The 2015/16 season was the stuff of dreams for Leicester City and their fans. The Foxes were in the third tier just seven years prior and the transformation of the club from Premier League strugglers under Nigel Pearson to Premier League champions under Claudio Ranieri was truly something to behold. However, Leicester appear to be a completely different side this campaign and are currently on course to make the weakest title defence of any reigning champion in the Premier League era. The Foxes have failed to lead a game away from home this season and now find themselves just two points above the relegation zone. So, where has it all gone wrong for Claudio Ranieri and his side?
It could be argued that a growth of expectancy has caused the players to feel that they are under more pressure and that for many teams claiming the scalp of the defending champions is a massive achievement. However, it is the opinion of many that while Leicester did brilliantly to win the league last year that they would struggle to mount a serious title defence this season. Ranieri’s men took the Premier League by storm last season but opposing teams no longer look scared to face them. Many Premier League sides now have a style which can be used to contain Leicester’s fast counter-attacking play and as a result – the Foxes are struggling to pick up points this time around.
Another possible reason for Leicester’s downturn could be the added strain of additional fixtures and travel that come with the Champion’s League. The Foxes have done a great job in winning their group and making the knockout stages of the tournament in their first attempt, but while they are succeeding out in the continent – domestically, the Foxes are struggling. It is well documented that teams that qualify for European competition tend to struggle more in domestic affairs and while it may be less evident in sides that qualify every season; it was always going to be a struggle for Leicester to have less time training and resting and more time travelling and playing.
This increase in fixtures and playing time also appears to be having a negative impact on the playing staff too. We have only just reached December and Leicester have now trailed for longer in games this season than they did in the entire previous campaign. In addition to the defence starting to struggle, the strikers are not fairing much better. Jamie Vardy has now failed to find the net in his last 16 appearances for his club and another star man of last season, Riyad Mahrez, has also failed to recreate the form that led to him becoming one of the most feared wingers in the Premier League. This will be frustrating for Claudio Ranieri who has bemoaned a lack of luck as a potential cause of his sides struggles this season but with a lot of the playing staff that won him the league last season still at the club; perhaps it is more likely that a culmination of factors is the root cause rather than some simple bad luck.
However, perhaps the biggest loss for Claudio Ranieri and his side is N’Golo Kanté. The combative midfielder was a revelation for Leicester last season having arrived in England as a relatively unknown player. He was a massive part of the success the Foxes had last season and earnt himself a £30 million move to Chelsea and has become a key part of their set-up. While Leicester have added the likes of Daniel Amartey and Nampalys Mendy in attempt to replace the hole that was left by Kanté – it was always going to be a very tough task to replace a player that was so instrumental to the success that the side had.
Ultimately, much like the season before, not many people truly expected Leicester City to produce heroics this campaign. While the squad showed fantastic togetherness and spirit in winning the league; the team itself is ultimately not as talented or well-funded as some of the other clubs occupying the top flight of English football. It could be the culmination of many factors that have led to Leicester struggling for large parts of this season domestically – such as the increased amount of fixtures, loss of N’Golo Kanté, and the failure of players such as Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez to recapture the form that led to them becoming one of the most feared strike-forces in the Premier League. There is still a lot of football left to play this season, but if Leicester can’t find a way to improve their form they are likely to find themselves in a relegation fight. The honeymoon period is well and truly over for the Foxes and it is the job of Claudio Ranieri to figure out how to steady the ship before it is too late.
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