It’s difficult for American sports fans to understand how shocking it is that Leicester City will likely win the Premier League title this season.
We don’t really think of American sports as such, but compared to English soccer, they are a bastion of equality. Eight different NFL teams have won the past eight Super Bowls; 10 teams have won the World Series this century. Even college football, the closest American analog to English soccer in a number of ways, has had 13 different national champions over the past 20 years. Americans are pretty well used to the idea that most teams start each season with at least a chance of glory.
Meanwhile, in England, four teams — Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City — have claimed every Premier League title since 1996. Only five other teams have even cracked the top four of the standings in that span, and Leicester City was never one of those teams. The Foxes were only promoted back to the Premier League in 2014, after 10 years in the lower leagues; it took a near-miracle for them to escape relegation last season. They finished second in England once, in 1929. They finished fourth once, in 1963. They’ve never really even risen to the level of laughingstock; they just were an afterthought, one of the dozens of teams that help to make up the numbers in English soccer.
Leicester was widely expected to be relegated this season, after dealing with an offseason scandal and firing its coach. Oddsmakers put the chances of a Foxes title this season at 5,000-1. To put that in context, the Gophers are 300-1 to win next season’s NCAA football championship. Imagine Minnesota beating Ohio State in next year’s Big Ten title game, then Alabama and Clemson in the national playoffs, and that’s about what Leicester City’s championship looks like — except, in the bookies’ estimation, it’s 17 times more likely to happen than the Foxes’ title run.
In all probability, Leicester’s title run won’t be repeated. It took career years from a half-dozen players at the same time, incredible luck and disasters at every one of the traditional favorites — Chelsea was rotten all year, Manchester United couldn’t score a goal, Manchester City got distracted by its Champions League run, and Arsenal collapsed (albeit for the 12th year in a row). The odds will be shorter next year on Leicester, but the shortest odds will still be on the traditional powerhouses.
Still, it’s tempting to believe that the champions could come from anywhere. If nothing else, Leicester has given hope to every team in the Premier League that with the proper effort and organization, they too can compete for the title. At least seven teams, if not more, will go into next year with optimism about their chances. They will believe that if Leicester can do it, anyone can. Here’s hoping it’s the start of a new era of broad competitiveness across the league.
• Many local fans took notice when U.S. men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann tweeted congratulations to Minnesota striker Christian Ramirez for the forward’s game-winning goal against New York. Ramirez, who has never been called up to a national squad but has been discussed as a potential candidate, is keeping a level head. “People are assuming it means I’ll get a call-up, but I’ve just told them, ‘This just means he’s watching,’ ” he told the Star Tribune’s David La Vaque. “I know if I go out and have a stinker, I’m not going to get a Twitter mention.”
• Rough news for the Houston Dash, which will lose all-world midfielder Carli Lloyd for at least three weeks because of a knee sprain. If rehab goes well, Lloyd should be back to full strength before leading the U.S. women’s national team at the Olympics.
• With Napoli’s loss on Monday, Juventus has clinched a fifth consecutive Serie A title. It’s still jaw-dropping to look at its list of results this year; after winning just three of its first 10 games, Juve embarked on a 25-game stretch in which it won 73 of a possible 75 points.
Weekend watch guide
La Liga: Real Madrid at Real Sociedad, 9 a.m. Saturday, beIN Sports. After a stuttering start under manager Zinedine Zidane, Madrid has reeled off nine consecutive league wins. It’s hard to ask for more from Los Blancos, who are just one point back of Barcelona in the league title race. With three weeks to go, Real Madrid is looking to keep the pressure on.
Bundesliga: Hertha Berlin at Bayer Leverkeusen, 11:30 a.m. Saturday, FS1. Just when it seemed like Hertha was comfortably set for a return to the Champions League, everything started going wrong; the Berliners have managed just one point in five games. Bayer Leverkeusen, meanwhile, can cement a comfortable third place with a win.
La Liga: Barcelona at Real Betis, 1:30 p.m. Saturday, beIN Sports. After losing three consecutive games and letting Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid climb back into the Spanish title race, Barcelona ripped off a pair of wins by the combined score of 14-0. Real Betis, struggling in the middle of the Spanish standings, is next in the firing line.
Premier League: Leicester City at Manchester United, 8 a.m. Sunday, NBC Sports. Everything related to this game still seems impossible, not least that Leicester City is heavily favored to win at Old Trafford. That alone is shocking enough. That the Foxes will take home the Premier League trophy if they win is completely amazing.