Thursday, February 23, 2017

IT is amazing the difference a couple of months can make. Last May, Leicester City shocked the world by doing the impossible and winning the Premier League which, in my opinion, is the greatest achievement in the history of soccer.
Fast forward nine months and that same Leicester City side are in the middle of a massive relegation battle.
They will need all of the fighting qualities they possessed when they held off relegation two seasons ago to do the same this year and retain their Premier League status. They haven’t scored a Premier League goal in six games and they look like a shadow of the side that took on the world with their fearless attitude last season.
In the summer they only lost one key player and that was N’Golo Kante who was a massive influence for them in midfield. Now with Chelsea, he is without a doubt in the running to receive the PFA Player of the Year award this season. They had a massive boost when Jamie Vardy turned down Arsenal (a decision that he will be regretting now) and they also convinced last season’s Player of the Year, Riyad Mahrez, to sign a new contract and turn down a host of teams who were chasing his signature. If they had lost all three of those players, you would expect them to struggle this season. But surely no one thought they would be in a relegation battle.
There are several reasons why Leicester are struggling. Their recruitment decisions last summer were very poor and Claudio Ranieri has been let down by the club on that front. He’s not been let down by the money that was made available, but he has been let down by the players the club targeted and signed.
They lost their head of recruitment and assistant manager, Steve Walsh, to Everton which was a massive blow to Ranieri and he was replaced by Eduardo Macia whose big singings – Islam Slimani (£28million), Ahmed Musa (£16 million) and Wilfred Ndidi (£17million) – have had little or no impact on the team this season.
In fact, Ndidi has only made four appearances. While he is only 20 years old and has time to be a good signing, when a club like Leicester City are spending £17 million on a player he needs to be playing week in week out and affecting games positively.
Another big reason they are struggling is to do with their style of play. Last year teams showed them little or no respect. While Leicester played some very good football, the opposition played into their hands by treating Leicester differently than the other top six sides.
Leicester were beating teams by utilising Jamie Vardy’s pace and Riyad Mahrez’s skill with quick counter attacks made possible by hard-working midfielders like N’Golo Kane and Danny Drinkwater.
This season all that has changed and teams are defending a little bit deeper against Leicester to stop Jamie Vardy using his blistering pace. It has worked a treat. Vardy has struggled to hit the heights of last season and Mahrez looks as if he wishes he was at another club.
Their cause hasn’t been helped by poor defending and their terrible decision-making at times but that all needs to change if Leicester are to stay up. They won’t want to be remembered as the side that was relegated to the Championship while they were reigning Premier League champions.
I don’t think Claudio Ranieri should be sacked as manager even if they are relegated. Don’t forget when he took over, they had just stayed up by the skin of their teeth and he masterminded a monumental achievement in winning the Premier League.
In this modern age, where the traditional top six teams have so much money at their disposal, it is an amazing achievement for a team outside of that club to finish above them.
They need to start getting points on the board very quickly and a quick glance at their next three Premier League fixtures shows one fixture in particular standing out by a mile. They are at home to Liverpool and away to Arsenal and in between those games, they have a massive six-pointer against a rejuvenated Hull City side.
I think if they are to stay up they need to win that game and put some distance between themselves and Hull. Will they stay up? I don’t know, but I hope they do.

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