FOOTBALL – Thirty-five years ago Aston Villa famously, and surprisingly, won the league title with just 14 players. Three years earlier, Nottingham Forest won the league immediately after promotion using just 16 players. Arsenal’s 1989 title win, their first for 18 years, was achieved with just 17 starters. This season, Leicester City have been the great surprises of the Premier League and have also followed a similar pattern in their selections. In the first 22 matches of the season, Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri has picked just 17 players in his starting line-ups and the club could still equal the Premier League era record for fewest starting players in a season.
Prior to 2015/2016, there have been 14 occasions on which a club had started fewer than 20 players in a Premier League season. The record low is the 17 starters used by Manchester United in 1992/1993 and Aston Villa in 2008/2009.
In 2008/2009 Fulham manager Roy Hodgson selected 18 players to start the club’s 38 Premier League matches. Half of that group started at least 30 times and Fulham finished seventh in their best ever season.
A few years earlier, Sam Allardyce took his Bolton team to eighth place in the 2003/2004 season, selecting only 19 starters in the process. That season was the club’s best for 44 years although Allardyce would better that a year later.
At the top of the table, Manchester United won their first league title for 25 years when Alex Ferguson selected only 17 players to start their 42 Premier League matches in 1992/1993. Ten years later, United won the title again with fewer than 20 starters.
Starting few players in a Premier League season has become a rare occurrence in recent years though with only Stoke City selecting fewer than 20 in their starting line-ups in the last six seasons.
Leicester City look like joining this select group of clubs and, like all but Stoke City, they look like completing the season in the top half of the table. If the Foxes finish the season in the top five, it will be their most successful campaign since the 1920s and the usage of such a small number of players will probably have played a large part in that.