Leicester enjoyed another historic night as they thrived as underdogs to beat Sevilla 2-0 on Tuesday night to seal their passage to a first-ever Champions League quarter-final, beating the Spanish side 3-2 on aggregate.
It was another special night under the King Power Stadium’s lights that supporters will never forget and means the Foxes have now won three consecutive games since Craig Shakespeare took charge of the team following Claudio Ranieri’s controversial sacking less than a month ago.
Despite being embroiled in a relegation dogfight for the past couple of months, Leicester now find themselves moving up the Premier League table and into the last-eight in Europe’s elite club competition.
Their upturn in form and fortune is extraordinary but also seems eerily similar to what happened at Chelsea exactly five years ago, with the Blues going on to win their first ever Champions League title against Bayern in Munich against all odds.
When you compare their season with Chelsea’s 2011-12 campaign, you get the feeling we might be about to see Leicester do the same and write another chapter in the book of the biggest football shocks of all time…
The Blues’ league form was far from good enough as they failed to challenge for the Premier League title, despite spending £60 million in the summer. They had finished second the season before but found themselves down in fifth when Roman Abramovich lost patience with Andre Villas-Boas, who was sacked in early March after 27 games. Assistant manager Roberto Di Matteo stepped up and took control until the end of the season, breathing some fresh life into the squad.
Leicester entered the season as reigning champions, and while few expected them to retain their crown this term, no one really expected to see them fighting for their Premier League status six months into the campaign. Just like Chelsea in 2011, the Foxes spent £60 million on summer signings but they haven’t taking the club to the levels expected. They dropped into the relegation zone on February 12 and Claudio Ranieri was eventually sacked 25 games into the season, with his assistant manager Craig Shakespeare taking control of the reigns. Shakespeare has won his first two league games since taking over and has moved them up three places in just two weeks.
Chelsea won their Group with relative ease, taking 11 points from their six games and winning all three of their home fixtures. Their biggest group stage win came over Belgian side Genk, who eventually finished bottom of the group. They drew Napoli in the Round of 16 and struggled to contain the Serie A side in the first leg away from home, losing 3-1 to leave their Champions League hopes hanging by a thread in what was AVB’s final European game in charge. Di Matteo was in charge for the second leg, in what was his third match in charge, as the Blues turned the tie on its head to win 4-1 at Stamford Bridge and advance 5-4 on aggregate. Chelsea drew Benfica in the last-eight and beat them 3-1 on aggregate before being matched up against Barcelona in the semi-finals, with very few people expecting them to get past the Spanish giants.
But Chelsea were playing with the hunger and determination that had been missing for large parts of the season and ended up advancing 3-2 on aggregate. Fernando Torres’ stoppage time goal to secure their place in the final was his most iconic moment in a Chelsea shirt. The Blues’ chances were once again written off as they travelled to face Bayern Munich in their own home, the Allianz Arena for the final. But their character shone through as Didier Drogba’s 88th minute header forced the game into extra-time, before the Ivorian stepped up to score the winning penalty in the shootout to fire the Blues to a historic title.
Leicester made the most of their first-ever Champions League campaign by winning their group with ease. The Foxes took 13 points from their six games, with their biggest victory also coming against a Belgian side in the form of Club Brugge, who finished bottom of the group. The Foxes drew Sevilla in the Round of 16 and failed to deal with their attacking threat in the first leg away from home, losing 2-1 on the night in what was Ranieri’s final game in charge. Shakespeare was in charge for the return leg, who just like Di Matteo was taking control of his third match as boss, with Leicester going on to win 2-0 and secure their passage into the quarter-finals.
The Foxes still have four games between them and the 2017 Champions League final in Cardiff but their campaign is scarily similar to Chelsea’s in 2011/12 and it would take a brave man to continue to write their chances off. Chelsea proved that defending deep and playing on the counter-attack can work against some of the world’s best teams and now Shakespeare will be looking to emulate Di Matteo’s success from five years ago with his rejuvenated group of Leicester players.