Seven games into the Premier League campaign and reigning champions Leicester are 12th in the top-flight table after an unconvincing start to their title defence.
The Foxes visit 2014/15 Premier League champions Chelsea on Saturday lunchtime and they are regarded as underdogs in the clash. However, what is new about that status for the Foxes?
Not underdogs anymore
Claudio Ranieri’s side may be underdogs to beat Chelsea at odds of 5/1, but this season they are no longer regarded as underdogs. In fact, there lies the problem for the fearless Foxes of last season.
The champions are now afforded more respect. No longer do teams go up against the team from the Midlands and play with complacency. If anything it is the opposite, as reigning champions they carry a dangerous tag.
In truth expectations of the Midlands club have rose, maybe not amongst supporters who probably do not believe that the Foxes were going to be champions this season. However, opposition teams are now raising their game and that is bad news, as the Foxes have had no answer to it so far this season.
A mixed record of two wins, two draws and three defeats shows that the Foxes are not the same team that surprised everybody to win the title last season. Everything came together for Ranieri’s side last season and everybody hit form. It just has not happened in the same way this season.
Missing N’Golo Kante
One man does not make a team. However, some players are just irreplaceable and midfielder N’Golo Kante is one of those players. The now famous line from former-Foxes assistant boss Steve Walsh explaining Leicester’s formation as “played three in midfield, Drinkwater in the middle with Kante either side” now rings even truer.
Kante was just that energetic and key to Leicester’s title victory. To describe him as a player that does the job of two would not be going too far, as Leicester Ranieri himself stated “If Chelsea bought Kante, it’s because he played as two players last season. The referee counted 11 but we were 12.”
The 25-year-old will line-up against his former club on Saturday for the first time. The Foxes fans would be forgiven for regretting Kante’s exit. From the first game of the season Leicester have looked like a different team.
The Foxes have looked shaky at the back and just not quite on their game. The likes of Daniel Amartey and Namplys Mendy, when fit, will attempt to replace the Frenchman. However, they have big shoes to fill.
Kante has been asked to play a different role at Chelsea and he is often left more exposed in the Blues midfield. He may need a partner, because even Superman needed help occasionally.
Top-six more realistic for Leicester
One factor that will have had an effect on the Foxes performances this season is the Champions League. The champions have enjoyed a good start to the campaign winning both of their European games so far.
Europe’s elite competition has maybe taken focus away from the Foxes Premier League campaign. This season was always going to be a difficult one for Ranieri’s to retain the title considering the big arrivals at some of the leagues richer clubs.
Some Leicester fans would maybe have believed that the Foxes could challenge for the Premier League title this season. However, most would have been realistic. Last season’s campaign was a complete and utter one-off. Maybe with the distractions of the Champions League, a place in the top-six this season is more realistic.
There is quality in the Leicester squad and they have a very knowledgeable boss in Ranieri. However, they do not seem to have the same fearless mentality as last season. The odds look to be stacked against the Foxes winning the title, even if they are accustomed to upsetting the applecart.
Do you think Leicester are realistic title challengers?