Leicester City are back playing European football, with their first match against Ukrainian side Zorya Luhansk in the Europa League. The last time they played in Europe, they reached the Champions League quarter-finals against Atletico Madrid, narrowly losing 2-1 on aggregate.
But clubs like Leicester could soon be hanging by their fingertips as underdogs, in a sport that is keen on edging them out as plans for a European Premier League are floated by the continent’s biggest and richest clubs.
Will the dream run continue?
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It’s almost impossible to talk about Leicester City without mentioning that Premier League triumph in 2016. The celebrations began outside the King Power Stadium immediately after Eden Hazard struck for Chelsea against Tottenham in the stormy Battle of the Bridge, guaranteeing it would be the Foxes’ name engraved on the trophy.
As a resident of this wonderful city, watching on as Andrea Bocelli stunned a crowd to silence by singing Nessun Dorma ahead of their final game, it was in many ways the best summer that we could ever have as a city.
In the aftermath of those title celebrations, it finally hit a lot of fans that their beloved team would be playing in the Champions League *cue the music*. Leicester went into the competition with little expectation from the media and fans alike – after all, playing alongside some of the best teams in Europe was a feat in itself.
Leicester being Leicester though surprised people again. The last 16 second leg at home to Sevilla was the turning point as people started to believe they *might* just pull off another winning run. Wes Morgan and Marc Albrighton both netted goals, while Kasper Schmeichel saved a penalty from the spot. The 2-0 victory secured the Foxes place in the quarter-finals and one fan couldn’t contain his emotions at the news.
In the end, the dream ended, and they were ousted by Atletico Madrid in the next round.
But life comes around quickly and on Thursday, a new one begins.
After recent league defeats to Aston Villa (1-0) and West Ham (3-0), Leicester will be looking to bounce back in their new European campaign. They’ve been drawn in the same group as AEK Athens, Braga and their first opponents, Zorya Luhansk.
The Foxes’ home advantage and stronger squad coupled with the Ukrainian side’s troubles on the road mean they shouldn’t be troubled too much. Luhansk, though, have the bonus of seven consecutive Europa League campaigns which will stand them in good stead.
Leicester are accompanied by Arsenal and Tottenham as the two other English sides in the competition. With other quality sides including Bayer Leverkusen, AC Milan and Benfica to name a few it won’t be easy for Leicester. But, if there’s anything their Champions League run taught them, it’s daring to dream.
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It’s time to celebrate Leicester City like we would the ‘big six’ clubs
It’s important to keep mentioning their title win and what an amazing achievement it was. Mostly because the failed ‘Project Big Picture’, and now the new proposal of a ‘European Premier League’, is that those plans would prevent a Leicester City fairytale from happening again.
These discussions of grouping together the ‘big clubs’ is a way of gatekeeping the so-called ‘little teams’. Modern football is sadly a product of people rounding up their chums with the big bucks and forming an alliance to create an elite in the sport.
It was in many ways no surprise when The Independent reported that an executive from one of the Premier League’s ‘big six’ clubs said, “we don’t want too many Leicester City’s”. For them it’s bad for business, but unpredictability is what keeps the game interesting for fans.
Sure, you could argue how likely are Leicester to win a European title? What are the odds? But nobody thought that back in 2016 when the odds were 5,000-1. The big clubs are still dominating when it comes to hoovering up the trophies - but is a Real Madrid title-winning streak in the Champions League really that exciting?
The powerful clubs will also get the headlines having transformed themselves into a product over the years that draws the most traction. But Leicester City have proved that you could be missing out on something special if you take your eye off the underdog.
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