The greatest underdog story of all

leicester city champions

Booking under: Keith

The greatest thing about sports is the upsets. Appalachian State-MichiganGreece winning the 2004 Euro ChampionshipBuster Douglas vs. Mike Tyson. Still, perhaps the greatest underdog story in football, and professional athletics as a whole, is Leicester City’s triumph in the 2015-16 Premier League season.

It was not supposed to happen. Leicester spent much of the previous season battling relegation. They had a fraction of the budget of their “Big Six” peers. They opened the season with 5,000 to 1 odds of winning the league. And yet, with two games to play in the season, Leicester City lifted the Premier League trophy for the first time in club history.

How did such an unthinkable triumph happen? Here are three factors for the Foxes’ miracle run.

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The Slip

gerrard slip

Booking under: Keith

This past weekend, Real Madrid defeated Liverpool 3-1 to win their thirteenth Champions League title. For Liverpool, who deserve the title of being the second-most entertaining team in Europe this season, it’s a sorry way to end a promising campaign.

In fact, a further look at this Liverpool team reveals similarities to the 2013-14 edition of the club. The Reds were brilliant in attack and featured a player who would win the PFA Players’ Player of the Year, FWA Footballer of the Year, and the Premier League Golden Boot.

Unfortunately, even with Luis Suarez netting 31 league goals in 13/14 and Mohamed Salah scoring one more in the league and 44 overall (tying Ruud van Nistelrooy’s 02/03 record) this year, Liverpool finished second in the Prem in 13/14 and runners-up in Europe this season. Let’s rewind and revisit.

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Tippy Tappy, Tikia Taka

FC Barcelona vs. Celta Vigo in La Liga

Booking under: Keith

This past weekend saw the end of the 2017/18 Premier League season. While the fight for the top 4 continued until the final whistle, champions Manchester City comfortably became the first Premier League team to end a campaign with 100 points, finishing 19 points ahead of second placed United.

Manchester City’s success owes itself to the sweeping football orchestrated by manager Pep Guardiola (as well as their endless amount of spending in the transfer market). Guardiola was a well respected player for Barcelona, but his claim to fame comes from his coaching stint at the club, turning Barcelona into the dominant side in world football. With two Champions League titles (both against Manchester United) as well as domestic league and cup trophies in Spain, Germany, and England, Guardiola’s brand of football is undoubtedly successful. So what’s this Tiki Taka that everybody talks about?

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Righties on the left, lefties on the right

arjen-robben

Booking under: Keith

As an avid football fan, it’s no surprise that I enjoy football video games. Both as a way to unwind and to play with my favorite players in dream teams, I’ve enjoyed my time on games like FIFA.

So far, I’ve owned two mainline FIFA games – FIFA 2005 and FIFA 17. Besides the different available players and the graphical improvements, there’s one big notable difference between the two instalments.

In FIFA 2005, wingers tended to play on the flank corresponding to their preferred foot. For example, Manchester United featured the right-footed Cristiano Ronaldo on the right while the left-footed legend Ryan Giggs roamed down the left. Fast forward to FIFA 17, and Ronaldo is now cutting in from the left (as are players like Eden Hazard and Neymar) while Lionel MessiGareth Bale, and Mohamed Salah are lefties cutting in from the right flank.

What caused this shift towards “inverted” wingers? Let’s have a look.

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Roonaldo

roonaldo

Booking under: Keith

This past week, Manchester City secured the 2017/18 Premier League title. As wretched as the experience was (to a long-time United fan), there’s no denying that City played flowing, beautiful football that was streets ahead of their Premier League rivals.

The only solace, if any, is in knowing that this City team was not the first Premier League team to play aesthetically pleasing football and achieve success. While the Arsenal sides of the early 2000s (like The Invincibles) were highly successful and pleasing to the eye, perhaps the most lethal and flowing football side to grace the English game before the Cityzens were the United teams from 2006-2009.

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and revisit why Sir Alex Ferguson‘s last great team was so monumental.

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The Boring One

rafa-benitez

Booking under: Keith

Last week, we looked at Jose Mourinho, a master tactician renowned for playing defensive football. Mourinho is no stranger to controversy, and has developed numerous managerial rivalries over his career.

Mourinho vs. WengerMourinho vs. Guardiola. While these rivalries certainly produced many fireworks, one particular Mourinho rivalry tends to get left behind in the rear-view mirror. What’s more surprising that this rival is, in many ways, a mirror image to Mourinho.

Today, we look at The Special One‘s other great rival, Rafa Benitez. He’s got the same mindset sans the feuds with everyone, could he be called The Boring One?

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Oh my Claude!

makelele

Booking under: Keith

Chelsea and Leicester City. The two most recent Premier League champions.

Their title-winning campaigns shared many similarities. Both were led by underrated Italian tacticians (Antonio Conte for Chelsea and Claudio Ranieri for Leicester). Both did not compete in Europe and had a fresh squad available for the back end of the league campaign. Both fielded a dangerous number 9-winger duo (Diego Costa and Eden Hazard for Chelsea, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez for Leicester).

However, perhaps the most glaring (and important) similarity is the role of one man: the midfield machine that is N’Golo Kanté. Kanté has been brilliant in the last two seasons, controlling the midfield and overturning possession for his team. Yet, he is only the latest (but also a brilliant) practitioner of the so-called “Makélélé role”.

It’s quite an honour to have an entire tactical role named after you, but that’s what Claude Makélélé achieved by the end of his influential career. The Frenchman played in France, Spain, and England, winning the domestic title in each country and evening conquering the Champions League with Real Madrid. What was the secret to his success?

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van Nistelrooy vs. Henry: the Rivalry

van nistelrooy vs. henry

Booking under: Keith

Back in the early 2000s, Manchester United vs. Arsenal was the biggest club rivalry in the Premier League.

Perhaps fittingly, the rivalry between the clubs’ top strikers was also the league’s most high-profile player rivalry.

Ruud van Nistelrooy: the quintessential goalscorer. Thierry Henry: the ultimate goal creator. It’s a question that still lingers to this day: Who was the better player?

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The European Players League

manchester united europe

Booking under: Keith

The Champions League is back! While our teams (Manchester United and Chelsea) both battled to draws, Real Madrid secured a big 3:1 victory over Paris Saint-Germain while Bayern Munich, Liverpool, and Manchester City all blew out their opponents. What an exciting knockout round!

The Premier League is doing well this year, with an unprecedented five EPL teams making it to the round of 16 for the first time ever. And while English stars like Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling are fun to watch, almost all of the best players in the league are foreign – Eden Hazard, Mohammed Salah, David de Gea. How did the Prem become so flooded with non-English players?

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Speed kills

speed-kills

Booking under: Keith

This week’s chapter resonates a lot with me. For those who know me, I’ve never been a big, bulky, or particularly tall person. My advantage on the football pitch comes from agility, developing an understanding of the game, and the subject of this chapter: speed.

As the rise of deep-lying playmakers sees an increase in playing through-balls to on-running forwards, two players sped up the Premier League’s evolution with their pace.

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