Following their flirt with relegation the previous season, many tipped Leicester for a gruelling 2015/16. Questions arose over the obscure signing of N’golo Kante, the appointment of Claudio Ranieri was mocked by Gary Lineker and Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez had scored just 9 goals between them. These all add to the heroics of last year which will go down as one of the greatest sporting achievements of all time. The loss of Kanté in the summer, stagnation of key players and a squad bereft of confidence has allowed a return to the ordinary, and fans must ultimately understand that this is the type of season Leicester are supposed to have.
It would be difficult to forget the madness which surrounded Leicester during the 2014/15 season, such as Nigel Pearson’s farcical ostrich press conference or their superb run between April and May of 2015 where they picked up 22 points from 9 games. Both the fans and players were riding high off their great escape, long before Vardy or Mahrez had risen to cult hero status. You wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar effort in the summer months of 2017, with Leicester aiming to avoid being the first defending champions to be relegated since Manchester City in 1938.
Tactically this year, Leicester are setting up in a familiar 4-4-2, but are failing to replicate the successful dynamism of last season. Losing Kanté was undoubtedly a huge factor as his statistics from last season were astonishing. But the sharp decline in form of key players such as Vardy, Mahrez and Wes Morgan with fewer contributions from squad players such as Marc Albrighton have also been reasons for their faltering title defence. We have only seen brief glimpses of the sleek, direct counter attacking that won them both plaudits and points last season. Victories over Man City and Crystal Palace witnessed Musa, Okazaki and Mahrez pulling the strings with pace and precision. Yet despite all their attacking flair, Leicester combined this with steel last season. They have kept just 5 clean sheets this season compared with 15 last which is as much down to missing the one man shield of Kanté as it is the lack of confidence in the team’s ability to sit deep, soak pressure and hit teams quickly on the break.
Many believe that teams have been cannier when playing Leicester this season, allowing them more time on the ball and forcing them to take the initiative. Yet Leicester are averaging 45% possession per game this season, lower than the 47% mark of 2015/16. They have only won the possession battle 4 times this season, suggesting that players, not the approach, are the issue. Whilst injuries and suspensions have played their part, the overriding feeling is that summer acquisitions such as Ahmed Musa, Islam Slimani and Nampalys Mendy have failed to live up to the billing.
The clearest comparison between this season and last which Ranieri failed to address is their woeful away record. Whilst last season Leicester remained imperious at other Premier League grounds, losing just twice, they are yet to pick up a victory away from the King Power Stadium, the main reason they are 15th in the league. The confident and positive atmosphere from last season has evaporated and Leicester are suffering because of it.
Whilst pundits, journalists and fans alike expected a hangover from Leicester, their struggles this season have come as a surprise to many. Despite what many are terming a miraculous recovery after wins against Liverpool and Hull, City fans should be patient and wait to see how Shakespeare’s men handle fellow relegation candidates Crystal Palace, Sunderland and Bournemouth.
Whilst it is disappointing for City fans to admit, these reasons contribute to the miracle of last season, and prove what a truly astonishing season it was for Leicester City Football Club.
Words: Jacob Thorburn