Leicester City has enjoyed an unbelievable run of success dating back to their relegation escape two seasons ago, and culminating in the hoisting of the Premier League trophy last May. This year, however, their results have been more believable than that reality.
That’s not to say that it’s all bad either. While they may not be flying as high as they did on their way to the title, they’re still clear of the relegation zone and top of their Champions League group.
Still, it’s worth taking a look at how things have changed.
First off, the Foxes have endured a heavy uptick in competition. It began with a hectic preseason that saw them travel from Glasgow to Los Angeles to Stockholm in the ICC, and things have only gotten busier since then.
In addition to the regular Premier League schedule, Leicester has had three midweek matches. They played both their EFL Cup match against Chelsea and their Champions League match against Porto at the King Power Stadium, but traveled to Bruges for their first foray into Champions League action against Club Brugge.
It’s understandable, then, that the players would have tired legs. This much was clear when City was thrashed 4-1 by Manchester United.
This takes us to our next point: hesitancy by the back line. It was the team’s downfall against United - a match that saw them concede three goals from corners.
An emphasis on tugging in the box by referees could be at fault for the lack of edge. Last year, the defending of crosses and set-pieces was a strength of the Foxes. Wes Morgan and Robert Huth dominated in the air, allowing them to force other teams out wide.
Another factor that has significantly hampered the squad’s defensive abilities is the loss of N’Golo Kanté. Daniel Amartey has filled in admirably and put together some solid performances, but Kanté is a star whose value cannot be replaced.
This has allowed more pressure to leak through the middle of the field than the defense became accustomed to last year. It has proven to be an issue as Leicester has given up four goals in three different matches already, and displayed an overall lack of consistency.
Consistency is a trait that was essential to the team’s success last year - both in play and squad selection. Now, Claudio Ranieri appears to be attempting to mimic that strategy. Unfortunately, the aforementioned excess of matches is making this harder to replicate.
There’s also been a few injuries that have affected the club. For one, Nampalys Mendy - the man originally tabbed to take over Kanté’s spot - has been out since injuring his ankle early in the season in the match against Arsenal.
Usual super-sub Jeff Schlupp has also missed a few matches, but perhaps most importantly, one of the vocal leaders of the team in Kasper Schmeichel has suffered more than one injury.
The impact he can have was evident in the club’s last match against Southampton. He put in a superb performance, swatting away several goal-scoring opportunities and finishing with a clean sheet.
His leadership, though, may be his most valuable asset. This is something that the club needs if it’s going to return to the standards they set last season.
Ranieri has focused on what is possibly the most important difference. He has emphasized mentality, shape, and togetherness as the main keys to success - all qualities that a leader like Schmeichel can help with.
Because, OK, if we lose we can lose, but it's important to maintain our mentality, our shape because that's our strength. I understand they want to show their character, but if you play alone, you play against 11. It's important you stay together and play 11 v 11. - Sir Claudio Ranieri
Claudio has earned himself plenty of trust, as have the members of the squad. So while Leicester may currently sit 12th in the table, there is no need to panic, as there’s plenty of time for them to improve their standing. And even if they don’t move up in the Premier League, there will still be plenty of fun to be had.
“We are in Champions League, man! Dilly Ding Dilly Dong!”