Leicester's midfield was one of the most heralded in the Premier League this year with players at every position making names for the season in the fantastic title-winning season.
Starting with the Algerian Magician, let's look at the performances from the midfield.
In a year of incredible firsts, Leicester City’s headline talent became their first ever PFA Player of the Year, as he dazzled opponents with quick feet and outrageous skill that needed slow motion replays to fully appreciate.
It could be said the tricky winger had a tendency to drift out of games at times, making little impact when off his game. It could also be said that when on his game, which he nearly always was, he was a transcendent, unstoppable talent.
Defenders knew exactly what he wanted to do most of the time but that didn’t help much. He’d already topped last season’s PFA award winner Eden Hazard in goals and assists by March. Entertaining and successful in great measure; a season I’ll consider myself lucky to have witnessed.
Leicester’s title credentials were still in doubt going into the Man City game. Then Mahrez skipped over a £30 million defender with ease, made Martin Demichelis look foolish and left England’s best 'keeper standing with a stunning finish. Most doubts ended there.
See above. Arguably Mahrez biggest/best goal of the season during Leicester's 3-1 victory over Manchester City.
Season Grade: A+
2016-17 Outlook: A chance to test his skills against the best of the best in the Champions League, hopefully in Leicester City blue. It would be greedy to expect him to be quite as unstoppable as this year, but I will anyway. One of several that will be missed during AFCON.
Esteban who? Last summer it felt like no one could replace the legendary Argentine, now it feels strange to imagine anyone else controlling the midfield.
The former Manchester United man took a season to adjust at the Championship level before taking over the midfield for an impressive title run. His time in the Premier League was no different and, after a shaky first season, he’s right back to being the first shirt his teammates look for with the ball.
Sadly, England manager Roy Hodgson wasn’t so keen for him. The last Englishman to make 35 league starts for the title winners and not make the national team squad for a major tournament was Nigel Winterburn in 1998.
A beautiful long ball over the top for Jamie Vardy to open the scoring late on in a tight game against Sunderland displayed his incredible range of passing and epitomized the Leicester approach this season.
Danny showing off the abs after he belted in a screamer in Leicester's final match of its incredible season.
Season Grade: A
2016-17 Outlook: Hopefully more of the same. It’s been an up and down career so far, but whenever he’s had consistency with the same club at the same level, he’s thrived. May take time to adjust to the Champions League, but expect the same driving force in the league.
Nothing has summed up the importance of this diminutive menace better than the sound bite given by recruitment guru Steve Walsh, "People say we play a 2-man midfield, I say 3. We play Drinky in the middle and Kanté either side."
It looked like men against boys at times. Freaky super-boys, who generally came out on top. With a kit presumably from the kids’ section, the baby-faced Frenchman had the energy, enthusiasm and persistence to match, making him Leicester’s and possibly the league’s most important defensive player. Meanwhile, a turn of pace and unexpected ability on the ball have provided key contributions at the other end.
Lauded as the bargain of the season, he’s typified the club’s incredible recruitment. However, considering he had more tackles and interceptions than anyone in Europe’s top 5 leagues last year, hindsight suggests this was no great find but a great failure on the part of every other club.
Bournemouth 1-1 Leicester. Try hopping back in time and telling everyone that’s a turning point in the club’s history, but the midfield dynamo’s first start was a sign of things to come. Leading the team in touches, with more tackles and interceptions than any 2 players combined, there was no doubt from the start we’d found a gem.
From Blues to Bleus
Season Grade: A+
2016-17 Outlook: A true shrinking violet, it’s almost impossible to tell what our mute superstar thinks of the swirling transfer rumors. This one may drag out all summer. Wherever he is, he’ll be spectacular. Some skills are at risk of dips and peaks of form, but freakish tenacity is not one of those.
Hugely underrated by many, including Aston Villa, who I’m pretty sure would take him back now. Played out of position on the left and his love for whipping balls into the box may not quite fit with the team’s lack of height up front, but his tireless work rate were instrumental to the 4-man midfield often competing against an opposition 5.
The opening game against Sunderland. Expectations were still low for the team and the player but with 2 assists in the first 18 minutes, and a goal of his own in the second half, things soon changed.
Keep em on 'til you get off the pitch, Marc. That’s a yellow at least.
Season Grade: B+
2016-17 Outlook: Despite a great season, Albrighton may return to fighting for a place. Repeated transfer target Ahmed Musa, young gun Demarai Gray and Jeffrey Schlupp all have experience on the left and the winger is one of few first teamers who doesn’t look irreplaceable. In the team, on the bench, somewhere else, he will continue to cross. A lot.
Leicester’s home-grown Welshman with the London accent to match. If that sounds unusual, try 10 years at the same club these days. Leicester’s longest serving player doesn’t seem to be able to create a central role for himself any more, but the club wouldn’t be without him. Good luck in France, Andy.
Ever reliable when called upon, the Wales international’s goal in the celebratory game against Everton was a great moment for him, and for all those who remember him bringing us back from the lowest point in the club’s history.
The rain couldn't stop the celebrations for this Foxes stalwart.
Season Grade: B
2016-17 Outlook: With the two in front of him, he’ll have to accept fighting for a place on the bench again. His status as a ‘club-trained player’ for the Champions League leaves the stalwart in the odd position of irreplaceable squad player. Plus the name thing with King Power and King Richard. Can’t give that up.
Oh, Jeff. Never change. I’m not 100% certain the academy product ever knows what he’s meant to be doing out there, but that somehow doesn’t seem to hinder him too much. Part of the problem as a defender, but further forward his pace and power caused great problems for any fullback. Young Player of the Year 2 years in a row.
The assist in the demolition of Swansea was pure Schlupp. The run into the box gave the defender no chance, but indecision and a lack of precision looked to have squandered the chance. The Ghanaian international just keeps going, however, and eventually put the chance on a plate for Ulloa.
Oh hello ball! Nice to see you :-)
Season Grade: B
2016-17 Outlook: More sublime, but likely more ridiculous too. At 23, time is on his side an doing away with the left back experiment can only help, but I wouldn’t count on any huge leaps forward.
The former Swiss international entered the season as his nation’s captain and the prized replacement for Cambiasso. Unfortunately, he struggled to adjust to the pace of the English game, spent most of the year on the bench, and wasn’t included in the Switzerland squad for Euro 2016.
2016-17 Outlook: The experienced pro wasn’t happy with his limited playing time last year and could look to move on in the summer. If he stays, his more measured approach to the game may be of use in European games and he certainly wouldn’t be the first to take a full season to get to grips with the Premier League.
After a solid first season at the top level, regularly keeping Drinkwater and King out of the side, the 24-year-old lost the whole season to injury, but is now back in training.
2016-17 Outlook: By the start of the season, it will have been nearly 15 months since his last game. A loan move to the Championship for some game time wouldn’t surprise me. Nigel Pearson’s Derby seems the most obvious fit.
Put his body on the line for a possibly season changing winner against Aston Villa, but looked poor in his limited action afterwards.
2016-17 Outlook: His loan deal is over, so will return to Swansea with a medal around his neck.