20 match unbeaten run in all competitions. As the season continued, Manchester City began to embarrass their opposition, where at one point they scored 37 goals in 10 matches whilst only conceding four.
The caliber of the Blues was remarkable. By 31 December, the Citizens won 17 of their first 19 league matches, drawing the remaining two, and talks of matching the Arsenal Invincibles emerged. Though they would eventually crash out of the FA Cup and the Champions League, City continued their dominant form in the league.
The Blues would eventually be crowned the English Premier League Champions on the 15 April with five games remaining, thus demonstrating their dominance through the season. By the end of the season, City averaged 2.78 goals per game whilst conceding 0.71 goals per match. Moreover, the Mancunian club broke a series of remarkable records, including most goals scored in a single 38-match campaign, most points earned in the English top flight, most wins in a single season and most consecutive victories.
Overall, Manchester City’s 2017/18 season was one of pure dominance. Guardiola’s tactics, when applied at full strength, saw his team run circles against their opposition. Their ability to play from the back, composure in midfield, and attacking football were simply a feast for the eyes. Hence, it is no wonder this side won two domestic trophies this season.
Yet the biggest question remains. Will the Blues be able to replicate this dominance and perfection to retain their title? It is safe to say that such a spectacular season may never be replicated ever again.
The Future of English Football
The stories of Leicester and Manchester City show that a new English Premier League is emerging on the continent. First, the Foxes demonstrated that money is not everything when striving to win the title. Moreover, with a strong sense of team unity and a desire to disprove their critics, this fueled the Cinderella story of the East Midlands club.
In the case of Manchester City, Pep Guardiola’s tactics led to a style of football previously seen in the English Premier League. City’s desire to play from the back helped them dominate possession throughout the majority of their matches. Moreover, their desire to remain patient helped them breakdown and dominate their opposition.
Finally, this year’s World Cup may influence who wins the 2018/19 English Premier League. For example, Chelsea won the English Premier League in 2009/10 whilst Manchester City won in 2013/14. Both clubs were unable to retain the title in the subsequent season, however, and it is possible that fatigue from the World Cup played a factor in these events.
With this in mind, it is possible the World Cup may affect Manchester City’s title defense next season. According to recent reports, the Blues will have the greatest representation of players at the World Cup, where their predominant presence is in the English, Belgian and Brazilian squads. Depending on how these nations advance in the competition, this will affect the vacation time of these players, and this could result to match fatigue. Guardiola’s system has often been criticized for exhausting players by the end of the season, and if his players are not properly rested before the 2018/19 season, this could see a preliminary exit in their title defense.
Will Manchester City retain the title? Will Liverpool or Tottenham Hotspur win their first English Premier League trophy? Or will another club from outside of the top six make a surprising run? With the accomplishments of Leicester City and Manchester City, anything could be in store for next season.