Last February, Leicester City sat atop the Premier League table. Fast forward a little over a year, and the club currently sits in fifteenth place, only three points above the relegation zone, struggling to capture last season’s incredible run of form.
Leicester City’s title-winning manager Claudio Ranieri, was sacked from a team that looks absolutely bereft of confidence. The Premier League’s greatest fairytale story seems to be just a one season wonder.
Following their unprecedented Premier League triumph in 2016, the immediate concern that worried Leicester fans was whether they could ward off interest from the rest of Europe in order to protect their key players. Despite interest from major clubs around Europe throughout the summer, Leicester City managed to retain the services of star players Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez.
The club, however, was unable to keep midfielder N’golo Kanté, who transferred to Chelsea FC for £32 million. Kanté’s primary duty is closing down the opposition in order to grant attack-minded teammates more freedom and mobility, and he has helped Chelsea to 69 points and a spot atop the table this season.
By the end of the 2015–2016 season, Kanté led the league in 175 successful tackles and 156 interceptions. Leicester City have been lacklustre defensively this season, as they’ve already managed to concede 47 goals, compared to last season’s final tally of 36 — and there are still 10 games left to play.
The loss of Kanté has clearly hurt Leicester City, as the talismanic Frenchman was responsible for anchoring the midfield and linking the play between the defence and midfield. The protection he provided his defenders proved to be invaluable and it does not seem as if any players in the current Leicester squad can offer anything similar.
In addition to Leicester City’s shaky defence, their offensive quality has declined and become inefficient. So far they’ve only managed to score 30 goals, less than what they had at this point last season.
Vardy has only managed to produce seven goals this season, three of which were scored against Manchester City in December. Vardy’s offensive productivity is nowhere near last season’s output, as he’s been struggling to get off shots and complete his dribbles.
Vardy cannot bear responsibility for Leicester City’s offensive woes, as he relies heavily on service from his fellow teammates.
Mahrez, Leicester City’s main creative outlet, has struggled to generate any meaningful chances this season, scoring only five times and assisting twice. Last season he totalled 17 goals and 11 assists. Mahrez’s inability to recapture last season’s form has left Leicester City strikers feeding off scraps because they simply do not possess the technical ability to create chances for themselves.
Leicester City’s success last year was not solely due to their players consistently putting in world class performances nor was it due to Ranieri’s tactical prowess. In fact, some of the credit goes to the other nineteen Premier League clubs; the opposition allowed Leicester City to play how they wanted.
Leicester City’s team statistics after week 28 this season seem roughly the same as last season: 46 per cent possession, 71 per cent accuracy, and 6,867 completed passes this year, compared to 46 per cent possession, 71 per cent accuracy, and 6,469 completed passes this time last year.
The difference lies in the amount of goal-scoring chances they’ve been able to create, which is significantly less and reflected in their assists total.
Premier League teams have adapted their tactics to contain Leicester City’s quick counter-attacking football. Defenders are now playing deeper to neutralize the threat posed by Vardy’s pace and midfielders are closing down Leicester City’s playmakers a lot quicker.
It’s arguable that the mentality of the opposition has also changed. Managers have instructed their players to avoid complacency and not to underestimate Leicester City. They aren’t playing the same team that finished fourteenth at the end of the 2014–2015 season — they are playing the reigning champions of England.
Leicester City are currently embroiled in a relegation battle and might set a new record in the process: the first Premier League champions to get relegated the following season.