Remembering Leicester’s unlikely run to the 2016/17 Champions League quarter-finals

In the ten years between 2007 and 2017, absolutely nothing was normal for Leicester City.

The 2007/08 season brought a tumble into the third tier of English football for the first time in club history. The Foxes were at their lowest point ever, and we have seen so many teams fail to bounce back.

Not only did Leicester get things back together, but ten years later, they would be among the eight best teams in Europe.

Claudio Ranieri
Leicester did the unthinkable | Michael Regan/Getty Images

To get things back on track, Nigel Pearson was brought in as manager, and when he led Leicester to the League One title in his debut season, he became the first man to last an entire season at the club in the last five years.

2009/10 brought a trip to the Championship play-offs, but after a loss to Cardiff City in the semi-final, Leicester went through two new manages, the return of Pearson and one Here’s Hogg… Deeney! play-off defeat before they finally made it back to the top flight in 2014.

At that point, it was a nice story, but nobody really cared. This was a team who had been out of the top flight since 2004 and had struggled to get back to the Premier League. They lived up to their reputation by finishing 14th in 2014/15.

Cool. Nobody cared.

Nigel Pearson
Pearson led Leicester back to the top flight | Tony Marshall/Getty Images

Pearson was sacked at the end of that season, with Claudio Ranieri tasked with steadying the ship. Not only did he get things back under control, but with the help of Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante, he did the unthinkable and turned Leicester into Premier League champions.

Cool. Everybody cared.

Lowly Leicester were now champions of England, and their reward for that was a spot in the Champions League, where most felt their fun as the plucky underdog would come to a swift and painful end.

However, when they were drawn in a group alongside Porto, Copenhagen and Club Brugge, the idea of them reaching the knockout stages didn’t seem ridiculous anymore.

Diogo Jota, Nampalys Mendy
Porto were Leicester’s biggest threat | David Ramos/Getty Images

Leicester beat all three in their first three games, hanging on for 1-0 wins over both Porto and Copenhagen, but a 0-0 draw with the Danes away from home injected a dose of reality. They might have steamrolled England, but doing the same in Europe was a whole different battle.

They ended the group stage with an emphatic 5-0 defeat at the hands of Porto, after which they were drawn against Sevilla in the last 16. This was surely it. Rivals were certain the fun was over, and the nosedive of Leicester’s domestic form only made that even clearer.

Leicester were just one point above the relegation zone in February 2017, and things were so bad that Ranieri entered the first leg against Sevilla needing a win to save his job – a brutal scenario for a man whose side were 14th in the Premier League just two years ago. They lost 2-1, and Ranieri was gone.

Daniel Carrico, Jamie Vardy
The defeat to Sevilla was Ranieri’s last | Michael Regan/Getty Images

Filling the Tinkerman’s boots was caretaker Craig Shakespeare, who led Leicester on an immediate turnaround. His side beat Liverpool 3-1 in his first game, and a few more big wins earned Shakespeare the gig on a permanent basis.

Life was good, but the damage was surely done in Europe. They were never going to come back and actually beat Sevilla. Surely.

26 minutes into the return leg, Wes Morgan bundled the ball into the back of the Sevilla net to give Leicester the lead they needed, and after weathering a real storm for the next 30 minutes, Marc Albrighton fired home to give Leicester an advantage which would prove to be insurmountable.

The King Power Stadium came unglued as Leicester fans celebrated the fact that they were in the Champions League quarter-finals – usually reserved for one of the eight best teams on the planet.

Atletico Madrid awaited in the last eight, and Diego Simeone’s side did end up putting an end to Leicester’s dream, but it wasn’t the mauling most expected.

Daniel Drinkwater, Antoine Griezmann
Leicester held their own against Atletico | Catherine Ivill – AMA/Getty Images

A 1-0 defeat away from home in the first leg was followed up by a 1-1 draw at home, and every Leicester fan could rest easy knowing that the mighty Atletico could only beat them by one goal across 180 minutes of football.

It’s a story which defied all logic, realism and expectation, but one which fans of English football would not trade for anything.

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Author: XenBet

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