As the Premier League is nearing the end of the 2015-16 season, an unlikely contender is still positioned at the top of the table. Leicester City, who entered this year as a favorite for relegation, has already clinched a top four finish and is leading the league with four fixtures remaining. Throughout the season, people wrote them off as lucky, but they kept winning. And winning. And winning. So Leicester must be doing something right.
Their magical run continued this past weekend as they salvaged a point in a thrilling contest with West Ham. Leicester took an early lead before striker Jamie Vardy was sent off near the start of the second half. West Ham, playing with an extra man, scored two quick goals to take a 2-1 lead, but Leicester won a penalty during injury time and converted, tying the game at the very end.
This unbelievable run by Leicester is the definition of unlikely; were they to close out the season at the top of the table, it would be unprecedented. Las Vegas had them as 2500/1 preseason odds to win the Premier League, and British sportsbook William Hill gave the Foxes 5000/1 odds to take the title. As a comparison, the Philadelphia 76ers were given 200-1 odds to win the NBA title this year, after they finished 18-64 last season. A few other 5000/1 bets that William Hill has offered: Kim Kardashian is the American President in 2020, Elvis is found alive, and the Loch Ness Monster is proven to exist. English sportsbooks would lose over $14 million if Leicester wins it all.
Currently, Leicester possesses only a five-point advantage over second-place Tottenham Hotspur, so the title is anything but locked up. The Foxes have home matchups with Swansea and Everton remaining, along with away fixtures with Manchester United and Chelsea. Tottenham still has to face West Brom and Southampton at home, and Newcastle and Chelsea on the road. At first glance, it seems as though Tottenham has an easier road, but is it easy enough to make up five points? If Leicester can manage to pick up eight points over their final four games, they have the title locked up, no matter how Tottenham finishes. But, if Leicester were to lose their next game and Tottenham wins theirs? It could get interesting very quickly.
There is also uncertainty over a possible extended suspension for Vardy. After receiving the red card against West Ham, Leicester’s breakout star berated the referee and is facing a charge of improper conduct from the Football Association of England for his reaction following the booking. This could extend punishment further than the mandatory one game suspension for all red cards, putting his future status in question. Vardy will miss Leicester’s tilt with Swansea this weekend due to the red card, but could also face suspension for a huge matchup with Manchester United next week. Obviously, Vardy is one of Leicester’s best players, so this would be a massive loss for the Foxes and would certainly complicate their title chase.
I believe that Leicester will end up being the Premier League champion. At the end of the day, their five-point advantage gives the Foxes a decent amount of flexibility to drop a few points over the next four games, which is probably likely without Vardy. I expect Leicester to collect at least six or eight points overall though, likely enough to win the title. I also believe it is unlikely that Tottenham wins out; a London Derby matchup at Chelsea and their final game at Newcastle strike me as fixtures that could give Tottenham trouble. Despite Chelsea’s overall subpar season, London Derbies are always compelling, and it’s possible that Newcastle may be facing relegation without a result vs Tottenham, depending on how their other matches end up.
While Leicester is still the favorite to finish as this year’s Premier League champion, there’s certainly still time for them to slip up, and Tottenham is poised to slide in if Leicester makes a mistake. The next few weeks will be very interesting. If I had a 5000/1 bet on Leicester right now, I would be a little nervous too.