Leicester City lost a game last weekend, falling 1-2 against Arsenal, but the defeat barely seemed to matter. The Foxes remain the highest ranked team in the Premier League, and as the weeks go on, it's becoming increasingly probable that they will at very least contend for the top-flight title in 2016. Such a victory would be a game-changer for the EPL, not because this has been a great or even particularly good season for English soccer, but because it would further challenge the idea of the Premier League's virtual "class system."
Since the English Premier League began with the 1992/93 football season, the division has crowned 23 champions. The 2015/16 campaign will mark the 24th Premier League winner. However, despite the fact that this league has now persisted for nearly a quarter of a century, the number of different soccer clubs to actually hoist the trophy remains a very small figure. Indeed, 23 seasons in, only five different teams have won the Premier League, and four of them have clinched the title more than once.
The Premier League's Middle-Class Problem
Those statistics make it clear why the Premier League is often thought of as a division of upper-class clubs and middle-class clubs, with the "lower-class teams" alternating between the top-flight division and the Football League Championship depending on the season.
Take a look at the numbers, and it's easy to spot the ruling class: Manchester United, with 13 Premier League titles; Chelsea, with four; Arsenal, with three; and Manchester City, with two. The only other soccer club to ever win the EPL title was the Blackburn Rovers, who clinched the title in 1995, but who have been relegated numerous times in the years since.
With four clubs so thoroughly dominating the competition in the Premier League, it's easy to see how the rest of the league could suffer as a result. These teams have more money, influence, fame, and power than their competitors, and they can use those factors to bid higher for the best players or attract the best coaches.
The other issue is the fear that the Premier League will become boring. A league where the same teams win every year and where the "middle-class" can't hope to compete can quickly grow stagnant and lose audience interest. Who wants to tune in or buy season tickets every year when their favorite football club will never have a prayer of winning the title or even qualifying for the Champions League?
EPL History: The "Big Four" Era
Of course, none of these fears are new for the Premier League. The question of the league becoming stagnant and boring has been around for almost as long as the league itself. Indeed, the outcry got especially loud in the mid-2000s, when the four same teams took the top four spots in five out of six consecutive years.
Those clubs-Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool-earned the group designation of "the Big Four" during their period of peak dominance. The six seasons in question-which spanned from the 2003/04 season to the 2008/09 campaign-only saw one other club (Everton) pushing into Champions League qualification range.
The Premier League's Dissolving "Class" Boundaries
Understandably, there were complaints during that six-season span where fans and football club managers criticized the monopolistic nature of the Big Four's dominance. As the end of the decade rolled around, though, the football gods seemed to hear those complaints and a lot has shifted since then. Indeed, the boundaries finally seem to be dissolving between the EPL's upper and middle classes, creating a more exciting and unpredictable competitive structure in its place.
A few things have happened since 2009. Perhaps most importantly, Manchester United have lost their stranglehold on the Premier League's top slot. Since the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down as manager at the soccer club in 2013, the Red Devils haven't won a single title. They even fell out of the top four in 2013/14, for the first time in Premier League history.
Around the same time as United's dominance began to slip, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City managed to break into the Premier League's top four. City even won the title in 2012 and 2014. The two teams paved the way for other "middle class" clubs to make a play for Champions League qualification range. Southampton looked on the verge of reaching that mark during parts of the 2014/15 season (though they ultimately fell back to seventh place), and Leicester City are poised to make it happen in 2016.
Leicester City: Premier League Contender
With United continuing to struggle, Liverpool proving inconsistent even under the management of the great Jurgen Klopp, and Chelsea still recovering from the damage done by Jose Mourinho, the Premier League title race is wide open this season. For a time, Manchester City looked like the most likely contenders. However, the Sky Blues have lost two matches since announcing the forthcoming arrival of Pep Guardiola-suggesting players are perhaps not as willing to work hard under outgoing manager Manuel Pellegrini as they once were.
With Man City's chances on the rocks, Leicester City have a golden opportunity to become just the sixth football club in Premier League history to win a title. Right now, with 26 of the season's 38 matches played, the Foxes are leading the way with a record of 15 wins, eight draws, and three losses. Their point total, of 53, keeps the team two points ahead of their nearest challengers: Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal.
A Cinderella Story
But can Leicester City really win the Premier League? Could this Cinderella story make it all the way, or will the clock strike midnight at some point and dash their hopes?
On one hand, the idea of the Foxes winning the EPL title seems completely bizarre. Just two seasons ago, this team was playing in the Championship. A win earned Leicester a promotion to the Premier League-their first appearance in the top flight since 2004. But the road was still tough for the Foxes during the 2014/15 campaign, with the football club notching 19 losses and finishing in an unglamorous 14th place.
Leicester City have made a cosmic leap forward this season, and there's really no other way to look at it. Led by an incredible performance by Jamie Vardy (still the league's top scorer), the Foxes will almost certainly have their best-ever Premier League performance this year. The previous high-water mark in the team's history was the 1999/2000 season when they won 16 games to finish eighth. So far in 2015/16, they've already won 15 games and are only two-thirds of the way through the season.
The Other Contenders
Undoubtedly, Leicester City are on the right track to win a game-changing Premier League title. If they do, the victory would virtually demolish the idea of the EPL "middle class," and would show that even recently promoted teams have the ability to grow, improve, and compete for trophies in just a matter of a few years. To put it very simply, Leicester City really could win the Premier League.
If the Foxes don't win, though, who will be the team to knock them off the pedestal. Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, and Manchester City are all in range to potentially win the league. Manchester United, trailing Leicester by 12 points, are likely out of contention, as are all lower-ranked soccer clubs on the table.
The Spurs, the Gunners, and the Sky Blues are all teams to watch, though. Arsenal might be considered the safest bet, because 1) they've won before, 2) they just beat Leicester City last weekend, on a come-from-behind basis, no less, and 3) they finally have Danny Welbeck back in the lineup. Welbeck was out with a knee injury from April 2015 through to the beginning of this month. He only played the last seven minutes of the game against Leicester City, but that was enough for him to score the winning goal.
Tottenham Hotspur, meanwhile, can't be left out, simply because of the monumental presence of Harry Kane. And Manchester City, though now six points back, have enough talent on the pitch to rebound and make a run for the title in the last weeks of competition. Suffice to say that, ever since they stole the Premier League title right out from under Liverpool two years ago, it's impossible to discount the Sky Blues.
Which team do you think is headed for Premier League glory? At Soccer Box, we want to hear your predictions, so find us on social media to share! We are active on multiple social platforms including Facebook, Pinterest, and Tumblr.