Moments transcends everything in sport and none more so than in football especially the good ones. Welcome to 'Throwback Thursday', where we take a look at a moment in time, and in this week’s edition, we bathe in the nostalgia of Leicester City, the 2015/16 season and Jamie Vardy’s record breaker.
The date is November 28th in and we’re 15 years into the 3rd millennium but all eyes on this particular date are on the King Power Stadium. Leicester City faces Manchester United in what should be just another Premier League clash but somehow it isn’t. Daley Blind has taken a corner that flew straight into the arms of Kasper Schmeichel despite seven men in red standing inside the Leicester box. But we’re about 23 minutes into the first half and the scene is set perfectly. Schmeichel has the ball, Christian Fuchs is peeling away for a counter and Jamie Vardy is standing offside in a defense that, for now, has just three Manchester United players.
But before we move even one second further, let’s roll that ticker back and figure out exactly how we got to this particular moment in time. A look at the table would tell us that Leicester City are sitting second in the Premier League going into the game. Yes, second and it had the world in an uproar with many shocked at the sensational start to the season that the Foxes had managed to put up. 14 games into the 2015/16 season and Leicester City had managed to lose just the one game, which meant that for the first time in their club history, Leicester City were setting the pace.
They left Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United in their dust with a breathless start. Even the Red Devils, who were in their second season, under Louis Van Gaal were struggling with them only in third place. That is struggling for Manchester United who had barely sneaked a fourth place finish last season and needed Tottenham to drop points in three of their final five games to let that happen. But things had changed ever so slightly and somehow the Red Devils had started the season well. They’d managed to lose two of their opening 14 games but had won nine.
It set up the game perfectly for both sides simply because they both had no choice but to win especially with the season placed ever so precariously on the edge. But for those who don’t know the story, Leicester City shouldn’t even be playing this game. This is the 2015/16 season and the Foxes are about to hit United on the counter but roll back the clock eight months and you have the same side sitting rock bottom in the top tier. They’ve just lost a 4-3 thriller to Tottenham with three goals scored in the final half an hour and it shell-shocked the club.
Yet somehow, out of absolutely nowhere, manager Nigel Pearson managed to rally his troops and the Foxes produced a sensational end to the season. Just one loss and draw in their final nine games saw them shoot out of the relegation zone and finish in 14th place. A respectable finish but given their position earlier in the season, it was downright incredible and that summer saw a sea of changes. Leicester City sacked Pearson and replaced him with journeyman Claudio Ranieri, then brought in reinforcements including N’Golo Kante, Christian Fuchs and Shinji Okazaki amongst others.
But the final nine games in the 2014/15 saw a certain Jamie Vardy shine as the Englishman produced eight goals to inspire the Foxes back from the dead. Yet the 27-year-old spent most of the season as a winger, struggling to play at his best until moved centrally. And that’s where Ranieri opted to play Vardy, effectively building his team on a fluid and rapid counter-attack lead by a 27-year-old who'd failed to hit double figures since his final season in the second tier. It was a risk and a massive one especially since his first season in Premier League, saw Vardy score only five goals.
But a quick look back at his history and you understand why Ranieri opted to build his team around the striker. It could have been a mere coincidence but Vardy had always taken a season to adapt to a new league. He did it in the Championship, scoring 4 goals one season and then 16 the very next, and his time in non-league football saw him score just over 120 goals in under 250 games. Not only that his time in the lower leagues saw Vardy work harder than anyone else in the Championship. Then there was the fact he ran his lungs out every single game and more importantly simply refused to take no for an answer.
Nothing proved that more than Vardy’s rise to the top after he was released at 16 by Sheffield Wednesday. The striker refused to give up and while it did mean playing non-league football for pennies, he eventually found his way to Leicester. But his first season in the Premier League wasn’t one to remember and it had many fans wondering why Ranieri was sticking with Vardy as an option. Then something clicked. Till date, nobody knows exactly what it was that clicked so wonderfully for that team. Was it the fact that the odds were against them?
The fact that they were the definition of a rag-tag group of footballers? Or was it that Jamie Vardy had finally had his breakout season for the world to take notice? Vardy’s start was sensational and it saw him produce three goals in his first three appearances. But there was something else brewing in the backdrop because, for some odd reason, with the Premier League in transition, Claudio Ranieri’s tactics worked perfectly to help Vardy thrive. And he thrived with Vardy going into the clash against Manchester United in the form of his life and the record of a Red Devil in his sight.
Because between the start of his fourth game and the start of his fourteenth game in the 2015/16 season, Jamie Vardy had scored 12 goals. More importantly, Vardy had scored a goal in ten consecutive games becoming only the third player to score in eight consecutive games and one of two to do it in nine and ten consecutive games. Ruud van Nistelrooy held that record going into the game but few would have ever compared Vardy to the Dutchman. Nistelrooy had, after all, walked into United as a bonafide star with two Eredivisie titles and was even named the Dutch Footballer of the year on two occasions and walked out an English champion.
Not only that, his first season at the club saw score in eight consecutive games becoming the first player to do that in modern Premier League history. His second saw him break Alan Shearer’s record again and his own before setting a new one in the new age English top tier. His final goal was against Newcastle United against Alan Shearer and the Englishman had to watch as Nistelrooy opened his body and stole his cake again. And exactly like Nistelrooy, Vardy twisted and turned Moussa Sissoko before firing the ball past Rob Elliot to equal the record against Newcastle.
It was quite simply nothing the world had ever seen before and that level of coincidence was unparalleled. But as Vardy walked out against Manchester United the air was heavy with hope because the entire world wanted it to happen. Few would say they didn’t and in typical Vardy fashion, he hounded and harassed the United defenders. Bastian Schweinsteiger was irritated at the way he nipped at his heels, Matteo Darmian was on the wrong side of a few tackles and he dropped Paddy McNair inside the penalty box only to fluff his shot. The air was tense and the stadium was waiting for something to happen as Daley Blind swung in the corner.
It comes to nothing as Kasper Schmeichel leaps and snatches it out of the air. He looks up hoping to fire a quick kick towards Vardy but he’s offside and instead, the Dane takes his time. Christian Fuchs is already peeling away hoping to get the ball and United suddenly realise what is about to happen. The crowd comes alive ever so slightly because they know just how deadly the Foxes are on the counter and this is a counter despite men in red charging back to defend their goal. Schmeichel launches a quick throw and the stadium wonders, could it be? Welcome to a moment in history.
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