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Leicester City’s squad look tired: is Ranieri afraid to make changes?

Consistent selection was a strength last year, but is it hurting the team now?    

Leicester City Training and Press Conference Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

I think we were all thinking the same thing after, and probably during, Leicester’s disappointing draw against Southampton: they looked tired. Frankly, it’s no surprise.

Thanks to their European and Community Shield commitments this year, Leicester City have played more games so far than many of their Premier League opponents.

Just as important, however, is that it’s essentially the same players going out again and again.

Above is a breakdown of time spent on the pitch so far, in all competitions, just by each team’s 11 most used players. The foxes are top with 8613 minutes, and it’s not close. Manchester City are the only other side that top 8000.

The highlighted bars show the teams who’ve played as many, or more, games than us. Yes, they’re all up at the top, but what’s interesting is minutes per game played.

The top 11 players for West Ham, Manchester City and Manchester United rank 20th, 18th and 16th in the league for minutes played per game. They play more games, so they rotate more, it just makes sense.

Leicester City rank 3rd.

Individually, it’s no pretty picture either. Including 120 minutes in the EFL Cup, Wes Morgan and Danny Drinkwater have both played over a thousand minutes, comfortably than the 3rd most used player, West Ham’s Michail Antonio. It’s no wonder they’re starting to look ragged.

Rest doesn’t mean success

It’s no news to a Leicester City fan that rotation isn't necessary for success. They won the Premier League last season based on consistent selection; they found a team that worked and stuck with it.

Up alongside the Foxes in minutes per game, there’s team’s like Liverpool, who are enjoying success with consistency, as well as team’s like West Brom or Hull City, forced into it through small squads.

Meanwhile the foot of the table has plenty of teams like West Ham and Sunderland, chopping and changing to find something that works, but Manchester City rotate just as much and top the league.

Leicester’s problem is that they’re just tipping over into too many minutes and too many games. Liverpool and Chelsea can afford to be at 70 minutes per game because they aren’t playing in Europe. Leicester are and it’s catching up to them.

Leicester City FC v FC Porto - UEFA Champions League
Wrong way, Danny. Maybe you should get some rest, eh?
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Who’s to blame?

All three of the highlighted teams above have more experience in Europe than Leicester, having competition in a continental competition last year.

Is it coincidence that these teams, used to the rigours of twice a week football, are going about things the right way, while Leicester, who perhaps became a bit complacent after playing so few games last year, aren’t?

That’s always going to catch up at some point and, based on this, you’d say it’s bad management.

I still love Claudio, and if he decides that this is the best decision for the team, he’s earned some trust. But is it possible that he’s still running away from “The Tinkerman”. He seems resistant to making changes, even in cup games and maybe he’s worried about how he was driven out of Chelsea.

Use ‘em or lose ‘em

Last year, consistency brought success, and obviously I wouldn’t change that, but there were problems as well. Gokhan Inler, who might have had a useful role after a year of getting used to a new league, made it clear that he wouldn’t sit around for another year and left.

Meanwhile, important squad players like Leonardo Ulloa and Jeff Schlupp have both tried to leave for more playing time, while exciting youngster Ben Chilwell was also unhappy with his lack of time last year.

I think he said that to us at the start of the season. It is a squad game and yes, everyone wants to play in the Champions League, but it is a squad game and we are all in it together – Danny Simpson tells us that the squad are happy to rotate.

Ranieri has recently announced that big summer signing Ahmed Musa is missing out at the moment because he’s still getting used to a new style of football and that seems fair enough, but he’ not the only one not seeing the field.

These days, Leicester’s squad is deep and full of quality, but the same 11 players are coming out over and again. Is there any good reason, for example, that £6.5 signing Bartosz Kapustka couldn’t even make it off the bench in the essentially meaningless EFL Cup?

Even if they aren’t seen as integral squad members right now, our recruitment has targeted these guys for the future and they won’t be here for that if they go completely ignored.

Light at the end of the tunnel

The good news is that Claudio does seem to have seen the error of his ways.

Maybe it was much better to give some rest to some players. I changed just one player. It is not enough – more changes may be coming, says Claudio

A lot of the squad will play international games this week, possibly two, and will come back to three games in 8 days for Leicester, including a Champions League match and a tricky away fixture against Chelsea.

Hopefully this time we’ll see a few players a bit better rested and a few more opportunities for those outside the chosen 11.