Before the 2019-20 Premier League season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the more intriguing stories to follow was Leicester City’s.
Under the guidance of Joe Allen’s biggest fan, Brenden Rodgers, Leicester sit third in the table above Chelsea, Manchester United and, last year's Champions League finalists, Tottenham.
A stark contrast to the slow, boring style that sent many a Leicester fan to sleep under Claude Puel, the Northern Irishman has employed a dynamic attacking style which, barring the season not being completed, looks set to have the Foxes battling it out with Europe’s elite next season.
All sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it?
Look, I'm not going to annoy you with too much hyperbole about Leicester’s 2015-16 title win - I’m sure you’ve had enough of that - I mean some of my friends love a bet, but I don’t think they’ve heard any odds as much as they heard 5000-1 that season, but it was incredible. The Tinker man Claudio Ranieri leading a team containing Danny Simpson, who had played in the play-off final with QPR two years earlier, and the man of many positions Jeffery Schlupp, to an unbelievable Premier League title fueled on squad pizza trips and Jamie Vardy’s love of partying. I’m not sure if you know this but they were 5000-1 outsiders at the start of the season.
There are similarities between the two sides, but which squad was better? Let’s compare.
Caglar Soyuncu vs Wes Morgan
In order to make sure this article doesn’t turn into a dissertation, I’m not going to compare every member of the Leicester squad, but only the key positions. First up, the centre backs and a comparison between Leicester’s current young Turkish international Caglar Soyuncu and the captain of the 2016 title-winning side Wes Morgan.
Morgan joined the Foxes from Nottingham Forest in January 2012 and put in stellar performances as he played every minute of the victorious 2015-16 campaign. This earned the big Jamaican the honour of a Captain Morgan’s sponsorship deal and a place in the less prestigious PFA Team of the Year. Since then Baloo from the Jungle Book, Ranieri’s words not mine, has stayed in Leicestershire and has made eight top-flight appearances this term.
Soyuncu, on the other hand, has only come into his own this season. Signed in August 2018 from German club Freiburg, his place in the first team was initially blocked by Harry Maguire’s massive head, but following the Englishman’s departure to Man United; Soyuncu has stepped up and impressed this year with his incredible ability with the ball, his agility and his lovely hair.
Now look I might get Leicester fans hunting me down in the street for this, but when I compare the two, I’m swayed towards Soyuncu. I love a defender who can play the ball and at 23 the Turk has bags of potential. While Morgan was brilliant in the 2015-16 season and impressed in the Championship, I get the feeling that if he wasn’t the captain he would be remembered as an average player who had one brilliant season, a bit like his partner Robert Huth, so for that Soyuncu.
Wilfred Ndidi v N’golo Kante
The battle of the smiles.
Signed from Caen for £5.6 million in the summer of 2015, the subsequent Premier League winning season proved a launchpad to global stardom for Kante.
The man with seven lungs was vital to the Foxes’ mission impossible. So vital in fact, that Abrahmovic threw £32 million at Leicester to bring him to the worst part of West London, only a year after he came to England. At Chelsea, the Frenchman won a second Premier League crown in two years and was named PFA Players’ Player of the Year, although his biggest triumph came in 2018 when the little man won the World Cup with Les Bleus.
Signed from Belgian club Genk in January 2017, Ndidi has been the heir to Kante’s throne. The Nigerian has made the third most tackles and the joint second-most interceptions this season. His protection is vital for the way the Foxes play, allowing the full-backs the luxury of roaming forward. The biggest compliment I can give Ndidi is that when he missed a month through injury in January, any chance Leicester had of a title challenge fell apart, although the chance is pushing it considering how far Liverpool are ahead.
This comparison is a tough one, both men are vital for their teams and are two of the best defensive midfielders in the league. However, if I had to pick one it would be Kante. It isn’t a coincidence that upon leaving Leicester they started to falter and Chelsea won the league and while Ndidi has youth on his side, Kante being a world champion pushes him in front.
James Maddison vs Riyad Mahrez
Ok, I know these two don’t strictly play in the same position but considering both are the creative hubs of their side it makes an interesting comparison.
Another brilliant find by ex- Leicester scout Steve Walsh, Mahrez arrived at the King Power from French club Le Havre for just £450,000 in January 2014. The Algerian was arguably the standout player in the 2015-16 season, shown by him picking up the PFA Players Player of the Year award, scoring 17 times and getting 10 assists. Unlike Kante, the winger didn’t move straight away staying two more years before joining Manchester City in 2018 for £60 million, despite his best efforts to leave a year earlier. Under Pep Guardiola he has picked up another Premier League title and also won the 2019 African Cup of Nations with Algeria.
After impressing in the Championship with Norwich, Maddison joined the Foxes for around £22 million in July 2018. Since his move, the midfielder's career has gone from strength to strength, scoring some spectacular goals and placing himself at the heart of Leicester’s attacking play. His performances have even attracted the attention of Gareth Southgate and his waistcoat, with the England boss handing him his first Three Lion’s cap in November 2019 against Montenegro. He also won the e-Premier League invitational FIFA tournament recently, so that’s nice.
Maddison is shaping up to be a very special talent, but again I have to give this to the class of 2016 and Mahrez. That season the Algerian was sensational and the fact he has gone on to perform on a bigger stage with City shows how good he is. Also, just like Kante, he also has international success, although Euro 2021’s coming home lads.
Jamie Vardy 2016 vs Jamie Vardy 2020
Jamie Vardy’s having a party, ok you know the rest.
Again, this one's a little cheating, as I’m not comparing too different players, but Smirnoff loving Jamie Vardy is still partying on upfront for Leicester, eight years after signing from non- league Fleetwood. Vardy’s rise from non-league football has been told so many times, that children will be singing songs about it around campfires in 50 years' time, so I'll spare you the details. But what he did in 2015-16 was truly unbelievable.
The little hard man that could, went on a run of scoring in 11 consecutive Premier League games, breaking Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s previous record of ten, and finished the campaign with 24 league goals, one behind top scorer Harry Kane. Surely, it can’t get better than that?
Well, it just might. After resisting the temptation to jump ship to Arsenal in 2016, Fantastic Mr Fox stayed in his den, not the Millwall type, and finally looks set to capture the Golden Boot. At 33 years of age, Vardy leads the way on 19 Premier League goals this term and while his England career might be over, retiring after the 2018 World Cup, his Premier League one looks far from it.
This one is probably the hardest of the lot, on one hand, he broke that incredible record in the 2015-16 season, but on the other, he might finally become top scorer this season. Ok, for the significance to his team's overall result I’m going to go with 2015-16 Vardy. I think.
So, as you can see from my waffling above, in my opinion, the 2015-16 squad was better. The shock value of a team outside the big six, nonetheless a team that avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth the season before, will probably never be matched in professional football ever again. It truly was a fairy-tale story and although the current crop is a talented bunch and could reach unbelievable heights as well, at this moment they have a way to go to match Ranieri’s league winners.
This article was written exclusively for golear.co.uk