James Maddison of Leicester City looks dejected after relegation
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One of the most remarkable stories in football now has another twist. Leicester City are relegated a mere seven years after winning this competition’s greatest title of all, their fate sealed by Abdoulaye Doucoure’s 57th-minute release at Everton.
Dean Smith’s side had already done their job by going 2-0 up against West Ham United, which ensured this drastic fall for the club became one long wait. The pained anxiety of that manifested in three separate celebrations for Bournemouth goals at Goodison Park that hadn’t actually happened, their cheers quickly disrupted by frenzied checks of the phone. There was then the way the Everton game went on 10 minutes longer after a lengthy period of stoppage time. It just prolonged that hope, and made it even worse when confirmation finally came. As defeated-looking Leicester players checked their phones and then saluted the fans, West Ham United supporters celebrated that and their own forthcoming trip to Prague.
It laid bare the cruelty of days like this, as memories of better days surrounded the whole stadium. Andrea Bocelli had famously sung “time to say goodbye” on that glorious evening back in May 2016, and while it presents a fitting line here, the goading West Ham fans were in no mood to be so poetic.
“Going down” was the obvious one regularly sung, before the doubly cutting: “Say hello to Millwall! Say hello to Millwall!”
It was in itself a reminder of the rarefied and glossy world that Leicester are leaving, so quickly going from the Premier League’s “model club” to an ultimate example of how quickly it can all fall apart in the game’s current economic landscape.
The global economic landscape has played its part in that, with the Covid pandemic greatly affecting the owners’ duty-free business. That fed into a wider frustration within the club, that Brendan Rodgers made clear he was feeling from the very start of the season.
It never really picked up.
But none of that obscures the fact that Leicester have so many players that really shouldn’t have been in this situation at all.
Harvey Barnes puts Leicester ahead
The line-up that has ultimately gone down – club legend Jamie Vardy symbolically starting on the bench – is one that should easily have been mid-table, and will now boost the squads of other Premier League teams. That, brutally, is no longer what Leicester are. And that despite having a better team than the one David Moyes started here to keep fresh for their Europa Conference final.
It shouldn’t have gone this wrong. That was reflected in how there were a few boos when the final whistle went, even if they were drowned out by proud applause.
It’s also more history in its own way. Leicester are the club to have the fifth-fastest relegation after winning a title since the second world war. In the Premier League, only Blackburn Rovers had it worse, at four years.
It is quite a turn, that will now get more focus, but one of the issues was that there weren’t enough twists on this day itself. Leicester left themselves in too perilous a situation.
The only real moment of drama was on 34 minutes, duly supplied by one of the players who is already most in demand. Harvey Barnes ran straight at the box to play a one-two with Kelechi Iheanacho, and then slide the ball past Lukasz Fabianski. It was a brilliant goal, and naturally produced a roar reminiscent of the day the Premier League trophy was presented here.
Leicester players look dejected after relegation
It did put Leicester in a welcome if slightly strange position, though. They’d done their job, and just needed to hold firm, with all onus now on Everton. Even Leicester fans were watching the wrong game.
There was a danger there as they lost urgency, until Wout Faes headed in a Youri Tielemans’s free-kick. By then, however, Everton had already scored. All of this was immaterial, including Pablo Fornals’s late goal.
It was all dependent on one sudden twist. That is instead what this season has represented for Leicester.
Nobody would have imagined it when they won the FA Cup just two years ago. They can still look to their dreams being fulfilled in 2016. They have had quite a run, beyond what many supporters get in a club’s entire history.
It’s just that nobody expected it to be as brief as this. Leicester make history in another way.
Their sensational story has a twist, albeit after no drama.
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