It’s the 2nd May 2016, Tottenham have just drawn at Chelsea and Leicester are Premier League champions, the best day in their 133-year history. Fast forward to today, having lost 3-0 to Manchester United, described as “embarrassing” by goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, and Leicester are staring down the barrel, 1 point above the relegation zone. Claudio Ranieri, Fifa Coach of the Year, is now the 7/4 favourite to be the next Premier League manager to be sacked. What has led to such a transformation and does this signal the end for Ranieri and his Leicester City fairy tale?
To begin with, since his £30 million transfer to Chelsea, N’Golo Kante’s absence could not be clearer. Anyone who watched the Chelsea vs Arsenal game at the weekend could see his contribution. The former Leicester man was everywhere and has been crucial in Chelsea’s title charge. He has the made most tackles in the Premier League over the past 3 seasons, despite only being here for 18 months. During last week’s game against Liverpool, Kante made 14 tackles compared to 8 successful tackles for the whole Leicester team against Burnley. Since promotion to the Premier League in 2014, Leicester have achieved 63 points from 63 games without Kante, compared to 80 in 37 with him. His replacements have not been up to it this season, with Daniel Amartey and Andy King among those who have tried to fill this void whilst Danny Drinkwater looks a completely different player without Kante, leaving the defence exposed. Leicester conceded 36 goals last season but have already conceded 41 this year, exemplifying Kante’s importance.
Secondly, Leicester’s summer business was poor. This started on the first day of pre-season when owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha gave all squad members £105,000 BMWs as a gift. This may have contributed to a loss of hunger for the team, with complacency creeping in and many players thinking that they’re “it”. These players enjoyed a view at the top, whilst probably realising that they will never experience that again which may have resulted in the once so grounded team losing their edge. Leicester’s wage bill increased from £36,000,000 to £56,000,000 over the summer and perhaps this has decreased the commitment of the team with key players such as Robert Huth and Christian Fuchs looking worse this season. Riyad Mahrez, a man of 17 goals and 11 assists last season, signed a new £100,000 per week deal in the summer nearly trebling his wages. This contract has affected his performances as he has only scored 3 goals with 2 assists.
With the poor form of last season’s main men, Leicester needed new signings to impress. They spent £63,300,000, showing ambition, however, with limited success. Luis Hernandez came in to strengthen the defence, but he departed in January for Malaga. Similarly, Nampalys Mendy was supposed to be a replacement for Kante for £13,000,000 but hasn’t impressed. Moreover, in attacking areas, £44,600,000 was spent on Ahmed Musa and Islam Slimani, yet they have contributed only 7 goals between them. Leicester haven’t improved from last season, and have in fact gone backwards with the loss of Kante.
Their increased workload with European football has negatively impacted domestic form. The key for Leicester last season was the consistency in team selection, but this has changed this season. They used the fewest players in the league last year with 23, but have already used 24 this season. With their stuttering form, Ranieri has lived up to his pre-Leicester “tinker man” reputation trying 4-5-1, three at the back or even a 4-4-2 diamond against Southampton a few weeks back which can only be described as a disaster, being exposed by Southampton’s width and resulting in a heavy defeat.
Being champions has not helped either. Last season, Leicester were the underdogs and were highly successful in a counter-attacking style. This year, they are the team to beat and are not allowed the opportunity to break, forcing them to play a shorter-passing game which they struggle with. Key players like Jamie Vardy are underperforming with only five goals this season compared to 24 in 2015/16. Similarly, Mahrez is often the focus of other teams. His dribble success rate is down from 51.4% in 2015/16 to 41.5% this season and during a seven game period from September the 14th to November the 19th, there was only once completed pass from Mahrez to Vardy, with two crucial players being nullified.
Surely after all he has done for the club, Leicester cannot sack Ranieri? Whilst losing Kante has been a key factor in their decline, the outburst of Leonard Ulloa, who has refused to play for the club again after his failed move to Sunderland only enhance rumours of dressing room troubles. Ultimately, the poor performances of key players are the responsibility of Ranieri. There is no doubt that Leicester need to stop the rut, find a settled team and get their mojo back but there are worries that the fantastic legacy of this Leicester side could be tainted by a relegation and it is clear that Ranieri has plenty of work to do to show that he is the right man for this situation.
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