The football world has, in the last few years, been witness to a rather consistent and unusual statistic in the English Premier League – the reigning champions performing outstandingly poor in their title defence. It all started with Manchester United’s dismal season in the season following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, when the Red Devils finished 7th in the 2013-14 season under David Moyes, thus becoming the worst defenders of the English title then. Chelsea, who won the title in the 2014-15 season, surpassed United’s notorious record when they finished 10th in the 2015-16 season, following their worst ever start to a season in the Premier League era. Leicester City, who won millions of hearts last season by becoming the English champions under heavily unfavourable odds, look all but set to go one step beyond Chelsea.
Apart from the Champions League group stages matches, nothing seems to be going Leicester City’s way in other leagues. Leicester City currently sit at a lowly 15th position after 22 games, just five points adrift of the relegation zone. They were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the first round by Chelsea, humiliated by a 4-2 scoreline. Further embarrassment has ensued the Foxes as they failed to win against second-tier Derby County in their FA Cup fixture on 28th January. Following are the reasons for Leicester City’s abysmal season so far.
Sir Alex Ferguson once famously said,” Attack wins you matches, but defence wins you titles”. Leicester City’s defending was unparalleled last season, to say the least. The backline consisting of Wes Morgan, Robert Huth, Christian Fuchs and Danny Simpson rarely gave goal-scorers any room for putting the ball in the back of the net. This season, however, Leicester City’s defenders have been a pale shadow of themselves. They have already conceded 37 goals this, one more than the 36 goals they conceded in the entirety of last season. The CB pairing of Morgan and Huth, both of whom are on the wrong side of 30, seems to have taken a toll due to the additional pressure of the Champions League matches. And with no reliable backup options, Leicester City’s defense has been breached easily quite often this season.
In the centre of the park, there is a big void left by the departure of N’Golo Kante. Kante was the backbone of Leicester City’s title-winning campaign last season. It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that his importance at the King Power Stadium was more than even Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s importance at Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively. His midfield ball-winning capabilities are unrivaled. Kante made 175 tackles in the Premier League (31 more than any other player) and 156 interceptions (15 more than any other player) and even then, was booked just 3 times last season. This season too, he has been the driving force behind Chelsea’s phenomenal season so far. Danny Drinkwater, Andy King and Daniel Amartey have tried filling the shoes of the 25-year-old France midfielder, but failed miserably.
On the attacking front, the duo of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy wreaked havoc last season. Vardy scored 24 goals and assisted 8 in 38 appearances. Mahrez, on the other hand, won the PFA Footballer of the year and the African footballer of the year for his 17 goals and 11 assists in 37 appearances. Both of them have been below-par and misfiring this season- Vardy has netted just 5 times while Mahrez just 3 times. Ahmed Musa and Islam Slimani, who were brought in to boost goal-scoring haven’t done anything substantial. Leicester City have scored just 24 goals so far this season, nowhere near the 68 goals they scored last season and as a result have a negative goal difference.
Claudio Ranieri’s tactics have gone for a toss due to the departure of Kante and the demands of European football. Leicester City played with a 4-3-3 formation last season, with Shinji Okazaki and Mahrez joining Vardy upfront.This worked because N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater maintained balance in the centre of midfield, while Danny Simpson covered for Mahrez, and Marc Albrighton stayed wide left, hitting long passes from a deeper position. The constant tinkering of the stable formation this season seems to have disrupted the consistency of the players.
Leicester City were expected to face stiff competition in their title defense from the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal , Liverpool and the Manchester clubs. But they have been largely disappointing, with the Champions League wins in the group stage being the only saving grace. They need to get back on track and show atleast a glimpse of the team that won the title last season. Otherwise they could well be the first ever champions in the Premier League era to have been relegated the very next season. The dream which started last season could end with a nightmare.