Premier League review: Foxes fairytale, stumbling giants and manager mayhem
Leicester City's run to the title captured the world's sporting imagination - but there was plenty going on underneath that main headline to make this the Premier League's most unpredictable season.
If the champions were a surprise package, the collapse of previous holders Chelsea also sent shockwaves throughout the season, along with managers on the move, a parochial relegation fight between north-east of England rivals Newcastle United and Sunderland and a top-four battle that went down to the final day.
So as the dust settles on another Premier League season, how will this turbulent, exciting campaign be remembered?
The greatest sporting story ever told?
Leicester City went from celebrating Premier League survival and 5,000/1 outsiders in May 2015 to champions inside 12 months - when the story of football is told this season will be forever associated with the Foxes.
The signs, at least some of them, were in evidence in that renaissance as they won seven of their final nine games last season but to suggest the transformation would lead to them being presented with the Premier League trophy at an exultant King Power on Saturday, 7 May 2016 would have been dismissed as the work of a fantasist.
Leicester provided the footballers of the year in England striker Jamie Vardy and Algeria forward Riyad Mahrez, with 24 and 17 goals respectively, while France midfielder N'Golo Kante was not far behind. The trio are a tribute to the meticulous scouting model employed at the club.
Vardy cost just £1m from Fleetwood in May 2012, Mahrez £400,000 from French second-tier side Le Havre in January 2014 and Kante £5.6m from Caen in August 2015. That is just £7m for the inspiration behind a Premier League title, with credit to former manager Nigel Pearson for those first two deals.
And at the heart of all was the man who arrived at Leicester to replace the sacked Pearson. Claudio Ranieri's appointment was, at best, unheralded and followed a spell when he was dismissed by Greece after losing to the Faroe Islands.
Against all odds - like the Foxes - the Italian led his team in masterly fashion from the 4-2 opening day win against Sunderland, managing expectation and pressure superbly while winning the hearts and support of neutrals with his humble, yet charismatic style.
Leicester's title win - a prolonged shock to sport's system - takes its place in the greatest sporting achievements of all time.
Five clubs had their highest ever finish in the Premier League:
- Leicester are champions (previous best of eighth in 1999-2000)
- Tottenham finished third (previous best of fourth in 2009-10 and 2011-12)
- Southampton will finish no lower than sixth (previous best of seventh in 2014-15)
- Watford finished 13th (previous best of 20th in 1999-2000 and 2006-07)
- Bournemouth will be no lower than 16th (first season in Premier League)
The fall of 'The Special One'?
It was 7 May 2015 and all was well at Stamford Bridge. Manager Jose Mourinho had brought the Premier League back to Chelsea, signed a new four-year contract and spoke of building a team for a 10-year dynasty.
In one of the most startling, chaotic declines of any champion team and manager, Chelsea's fortunes collapsed to such an extent that seven months later Mourinho was sacked by owner Roman Abramovich after just four wins from 16 league games.
From day one and the row with Chelsea doctor Eva Carneiro against Swansea City, when she went out on to treat injured Eden Hazard without his permission, and was subsequently removed from first-team duties which led to legal action, Mourinho's Chelsea tenure went into meltdown.
Players he counted on when winning the Premier League such as Hazard, Diego Costa - who scored 20 league goals in the title win - and Cesc Fabregas were ineffective and anonymous.
The end came amid the rancour of a 2-1 loss at Leicester City on 15 December, after which Mourinho claimed some players had "betrayed" his work. Two days later he was gone - a spectacular downfall complete.
Blackburn Rovers dropped from first to seventh after winning the title in 1994-95 - and Manchester United did the same after being crowned champions in 2012-13. Chelsea's drop was even more acute and demonstrated their fall from grace.
The giants stumble
Leicester City's feat will be regarded as the greatest in Premier League history - and it has been helped along the way by the giants stumbling at the wayside.
Chelsea's downfall has been chronicled while Manchester City's hopes of regaining the title they won twice in recent years was undermined by rampant inconsistency, a lack of performances worthy of an expensively assembled squad and, perhaps, the announcement in February that manager Manuel Pellegrini would be replaced by Pep Guardiola that provided the backdrop to the closing months of their season.
Manchester United's league season was dull under manager Louis van Gaal, with only the occasional sparkle of victories at Liverpool and Manchester City. They were so poor for so long it was a minor miracle they sustained a top-four challenge until the final day.
Arsenal told us the same old story of promise until the turn of the year then fragility when the pressure is on. This was, in many ways, the season Arsene Wenger and his players had waited for as their usual rivals stuttered - and they still could not take advantage.
Managers on the move - or not
This was a season awash with managerial speculation - most of which ended up being about a man who actually lasted the season in Manchester United's Van Gaal.
The Dutchman was the central figure in some sort of "in-out-in-out" managerial hokey cokey from December as United went out of the Champions League, with Mourinho almost a permanent shadow on his shoulder after he was sacked by Chelsea before Christmas.
Other than Mourinho, the highest profile casualty was Liverpool's Brendan Rodgers who lasted only eight games - with three wins - into the new season before he was sacked and replaced by Jurgen Klopp. It was a swift downfall only 18 months after he almost won Liverpool's first title in 24 years.
Aston Villa's shameful season was reflected in two sackings. Tim Sherwood went in October after one win and eight losses in 10 games, while his successor Remi Garde fared no better. He was sacked at the end of March after just two wins in 20 games and with relegation inevitable.
Sunderland's replacement of Dick Advocaat with Sam Allardyce in October worked perfectly as he kept the Black Cats in the top flight, while Swansea's eventual replacement of Garry Monk with Francesco Guidolin - after a spell under Alan Curtis - was also a success.
Not so at Newcastle. They left it too late to sack Steve McClaren on 11 March. It only gave Rafael Benitez 10 games - so the relegation the Magpies have invited so long came through the door.
Last one out the door was Everton's Roberto Martinez on 12 May, his fall from grace coming amid fan anger, protests and the worst record at Goodison Park in any season in the club's history.
Busy summer ahead
The Premier League season may be over - the postponed meeting between Manchester United and Bournemouth apart - but the big guns will already be turning their attention to firing back next season.
Manchester City's season ended in a disappointing fourth position but Guardiola, the world's most celebrated coach, will soon come through the door at Etihad Stadium to replace Pellegrini and will be backed by huge transfer funds.
He is the man City's hierarchy want to fulfil their dreams, especially in the Champions League, while it remains to be seen whether there will be similar movement at Manchester United.
Van Gaal's future has been debated for most of the season without any indication of a willingness from those inside Old Trafford to remove him from his job as manager.
Mourinho has seemingly been waiting in the wings for six months - so will the failure to secure Champions League football finally prompt a decision to dispense with Van Gaal or will United keep faith with the 64-year-old Dutchman who has taken them to next weekend's FA Cup final?
The prospect of former La Liga foes Guardiola and Mourinho recreating their crackling rivalry at Barcelona and Real Madrid in the same city is mouth-watering.
Klopp, meanwhile, will have his feet even further under the table at Liverpool after reaching the Capital One Cup final and the Europa League final after succeeding Rodgers in October.
Chelsea will want Antonio Conte to recreate their former successes, while Everton will move with renewed ambition under new billionaire major shareholder Farhad Moshiri. He will pursue ambitious managerial targets after sacking Martinez.
So as one season ends, planning for the next will start instantly.
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