With the season over, it's time to assess Leicester's 2015-16. Here's a look back at an incredible campaign by the champions.
Season in a sentence
The highlight would have to be lifting the Premier League trophy in a season in which survival was meant to be the sole aim. Leicester didn't just surpass expectations; they made every football club on the planet dream of improbable glory irrespective of stature or financial clout.
There were countless highs in a fairy-tale campaign. Riyad Mahrez's scooping the PFA Player of the Year award, Jamie Vardy's record-breaking 11-match scoring streak and the resounding 3-1 win at Manchester City will all live long in the memory. Claudio Ranieri's "dilly ding, dilly dong" rallying cry, Vardy's rocket in the 2-0 victory over Liverpool, Shinji Okazaki's bicycle-kick winner against Newcastle, an ill Wes Morgan assuring Champions League qualification against Southampton and almost everything one-man midfield show N'Golo Kante touched were also standout moments.
Nigel Pearson's acrimonious exit last summer initially appeared the biggest low, though his departure proved a blessing in disguise. Ranieri was a surprise appointment, but hindsight tells us he was an inspired one. The Italian chose to field Vardy through the centre, which led to 24 goals, and encouraged Mahrez to float into the False No. 9 role. He also replaced full-backs Ritchie de Laet and Jeffrey Schlupp with Danny Simpson and Christian Fuchs, moves that plugged Leicester's leaky defence.
The once brittle backline was most exposed in the 5-2 home drubbing by Arsenal in September. It was the Foxes' heaviest defeat of the season, but they actually matched Arsene Wenger's side for an hour in a pulsating game. The corresponding fixture, a 2-1 loss at the Emirates in February, was easily the most heartbreaking day in a nearly perfect campaign. After Simpson was foolishly sent off, Danny Welbeck's injury-time winner cut Leicester's lead to two points. It was the wobble everyone expected, but the defeat only made plucky Leicester stronger, and they bounced back with a late winner of their own against Norwich the next time out.
There are so many contenders. Top scorer Vardy and mesmeric Mahrez are the obvious stars. The pair managed 39 goals and 17 assists between them. Yet Vardy went through a barren spell of scoring just four goals in 16 starts between late December and March, while Mahrez didn't finish the season like a PFA Player of the Year winner. Both have enjoyed phenomenal seasons, but it's fair to say they were world-class in the first half of the season and, though still excellent, noticeably quieter in the second.
Midfield terrier Kante has undoubtedly been Leicester's most consistent performer. The Frenchman is the Premier League's top tackler and has the most interceptions. He is also in the top 10 in duels won and recoveries. All the preseason talk revolved around who could possibly step into Esteban Cambiasso's huge shoes. Kante hasn't just done that; he has proven to be a far better player -- and that's saying something. The 25-year-old could now be a huge player for France this summer at Euro 2016. The partnership at the back between Morgan and Huth also deserves a special mention, while Kasper Schmeichel kept 12 Premier League clean sheets since the turn of the year.
Leicester face an exciting yet uncertain summer. Their owners and Ranieri must decide whether to revamp or at least deepen the squad ahead of Champions League football next campaign. In doing so, they risk losing the shape and spirit of their side.
City must also curtail unrealistic expectations. The truth is a midtable finish would be a tremendous achievement. Defending their unlikely title is essentially a bonus. Ranieri is highly likely to reiterate that 40 points is the goal, even if he gets accused of lacking ambition or creating a transparent ploy to take the pressure off his players.
Leicester will want to keep their core, so the primary task is to persuade Vardy, Mahrez and Kante to stay. Vardy doesn't appear tempted by a move away from the King Power, but the latter two have been linked with a number of top clubs. Ranieri must work hard to preserve what he has, then milk Champions League football to attract high-quality signings that 12 months ago might not have considered or even heard of Leicester.
Pescara forward Gianluca Lapadula, Sporting Lisbon striker Islam Slimani or Swansea winger Gylfi Sigurdsson are all realistic targets. City could also use an extra centre-back. Ranieri owes it to his current heroes to give them a shot at Europe, but he should look to add depth to the squad and reduce the average age a little. It's perfectly natural to rely on the likes of Morgan, Huth and Vardy next season, but the club must plan for the longer term and accept that one or two reliable names are heading toward the ends of their careers.
Keeping key names and adding youth are the main priorities over the summer, but a box office name or two wouldn't hurt.