Was Leicester City’s Premier League win all a dream?
That’s the question that was being asked on social media during the Foxes recent 3-0 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and it seemed a legitimate one, such was the ease with which the Blues beat the 2016/17 Premier League champions.
The defeat felt like more than just a lost three points for the Foxes. It was a power shift. Chelsea, the 2015-16 champions, were re-establishing themselves as a force in English football and Leicester City were being put in their place. The big question though is what has gone wrong at Leicester that is causing them to put up the worst title defence since, well, Chelsea?
The obvious answer is that they have lost N’Golo Kanté, who moved to Stamford Bridge in a £35 million deal but the Frenchman’s absence isn’t the defining issue for the Foxes. What has happened is that Claudio Ranieri has started to make mistakes.
Criticising the Italian who masterminded the most unlikely title win of all time – Bettingpro.com reported that at 5000/1 the Leicester City odds of winning the Premier League made them the biggest priced winners of any division in the world – seems like blasphemy. Ranieri is a mild mannered man who many in England felt was harshly dealt with when managing Chelsea and so to cast him up as responsible for Leicester’s downfall will not be popular. However, perhaps some of the criticisms leveled at the ‘Tinkerman” were not altogether unfounded.
Ranieri struggled with squad rotation when in charge at Stamford Bridge and it seems that he is having the same problems at the King Power Stadium. Leicester didn’t have a deep enough pool of players to do anything other than play an unchanged line-up most weeks last season. That resulted in a harmony and team spirit which is unlike any ever seen before in England. Everyone knew their job and, crucially, they knew the job of others in the team. When one player pushed up the other covered and when a striker drifted to the wings, a midfielder stepped in in attack. This led to an almost telepathetic understanding between team-mates that helped the Foxes to win 23 and lose just three of their 38 league matches.
The Chelsea defeat was their fourth in just eight games of the 2016-17 campaign and it was, in part, down to Ranieri yet again making changes to his system and personnel.
The Italian was given money to spend in the summer and brought in nine players for a total cost of over £75 million. Two of those signings, Islam Slimani and Ahmed Musa, cost £44 million of that total and it is they who are causing problems for the manager. He can’t seem to decide where Musa and Slimani slot into his starting XI and so has continued to alter and ‘rotate’ his squad but without any success. Against Chelsea it was Musa and Jamie Vardy leading the line, in the 4-1 defeat to Manchester United it was Vardy and Slimani while in the 4-1 defeat to Liverpool it was Vardy and Okazaki. It’s clear that Ranieri is struggling to find a preferred pairing and while he experiments, results suffer.
The worry for Leicester fans is that too much tinkering will make it impossible to recapture the formula that proved successful in the first place.