It's all over now, baby blue
From unlikely champions to relegation battlers − where has it all gone wrong for Leicester City?
Having passed the halfway point of the season in the Premier League, I think it's more than fair to say − Leicester City, last season's incredible, unlikeliest of champions, a team that took on the leading role in a phenomenal footballing story that captured the imagination of the entire world, are deep, oh so deep in trouble. In relegation trouble in fact.
This has now gone way beyond Chelsea's predicament after its own championship- winning 2014/2015 season under Jose Mourinho. True, there are common elements. Just like the Leicester City we are seeing now, Chelsea too looked rudderless back then, unable to get going, unable to extract match-winning displays from its game-changing players. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa looked devastatingly out of sorts and Nemanja Matic, their midfield destroyer, was way too busy running around, aimlessly trying to plug the gaps that kept sprouting around the Chelsea backline. It was almost inexplicable. Nevertheless, Mourinho was eventually shown the door and Chelsea slowly steadied the ship. By this point in the season, it was unspectacularly paddling around the mid-table pool, but at least it wasn't sweatingly looking over its shoulder, tensing at every creak, in fear of the dreaded trapdoor to the championship opening and dropping it to the tier below.
Fast forward a few seasons and Leicester City is nowhere near mid-table safety. Its latest loss, a 3-0 drubbing at home to Manchester United, combined with a flurry of results that has seen bottom sides Sunderland and Hull City fire past Crystal Palace and Liverpool respectively, have dropped the reigning champion into a six-team battle for Premier League survival. All that separates current bottom side Sunderland from 15th- placed Middlesbrough are two points, and between those teams one can find Hull City, Crystal Palace, Swansea City and of course, the team Ranieri built. Make no mistake about it, this isn't just a case of unlucky results or a cramped set of fixtures. This is a Leicester team in relegation form, unable to find anything that even vaguely resembles the ruthless, lung-bustingly fearsome counter-attacking side that Claudio Ranieri steered to Premier League glory.
But where has it all gone wrong exactly? This is a mostly unchanged side. In fact, some would argue that this Leicester City side has even more options than the team that raced to the Premier League crown. In Ahmed Musa they seemingly bought a speed merchant who could rocket past defenders and provide a suitable alternate focus to Jamie Vardy, in big money signing Islam Slimani they now had a more physical attacking option, that could re-invigorate the fading role played by Leonardo Ulloa, and the board thought it had bought wisely to replace Chelsea-bound N'golo Kante by investing in Nampalys Mendy. Sure, another shot at the league title seemed a dream too far, but a relegation scrap? Surely not.
And yet that's exactly what it got. A lot of people have been quick to vigorously point at the Kante-shaped gap in midfield, and while it is true that the Frenchman has proved to be irreplaceable – just look at the effect he has instantly had at Chelsea – it would be rather simplistic to try and explain Leicester's collapse through that alone.
In truth, it's a combination of factors. For one, Leicester City's first half of last season was one of smash-and-grab brilliance. No one saw them coming, no one took them seriously and before anyone had twigged as to what exactly was going down, Ranieri's men had raced to the top and had the entire league chasing after them. This season, no one took the team lightly. It was, after all, the Premier League champion, a team that if given the space and the time, would punish you. A lot of the teams it faced last season have now adopted a different approach, allowing Leicester City more time on the ball, something that nullifies the effectiveness of its pace-heavy reactive football, starving it of much-needed space to express its counter-attacking stylings.
It's also a matter of its star players not showing up for a sizeable chunk of the season so far. Riyad Mahrez, the Algerian playmaking wizard who mesmerised and bamboozled opposition defenders for the majority of last season, grabbing the PFA Players' Player of the Year Award in the process, has been hugely disappointing, seemingly unable to galvanise himself and his team in the league and saving his few flashes of brilliance for Leicester City's Champions League adventure. The team's top marksman, Jamie Vardy, has also been a shadow of his high-scoring self from last season. The stats say it loud and clear: having plundered 24 goals in 38 appearances last season, the England international is still struggling to break into double figures for this campaign, having scored just six times in 28 appearances.
