Are Leicester struggling to find a balance?
Nobody can take away from what Leicester managed to achieve last season in a fairy tale story that shocked the football world. Going from avoiding relegation by the skin of their teeth to Premier League champions within the space of a year deserves every accolade and superlative in existence, with Claudio Ranieiri heralded as the mastermind behind a team that, at times, were unstoppable in their pursuit of success.
It is remarkable to think that many questioned Ranieiri’s appointment at the King Power Stadium after his ill-fated spell in charge of the Greece national team, as the wily old Italian transformed Leicester into a side that were hungry to succeed and had an abundance of quality to match. His humorous press conferences became as entertaining as his team were on the pitch, with Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez often stealing the show as the players who, irrespective of whether opposing teams had done their homework on the duo, were at the peak of their powers.
For all of their achievements last season, there was always likely to be a question mark over where Leicester would go from there; some believed it would be foolish to write them off challenging at the top of the table again, but others saw normal order resuming with the big guns re-establishing a dominant hold in the Premier League as the Foxes returned to a more respectable top-half finish. However, after fourteen league games, Leicester find themselves in a real predicament at the bottom of the table, with just two points separating them from the relegation zone. They continue to drop at an alarming rate in the latest football odds with Betway to become the first team in Premier League history to go down the season after lifting the title, and although Leicester fans may shrug off any relegation fears, their recent performances and results should come as a real concern.
There is something clearly lacking from Leicester’s game in the Premier League. Some could argue that the team have nothing to prove after what they achieved last season, but it should not excuse what has been a poor start by the standards they set themselves. Ranieri has admitted that his team are currently in a relegation battle, which is perhaps not surprising given how the intensity levels have significantly dropped. The pressing game that proved hugely effective last season has gone out of the window, while opposing defences have become wise to the threat of Vardy running in behind him and made it much more difficult for the England international to get into goal-scoring positions. Losing N’Golo Kante to Chelsea has proved a major blow, with Daniel Amartey nor Nampalys Mendy asserting themselves as the midfield general that is always there to break up attacks and get Leicester on the front foot. Furthermore, a defensive that worked incredibly hard to remain water-tight last season has looked anything but this time around, with a lack of pace and a number of mistakes being ruthlessly exposed by teams who have found a way through.
Being without a win in five league games is a concern in itself, but it is the manner in which they are playing that should seriously worry everyone connected with Leicester. Aside from the hard-earned point at White Hart Lane against Tottenham, the Foxes have looked a million miles away from a team full of assertiveness and swagger that stormed the Premier League last season. They were extremely fortunate to pick up a point in their most recent home fixture against Middlesbrough who should have won the game, while Sunderland showed more fight and determination to pick up a crucial three points at the Stadium of Light. It will not get any easier for Leicester as they are set to face Manchester City who are among a number of teams that could take the Foxes’ league crown away from them without any sort of fight, and while you’d hope they’d find the net with these odds with Betway, Ranieri’s side could be plunged into even greater danger. The longer their struggles continue, you begin to wonder when a bad start to the season becomes a crisis.
If Leicester were finding the going extremely tough in the Premier League, it is in stark contrast to how they have adapted to life in the Champions League. The fact that the Foxes had qualified as group winners after just five games illustrates just how well they have performed, with Ranieri’s men conceding just one goal in the process. A hugely convincing 3-0 victory in their opening game against Club Brugge provided the confidence boost that Leicester needed to assert themselves on Europe’s biggest stage, with subsequent 1-0 home wins against Porto and FC Copenhagen providing an unassailable lead at the top of Group G. Their performances have mirrored those that became commonplace in the Premier League last season, with their commitment, determination and drive to succeed coming out in spades as they embraced the Champions League. It may be the only time that these players have the opportunity to dine alongside the elite clubs in Europe, which may explain why they have been so impressive. However, Leicester have clearly been unable to find a balance between making their mark in the Champions League and continuing to assert themselves in the Premier League, with the former clearly taking precedent over the latter.
For all of the hard work that went into securing a last sixteen spot in the Champions League, Leicester may have lost all of the momentum and confidence by the manner in which they were torn apart by Porto in the final group game. Ranieri was well within his rights to make ten changes and give others in the squad a chance to impress, but it may have come at a severe cost; the Foxes were comprehensively outplayed against a side who knew the importance of victory, with the 5-0 scoreline being the least that the Portuguese giants deserved. It was an instantly forgettable night for Leicester who looked as fragile and lacking in ideas as they have done in the Premier League, and while it may have been the result of making wholesale changes, it does not exactly bode well when they are likely to face much tougher opposition in the knock-out stages.
You can hardly blame the players for giving it their all in the Champions League, seeing as though they have achieved the ultimate goal in the Premier League and, potentially, have only one shot at making their mark in Europe. However, the significant contrast between their performances in the competition needs to be addressed before Leicester find themselves in a serious relegation battle that very few saw coming at the start of the season. The Foxes may be aided by the fact that the Champions League takes a break until February, giving them a clear run at addressing the predicament they have gotten themselves into in the Premier League. It remains to be seen whether the players, who were rightly lauded as heroes for what they achieved last season, can redeem themselves and put Leicester back on track, but they need to pick up points – and soon.
This is a sponsored article, from Betway.