Moments transcends everything in sport and nothing defines that more than football especially the good ones. Welcome to 'Throwback Thursday' where we take a look at a moment in time, and this week, we look at the 2015/16 Premier League season and a goal that Leicester City fans will never forget.
It’s May 3, 2016 and Eden Hazard has just collected the ball on the half turn near the half-line with three players in lilywhite surrounding him. Even then the 41,545 fans at Stamford Bridge were only slightly worried about the Belgian having the ball there and that’s despite his well-known reputation. There is quite literally no one around to help him but should he be able find him, Diego Costa lies about 40 yards ahead waiting to cause problems.
A horde of Tottenham players have all but blocked his path as the world watches on. And the world is indeed watching on because this just happens to be the game that could very well decide the Premier League title race. But the Belgian nonchalantly shrugs off three defenders and drives forward with the ball as the roars in the ground go up a decibel.
He hasn’t done too much with, or without, the football this season but over the last few games, Hazard has upped his game and rediscovered his best. That’s something that Tottenham are discovering and a few worried faces begun to appear as the clock ticks into the 83rd minute despite Spurs being 2-1 up. Hazard continues to drive forward, has his run forward blocked by a cul-de-sac of Moussa Dembele, Eric Dier, and the back-tracking Kyle Walker which forces him to lay the ball off.
Diego Costa has been wide open all this while and the Belgian finds his man via a nutmeg on Walker. The decibel levels continue to rise in West London and that’s not just because the stadium senses something is about to happen but because the stadium senses something absolutely historic is about to happen. A football game has quite literally never carried so much weight before, a goal has never carried the hopes and dreams of not one fanbase but the entire footballing universe.
Time has now stopped but before we dive into the climax and reach the glorious end, let’s roll it back and figure out how we got here in the first place. Because this is where exactly each and every side involved in this title race were supposed to be, maybe with the exception of Leicester City but we’ll get to them later. First Chelsea and the Blues were definitely exactly where they were supposed to be, playing a key role in a title race where they were nowhere close to winning.
This is after all the same Chelsea side that not just won the 2014/15 Premier League title but swept to the 2014/15 Premier League title by eight points. Their tally at the end of the season read W26 D9 L3 which is the fewest number of losses a league Champion has managed since Chelsea themselves did it, exactly a decade ago. Manchester United came close a couple of times to matching that tally of 1 loss but they struggled to do it until Jose Mourinho’s Blues walked into the party.
Even their Champions League run was lost not because of an outright loss but purely on the basis of the away goals rule. But things were different this season because it saw Mourinho lose his job sixteen games into the season for a start so poor, that Chelsea sat a mere one point above the drop zone. Not exactly a place for a reigning league champion especially since it came on the back of a win for Leicester City which took the Foxes to the top of the table.
They were having a great start to their league season but this was the second time, after their win over Swansea City the week before, that Leicester City had actually been at the summit. It felt good but with Manchester City and Arsenal behind them, the Foxes had to keep doing which is where Chelsea reared their head. Two goals from Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez later, the Foxes had killed another giant and had history on their mind because nobody expected this. And why would they?
This was essentially, with the addition of a few new pieces, the same squad that nearly got relegated the last term but for an eight-game unbeaten run towards the end of the season. That was literally the only thing that saved Leicester City’s blushes and the Foxes somehow manage to appoint a new manager, Claudio Ranieri and start the season with an unbeaten six-game run. That form continued well into the remainder of the season with only two teams beating them.
Fellow title contenders Arsenal did the double over them and Liverpool managed to sneak a 1-0 win over the Foxes half-way through the season. But beyond that, no other side seemed to even have an answer against Ranieri’s boys and that includes fellow title contenders Tottenham. That’s right, the title race was essentially a three-way battle between the two North London rivals and a team that nobody would bet on.
And yet with the Gunners enjoying their usual post-January run of form, it effectively put them out of the title race come February despite the 2-1 win over the Foxes. That combined with Tottenham’s form, meant that it had now turned into a two-way battle with Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs shocking and aweing the world. Somehow, the Argentine had managed to turn Tottenham into not just a team that could fight for the top four but a side that could maybe even challenge for a league title.
That combined with their form going into the game against Chelsea, two losses since the start of the New Year, meant that everybody had them as favourites against the Blues. Despite the fact that the onus was on Tottenham, since they had to win their final three games to claim their first top flight title since 1961. The kicker? It was against a team that, despite their poor run of form, had never lost to Tottenham at home for 26 years, and that played into the game.
However, come the start of the game and Guus Hiddink had dropped Eden Hazard to the bench despite the Belgian’s brace against Bournemouth in the previous game. Still, that wouldn’t make too much of a difference because Chelsea were the ones who went closest to scoring in that first half via Gary Cahill and Fabregas in the opening half hour. But in the words of Philippe Auclair, “That's as hostile an atmosphere I've experienced at Stamford Bridge for a long, long time.”
It translated onto the field with eight fouls conceded in the same amount of time and Chelsea had contributed to just the one at that time. Yet, despite all their fouling, Spurs were the ones to take the lead and it came from a momentary lapse in concentration by the Chelsea backline. They spilt apart down the middle and allowed Erik Lamela to simply poke a pass through for Harry Kane.
The in-form Englishman did the rest as he rounded Begovic and then rolled the ball into an empty net to break Leicester, and Stamford Bridge’s, collective hearts. The momentary lapse in concentration continued for a good twelve more minutes, aka until half-time, and it saw Tottenham create two more clear cut chances. The first was blocked and the second saw Ivanovic hand Spurs the game.
Eriksen collected the Serbian’s pass near the center-circle and he had tons of options on either side of him but opted to slide it down the right for Son Heung-Min. The South Korean flew past everyone and proceeded to lash it into the net with ease. That was 2-0 and at Jamie Vardy’s house, the Leicester City players were cursing their luck. Because Chelsea were already 2-0 down in a London derby against a rampant Tottenham with not even 45 minutes played.
However, history was most definitely not on their side but still given that there were 45 minutes left and Spurs have historically struggled with 2+ goal leads, the game was still on. It allowed the Foxes some hope as Hiddink sent on Hazard for the second half. By then, the game had taken an ugly turn with four yellow cards handed out before Lamela became five with the fouls absolutely flying in from left, right, and center. To say that it was a fiery game would be the understatement of the century and it just became worse after Cahill nicked one back.
The center-back was first to react to a corner and lashed home a bouncing ball. That changed the entire face of the game because now, Chelsea had something to fight for and it showed. Pochettino tried to shore up his side with a few changes but the Blues had other ideas. They were flying on the confidence of that goal and it showed with chances for either side. Neither could take them with Tottenham even struggling to make their corners count as the clock ticked on and the fouls flew in.
The yellow card count, by the 80th minute had hit seven, with two for Chelsea, and the game was spiralling out of control as John Obi Mikel nicked the ball off Harry Kane. He strode forward, found Hazard on the left and the two played a quick one-two before Hazard had the ball back. Tottenham quickly converged on the Belgian but he nonchalantly shrugged off two defenders and drove forward.
Stamford Bridge, that had been silent for most of the game, suddenly perked up as their boy wonder continued to drive forward. He drew three defenders, and despite that somehow managed to pick out Diego Costa in the middle with enough space for the Spaniard to shoot. Instead, he turned Toby Alderweireld at ease as the noise levels continued to rise at the Bridge. Something was about to happen as Costa realized that Hazard had continued his run down the left.
“This is the work here of Hazard….Costa turns Alderweireld…”
Welcome to a moment in history.