Last season, Leicester City won the Premier League by ten points. A team who were a 5,000/1 bet and only just avoided relegation the season before cruised to the title in a country where Sheikhs and Oligarchs normally rule. Vardy, and Mahrez provided the spark whilst Kante provided the steel, guided by a manager who many ridiculed at the beginning of the season after a disastrous spell as the Greece national manager.
It was the ultimate underdog story. Leicester had stunned the footballing world, with many experts, players and fans saying it’ll never happen again.
However, very few predicted just how far they’d fall this season. At the time of writing this, Leicester sit 15th in the table, just 5 points outside the relegation zone. At the same point in the year last season, they sat 2nd and had 22 points more than what they have now. Whilst their first ever Champions League campaign has gone well, with the club qualifying as group winners and drawn against Sevilla in the last 16, there are genuine concerns that relegation is a serious possibility.
So, where has it gone so wrong for the club this season and can it be fixed?
- The summer signings have not been good enough.
With over £65m being spent in the summer to build on the title-winning squad from last season, Ranieri’s signings have not been good enough this year. Big money signings such as Nampalys Mendy (thought to be the natural successor to N’Golo Kante), Islam Slimani and Ahmed Musa have not provided anything close to what has been expected of them. Slimani, a £30m signing from Sporting Lisbon, has notched 5 goals in 13 games for the club so far – not a bad return – but a deadly partnership with Jamie Vardy has not materialised.
- Last Season’s key players have been disappointing this season
Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy were arguably Leicester’s most important players last season. Without their assists and goals (41 goals, 24 assists between them), it is highly unlikely that they would have been Champions. They have not produced that sort of form this season and with a big-money move for Riyad Mahrez on the cards in the summer to one of Europe’s heavyweights (PSG and Arsenal are repeatedly mentioned), the club may be tempted to cash in this time round. As for Vardy, it cannot be argued that the bid made by Arsenal in the summer (which he rejected), has had an impact on him this year. With only 3 league goals to date this season, fans will be hoping he can fire them to safety in the second half of the season, rather than fire them to the title.
- Ranieri’s tactics have been sussed.
In an era where 4-2-3-1, 3-5-2 and 4-3-3 is now the norm in the Premier League, Ranieri winning the title with an out and out 4-4-2 made last seasons achievements even more impressive. A dual strike force, two wingers and two work horses in the center of midfield meant that his team would often blow the opposition off the pitch with their energy, width and pace. However, it seems as if most of the more tactically savvy Premier League managers have found a way of combating this gung-ho style and there does not seem to be a plan B when all-out attack doesn’t work. Ranieri’s coaching style has been both ruthlessly exposed and sensationally lauded in the past 18 months. A new style/philosophy needs to be found ASAP.
- N’Golo Kante has left a huge hole in the team.
When Sir Alex Ferguson, the greatest Premier League manager of all time, calls you “by far the best player in the Premier League” last season, you know you’ve got one hell of a player in your side. Kante might not score 30 yard screamers or hit Ozil-style assist stats, but he works very, very hard. Last season, he was the heartbeat of a team which epitomised the work ethic that saw Leicester waltz to the Premier League title. It is no coincidence that Chelsea’s £32m signing of Kante in the Summer has coincided with Chelsea being 8 points clear at the top of the table at the time of writing this.
Leicester, quite simply, have not replaced him. Ranieri splashed the cash on Nampalys Mendy in the summer from Nice in the hope he would fill Kante’s boots, but a three-month ankle injury has meant that any expectation fans had of replacing Kante have been put on hold for now. Out of all the reasons why Leicester are struggling this year, losing Kante is possibly the biggest reason.
- The players have become complacent.
One of the things that has struck me this season watching Leicester is the apparent attitude surrounding the whole club, from the manager, to the players and the majority of the fans. It does appear from the outside that the incredible success the club had last season has meant that whatever happens this year is not necessarily important as it’s almost inevitable the whole club will come crashing back to reality and it is somewhat expected. It can be argued that every player in the Leicester side last season did not expect to ever win the Premier League title – many of the players were involved in the promotion from the Championship to the Premier League and the relegation battle the year before, so the League title is the peak of their careers at the club. This, in my opinion, has undoubtedly meant the players have become complacent and have lost the motivation required to put up any sort of defence of the title which they worked so hard for last year.
All of this season’s struggles has lead to some people asking what would’ve been deemed unthinkable last year; should Ranieri be sacked for the aparrant underachievement this season? Well, the Champions League exploits of the club are a high point, but for the team to be struggling as much as they are this year and with relegation a real worry, the owners would be foolish if they haven’t at least considered a replacement recently. When asked whether he fears the sack, Ranieri replied ““It doesn’t worry me at all, it’s not my decision. The owner is always behind us and is always positive.
“Of course he’s not happy, no one at the club is. When we win, we win together and when we lose, we lose together.
“My experience says it is important to stay calm and be positive, believe in your players and do the best for your team.
Ranieri still has the support from the majority of Leicester fans, but as the club edge closer to the drop zone, it remains to be seen how many will stay supportive of him if he takes them down 12 months after delivering their first ever Premier League title. It is my opinion that he should be under more pressure than what he’s under now, regardless of the success he had last year. They have been nowhere good enough except for 2/3 performances this season.
Whilst many players in this current Leicester side have earned legendary status at the club, everyone must pull together to ensure agony does not follow the ecstasy of last year.