Leicester City – Champions to Relegation Battlers

Written Carl Walker

Rewind to this exact day twelve months ago and you will find Leicester City are top of the Premier League by three points, everyone’s second favourite team and with everyone in the country spurring them on they went on to complete the ultimate fairytale in May. Champions of England, with Ranieri charming the press every time he spoke to them.

Twelve months on, and it is a completely different story. The reigning champions find themselves five points above the drop zone and on a worrying run of form which has yielded just one win in six in the league and most definitely in a relegation scrap.

So what’s gone wrong for the tinker man’s champions?

Over the summer Ranieri managed to keep hold of most of his big stars including Riyad Mahrez who’s sensational performances were recognised with individual honours such as PFA players player of the year and Algerian footballer of the year and he comfortably made the PFA Premier league team of the year. Jamie Vardy, who’s goals helped fire the foxes to a first ever top flight title was also retained as he rebuffed a move to Arsenal.

Other key members of the title winning side have been retained, Kasper Schmeichel who again was fantastic, unbeatable at times pledged his future to the club. There were also members of the squad that had been cast aside by some of the bigger clubs Danny Simpson, Marc Albrighton and Danny Drinkwater all had points to prove.

The only major departure was N’golo Kante, who has been sold to Chelsea, the squad itself has also had some of the fringe players moved on to allow extra funds and wages for new arrivals as the foxes would be fighting on four fronts this season. Recruitment has been solid and methodical, you wouldn’t expect anything less from a man like Claudio Ranieri who has been around the block in his career. He evaluated the squad and its departures and highlighted areas that needed to be improved.

Ron-Robert Zieler, Luis Hernandez, Nempalys Mendy and Ahmed Musa all signed early in the summer. Hernandez to provide cover for the rock solid pairing of Huth and Morgan, Musa with his lightning quick pace to help out Vardy and Mendy was the V8 to replace the outgoing Kante who eats up the ground in front of him. On deadline day in the summer window Leicester broke their transfer record for Islam Slimani from Sporting CP in Portugal, again brought in to help ease the load on Jamie Vardy, so far, mixed reviews from the Algerian.

Truth be told, the form and the performances in the league campaign has been nothing short of horrific, with the exception of the home win over Manchester City in December. They no longer have the edge or that secret weapon when playing teams this season. Football is evolving daily and Leicester City must catch up.

The success last season was down to the formation, an old school 4-4-2 which saw Leicester City counter attack with devastating effect, teams that played with a high line would get turned around with the ball over the top and by then it would be too late, Vardy or Mahrez would be celebrating another goal.

credit Tieu Vu

The formation, in the beginning, remained the same, but with the loss of Kante, and Okazaki, not a regular starter they have lacked the engine in the middle of the park and often find themselves overrun and struggling to retain possession. A change of formation, to a 4-4-2 diamond, has headed but again results have not picked up and they now lack width.

The balance of the team has been wrong this season and Ranieri is compensating for his new signings. Okazaki has rarely started, instead, it’s been Slimani or Musa. Okazaki was an unsung hero last season as he ran and ran and ran to close down opposition players and close down space. If he goes to the diamond he then loses any width.

The usually reliable back five that battled their way to the title last season has been disjointed this campaign, shipping goals and causing errors, again this has not been helped with the departure of N’golo Kante who was a one man wrecking machine, shielding the defence last season.

The Champions League campaign has also been a distraction, some will say a welcome one as it has given the club the chance to rub shoulders with the elite of club football. The group has been topped easily but a sterner test awaits in the last 16 against Sevilla. The league games directly after the Champions League group games have only seen a 50% win rate in them. The extra energy and effort put into those games have certainly had an effect.

Ranieri’s biggest problem is the hunger, it is clear to see that a certain number of players have lost the hunger from last season now the title has been secured. His usually reliable squad have become complacent. Sir Alex Ferguson said he always looked into his player’s eyes the first day of pre-season and could tell if that desire was still there, maybe Ranieri is guilty of sentiment on this occasion.

Now I do apologise if it seems all doom and gloom as I write this Leicester fans, but it is not. Leicester have shown flashes of brilliance this season but only very rarely, there has been no consistency in the performances, except in that fantastic Champions League campaign so far.

The club itself are very well run with a fantastic owner who is very generous towards the fans and gives you that feel that the club is still in touch with its fan base, this is very very rare at the top level in the modern game.

Another positive note for the foxes is that, with the squad they have, and the fact there are at least three teams which are worse than them they should be able to climb well clear of the drop zone and live to fight another day. Sunderland, Hull and Crystal Palace are all in real trouble.

Fans of Leicester City will have known that last season was the greatest achievement in English football ever and that it probably won’t ever be repeated again, but to see Leicester City so low down in the table, fighting relegation will have come as a very big disappointment.

The winter window is open and we have already seen Ranieri add a player and I wouldn’t bet on him adding one or two more if he can get the right players, there is a rot slowly setting in, hopefully, Ranieri has caught it early enough to turn around. It will be a long second half of the season for Leicester fans, but they will get there.

Leicester fans, why is there such a change in fortunes? Will you survive this season? Let us know in the comments below!

featured image by Ungry Young Man