Leicester City’s historic success from last season, when Claudio Ranieri’s brave men beat the odds to lift the coveted Premier League title looks set to receive it continuation, but not the kind anyone in the club could have hoped for.
As the Foxes sit in 16th place in the standings, only two points in front of the rock bottom Sunderland, the relegation fears have become a haunting reality for the reigning champions.
There is a big crowd in the gutter as no less than six teams are in tangible danger of going down at the end of the season. Still, it is Leicester City who are, quite understandably, getting all the attention.
History Once Again?
It does not happen quite often that a reigning champion ends up being among the sides which get booted out of the elite company at the end of their title defence.
In fact, it has happened only once before. It’s been 79 years since Manchester City got relegated in 1938 after winning the trophy in the previous season and as things stand at the moment, chances are Leicester City could very well write their name in the history books once again.
To be exact, there are 9/4 betting odds on the Foxes to be relegated to the Championship next year as Claudio Ranieri’s men continue to display a worrying lack of cutting edge, confidence and most amazingly lack of quality in their play.
The Italian manager should not be entirely blamed for the dire straits his team is in, since core of the problem seems to be rooted well beyond his reach. He did well enough to reinforce his squad during summer, recruit some quality players who were expected to replace those who left and provide back-up for those who stayed.
But as Islam Slimani, Luis Hernandez, Ahmed Musa and Nampalys Mendy continue to struggle, there is little that Claudio Ranieri could do actually.
With Leicester City going five straight matches without a defeat in all competitions, there are a couple of key factors that explain their epic struggle.
No Kante, No Party
The diminutive Frenchman and his performances for Chelsea are the best possible message to all of those who thought N’Golo Kante must be a one-off wonder, who could not go on to replicate the stunning performances we saw in a Leicester City shirt last season.
But seeing Kante make more tackles than any other Premier League player in the last three season in the top tier is rather indicative. With his tireless running and simple, but straightforward and utterly efficient approach to defensive duties and responsibilities, Kante has become one of the rare players who has managed to make defending look attractive.
Kante is like a perpetuum mobile for the Blues, a player who offers great protection to defensive line of his team and without him as the pivot in Ranieri’s 4-4-2, Leicester’s system simply does not work.
His work-rate also had a big influence on the attacking cutting edge which is another thing missing this season.
Jamie Vardy failed to score in 23 of his last 24 appearances for Leicester City which is an incomparable piece of statistics to his exploits from last term. The PFA Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez as another widely disappointing star is failing to exert the same level of influence he had on Leicester City’s play last season.
It sounds rather remarkable to heart that Leicester City have this season shipped in 41 goals already.
Without N’Golo Kante in front of them to alleviate the pressure in the back, Robert Huth, Wes Morgan and Chris Fuchs – all three as highly experienced defenders – seem shockingly unable to deal with the challenges thrown at them.
Their lack of positioning, pack of cohesion and – if I dare say – apparent lack of quality was exposed to the full against Manchester United’s attacking powers perhaps even the most thus far.
Claudio Ranieri should not be blamed for his defensive players’ blatant errors, poor man marking and one-two transition that was on display against Red Devils. Leicester defenders are perhaps the weakest link in the team this season and Claudio Ranieri’s only blame could arguably be his failure to anticipate the possible struggles and subsequent lack of action in the transfer market in regard to boosting the defence lines.
With underperforming and widely disappointing centre-back Luis Hernandez being expressly sent back to Spain after only one year in England and Molla Wague being brought in his place this January, Leicester City’s hopes of defensive improvements are hanging by a thread.
Just like their survival hopes for that matter.
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