Leicester City went into Sunday’s final slate of Premier League games with a small-but-not-impossible chance to finish in England’s top four and qualify for the Champions League, even after putting themselves in an unenviable position thanks a bad run of form in recent weeks. Facing a Tottenham team with little of importance to play for—except for the joy of finishing above Arsenal and qualifying for whatever the UEFA Europa Conference League is—all the Foxes had to do was win, preferably by a large margin, and then scoreboard watch the Liverpool and Chelsea matches. A favorable result in either of those games, combined with the three points that Leicester should have picked up at home against Spurs, and it all would be gravy in East Midlands.
Despite taking both a 1-0 and 2-1 lead, both off penalties from Jamie Vardy, Leicester choked away the last 15 minutes of the game, giving up three goals to Tottenham, including a Gareth Bale 87th-minute winner, en route to a 4-2 loss. The loss virtually guaranteed, regardless of other results, that Leicester would be in fifth place at the end of the season. I say “virtually guaranteed” because there was a scenario in which Liverpool, in theory, could have lost by a score of 7-0 to Crystal Palace to let Leicester make up the goal difference it would need as a tiebreaker. That did not happen, as the Pool Boys took care of business by a 2-0 scoreline and ended up, somehow, finishing third after a whirlwind season.
And then there was Chelsea. The Blues only needed to beat Aston Villa away to clinch their own spot, and there were even some easily achievable scenarios for a top-four finish if they drew at Villa Park. Instead, Chelsea got bossed all over the place, going down 2-0 with goals by Villa on either side of half-time. A 70th-minute Ben Chilwell goal made it possible to pick up that crucial point, but in the end, the only other notable thing to happen after the goal was a silly red card for César Azpilicueta in the closing moments. With its Champions League life on the line, Chelsea completely crapped the bed, perhaps looking ahead to the final of this year’s continental tournament, which could afford them a ticket into the next edition with a win over Manchester City.
Chelsea won’t even need that, though. Thanks to Leicester’s own bed-crapping, the Blues are in, finishing with 67 points to Leicester’s 66. It gets worse for fans of the Foxes: Unbelievably, the club had the most days in the top four of any English team this season, and it wasn’t close.
To play so well only to be let down by a string of terrible results in the run-in to the final day has to sting, particularly after last year’s similar near-miss. The FA Cup trophy that the club lifted last weekend will help soothe the pain, but there was only a small chance that it would miss out on top four even as recently as a month ago—FiveThirtyEight had the Foxes on April 28 as an 84 percent favorite to qualify for Champions League.
Those odds aren’t the end-all be-all, but they do help illustrate how badly Leicester played over the last few weeks, and it cost them dearly in the form of a missed chance at the coveted Champions League money and prestige. Through 52 minutes on Sunday, it looked like the club would do what it had to do, albeit a lot more tensely than necessary. But 38 minutes and three Tottenham goals later, Brendan Rodgers and his players will have to wonder how it all went wrong once again.