Premier League full of surprises
KEVIN NELSON | MANAGING EDITOR
At the beginning of the 2015-16 English Premier League season, Leicester City’s odds to win the title were 5,000 to 1. Their odds to finish in the bottom three teams were 3 to 1. This week Leicester City not only stands on top of the Premier League table, but they are five points ahead of second place Tottenham Hotspurs.
By every definition Leicester has defied the odds. After being promoted to the top flight of English Football two years ago Leicester narrowly escaped relegation by six points. Saturday, Feb. 6 saw Leicester arrive at Manchester City.
City, one of the title favorites, trailed by only three points in the table. Yet again Leicester was labeled the underdog entering the match and yet again Leicester defied the odds.
Leicester thumped Manchester City going up 3-0, with two goals from center back Robert Huth and one from Player of the Season candidate Riyad Mahrez.
The Algerian native Mahrez produced a goal of the year candidate after beating two City players before wrong footing goalie Joe Hart. City got a late goal back from Sergio Aguero, but this was only a consolation as the match ended 3-1.
What is equally amazing is the story behind Leicester’s leading scorer Jamie Vardy. Vardy himself has defied the odds on his way to the top of the EPL scoring race.
He had been cut from several professional clubs before signing with Leicester in 2012-2013. Vardy broke the Premier League record for goals in consecutive games after he scored in 11 straight games earlier this season.
These heroics have not gone unnoticed among American soccer fans. Junior Craig Wade has been a follower of the Premier League for many years, and can’t remember seeing a player burst on the scene quite like Vardy.
“He’s had some sick goals,” Wade said. “I was actually just watching those, there’s one where he volleyed it from outside the box over the keeper. The way they’re playing, I honestly think they can win the title. That’s pretty crazy to think about considering where they were just a couple seasons ago.”
Between Vardy and Mahrez, Leicester have produced some of the most exciting soccer matches of the season. With 13 games left to go Leicester is finally the title favorite at 7-1 odds.
While Leicester is having a record breaking season, others have found themselves in unexpected turmoil, most notably defending champions Chelsea F.C.
Chelsea, who came into the season as one of the title favorites, found themselves in a relegation battle during the Christmas break.
The last team to win the title and then be relegated was Manchester City in 1938, before the Premier League was even created. However, Chelsea have turned their season around after firing coach Jose Mourinho. They now sit in 13th place, seven points above the relegation zone.
Although they can still be relegated, it seems highly unlikely as they regain their top class form.
As the season hits its final stretch the fate of two United States players is in jeopardy. USA soccer’s number one and two goalies — Tim Howard and Brad Guzan — are both struggling this season.
Guzan and his Aston Villa team sit last in the Premier League and will most likely be relegated. Guzan has not appeared in Aston Villa’s last five games after being benched in favor of backup Mark Bunn.
Tim Howard has missed the last few games for Everton F.C. due to injury, however backup Joel Robles has looked strong during that time. Fans are calling for Tim Howard’s exit from the club due to his lackluster performance this season.
Howard had planned to retire when his contract at Everton ended in 2018, but it is looking ever more likely that if he were to stay it would be as a backup.
Rumors have surfaced about a possible move back to the United States by Howard, specifically with the Colorado Rapids, but Howard says he’s not sure if he’s ready to make the move just yet.
With the advent of the internet, and NBC’s recent agreement to televise several matches on American television, it is easier than ever to become a fan of British soccer. Highlights have become much easier to view thanks to various media outlets.
Even some American players have had fruitful stints playing overseas, most notably Howard, Guzan, Clint Dempsey, and current Stoke City defender Geoff Cameron.
Wade is certainly grateful of this newfound convenience. Watching live games here in the states use to mean searching for an obscure channel and waking up at the crack of dawn to catch the action.
With the new television rights, as well as a few more ingredients, Wade thinks the Premier League’s popularity will continue to blossom.
“If we had more Americans playing in it [the EPL], that would really help,” Wade said. “I mean, like stars too, not just young players.”
Whether more Americans will make the leap to European play is yet to be determined. However, as the 2015-16 season has shown us, anything is possible in the world of British football.
With the season winding down, now is a great time to start closely following the Premier League.