Leicester join the Big Six with maiden FA Cup win

Losing finalists four times in their history, Leicester City finally ended a 140-year drought with victory in the FA Cup final.

Despite their status as outsiders in the eyes of bookmakers, they downed a dangerous Chelsea side 1-0 at Wembley behind massive performances from Kasper Schmeichel, Youri Tielemans and Çağlar Söyüncü.

Outstanding in the heart of defence, Söyüncü could have walked away with man of the match honours, were it not for Schmeichel’s two extraordinary game-winning saves and Tielemans’ 30-yard rocket. Like many members of this Leicester squad, he will take this FA Cup success into Euro 2020 this summer.

Söyüncü’s Turkey side face an uphill struggle in a tough group, with the Turkey vs Italy odds placing them outsiders in the tournament’s opening game. Elsewhere, the likes of Tielemans and Schmeichel will be as crucial to Belgium and Denmark’s hopes as they were to Leicester’s FA Cup run.

The contributions of Söyüncü and Tielemans show the evolution of this Leicester side in the five years since their storybook 5,000-1 Premier League win. Where once the Foxes under Claudio Ranieri were plucky underdogs with a squad tipped for relegation, Leicester are now a premier destination for top players. But even so, the core of that title-winning side – among them Schmeichel, Jamie Vardy and FA Cup Final late substitute Wes Morgan – remain huge contributors to their current success.

Leicester enter the pantheon

Ever since that title win, and with it a run to the Champions League quarter-finals the following season, the atmosphere has changed around the King Power Stadium. With the arrival of Brendan Rodgers in February of 2019, the Foxes began to make strides that would eventually shift them in England’s elite for the first time. Indeed, since the start of the 2019/20 season, no side has spent more time in the top four of the Premier League than Leicester City.

Narrowly missing out on Champions League football on the final day of last season, naturally, there were tough lessons to be learned along the way. But in a world where a European Super League rose up and collapsed in the space of 48 hours, Leicester have shown themselves to be deserved gate-crashers to the established order. In the 2020/21 season, the Foxes defeated every English member of that breakaway league at least once; with better performances against mid-table sides, there is no ceiling on what this team can achieve.

Going into the summer, further recruitment will strengthen what is already a formidable unit. Last preseason saw the arrivals of Wesley Fofana for £36.5 million and Timothy Castagne for £21 million, and both have fitted in seamlessly. Meanwhile, in James Maddison and Harvey Barnes, Leicester have two of the brightest young attackers in English football, scorers of 17 Premier League goals between them despite missing time with injury.

In terms of squad depth and recent performances, this is a side that far outstrips the quality of so-called ‘Big Six’ teams like Tottenham and Arsenal. Now trophy-winners for a second time in modern history, it’s clear that if Rodgers remains at the helm, this FA Cup triumph will not be Leicester’s last silverware of the decade.

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