With no midfield flair and creation, no go-to marksman and with no defensive midfield shield to cover the back line, it's ultimately no real surprise that Leicester City has struggled so. Add to that a niggling list of injuries that were all but absent during last season's title run and you have a combination of factors, choking the life out of the Premier League's unlikeliest of champions.
It all leaves the ever-likeable Claudio Ranieri in dark and uncharted waters, trying to survive the dreaded vote of confidence he recently received from the Leicester City board and fighting against the combined muscle of a player revolt, as rumours swirl concerning some of his star performers going above his head and pleading with the board to show him the door.
He, too, will of course need to shoulder a sizeable portion of the blame for his team's current predicament, as he has gone back to his tactic-tinkering ways that were strangely absent last season and that have confused and unsettled his 4-4-2 loving side, but it would be nothing short of a footballing tragedy if Leicester City drops into the Championship at the end of the current campaign.
It still has time of course. More importantly, it still has the quality to save its season and surely something must still remain from the verve and magic that left everyone in the Premier League marvelling at the Foxes.
But it needs to find it fast, or last season's champions will be crying into their beer in next season's Championship campaign.
Better hurry, Claudio.
- Register Now
- Tsim Booky speaks to Neos Kosmos
- When Melbourne went blue and white
- Is your Greek property on forestland?
- Is Australia becoming too expensive to live in?
- Milo Yiannopoulos' forthcoming memoir will not be published in Australia
- Women of Greece taking to the rugby field
- Greek Tourism Professor wins another international award
- The Vow of the Nation
- The 'Bell Bearers' of Eastern Macedonia come to Melbourne
- Corruption still riding high in crestfallen Greece
- Tsim Booky speaks to Neos Kosmos
- In memory of 16-month-old Nikki Adipas
- 'The New York Times' picks Greece, Australia and Cyprus among best places to visit in 2017
- Greeks among the hardest-working population in the world
- James Penlidis has the answer: Go naked!
- 138 violations of Greek airspace by Turkish aircraft
- Bougias of Bourke Street
- Bulleen project to set Melbourne up as Hellenic global diaspora headquarters
- WWII Bomb forces people to evacuate Thessaloniki
- When Melbourne went blue and white
The newly promoted club put its best foot forward in the NPL1 season opener, equalising against last season's grand finalist Oakleigh Cannons.
Having composed music for almost every major theatre company in Greece, the singer and songwriter leaves behind a treasured legacy.
Archaeologists dubbed it '7,000-year-old enigma' as they don't know its provenance and can't explain its irregular size and matter.
Sydney and Melbourne in the top 10 most expensive cities in the world.
South Melbourne has announced several measures which it believes are a positive outcome of its One Club policy.
Ninety-two per cent of members were in agreement, confirming a sense of solidarity among the community.
The Greek crisis is primarily a crisis of values, and so far no government has managed to restore the credibility of institutions and create standards of integrity.
Now in its seventh year, the exhibition celebrating Greek inspired art returns.
A major celebratory dinner was held in Ballarat with over 100 attendees.
Neos Kosmos' complete guide to learning Modern Greek and younger generations staying in touch with their Greek heritage.
Reflecting on 60 years since that first edition in 1957.
The Victorian Association of Argos Orestikon will continue to operate within the Greek Centre on Lonsdale Street, Melbourne.
If the changes get the go-ahead, philologists fear it will be another blow to Classical scholarship, occurring across the globe.
Restaurateurs Tony and Peter Giannakis are moving on − having put Port Melbourne on the fine-dining map.
How Panagiotis Barbounis' vegan lifestyle and passion for global eco-preservation has made his brand a snack favourite all over the world.
"By helping to build capacity in dynamic young organisations, The Hellenic Initiative is playing a significant role in boosting the charity sector in Greece."
Alannah Halabi, a 13-year-old of non-Greek descent, takes us through her journey of exploration and fun in learning Greek at school.
Although not a household name among Australian sports fans, he remains one of the giants of the sport due to his extraordinary goal scoring feats in the 1950s and '60s.