If you thought Chelsea’s title defence was bad, take a look at the 2015-16 Premier League winners’ start to the new campaign. After a humiliating loss to relegation-threatened Sunderland, the recent dream-come-true for Claudio Ranieri’s men is beginning to turn into their worst nightmare. Leicester City now find themselves facing a relegation battle.
The atmosphere at the King Power Stadium is still electric as the fairy-tale buzz has yet to wear off. Leicester pull in capacity crowds nearly every week, and it could be due to the cheap ticket prices. According to research provided by Voucherbox, a season ticket to watch the champions can be picked up for as little as £471. But if the team carry on with this current form, attendances may start to drop off.
At the start of the 2015-16 campaign, before the Foxes stunned the world with their amazing onslaught on the established hierarchy, many were tipping them for the drop. The King Power club had pulled off an incredible escape from the jaws of relegation under Nigel Pearson, but then parted ways with the hero manager and brought in Ranieri. After his catastrophic tenure in charge of Greece, how could the Italian steer the team in the right direction?
It turned out Ranieri didn’t need to do much other than let the players carry on how they had been playing when they were fighting to stay in the top flight. The pundits who had predicted burnout after the relegation scrap were proved wrong – or may have just made their guesses a season too early.
The loss of N’Golo Kante at the beginning of the new campaign has clearly been a significant blow to Leicester in that they can’t continue with the style of play they had used to dominate with last season. Kante’s tireless work-rate in midfield meant that the two forwards in Ranieri’s 4-4-2 formation didn’t have to track back and defend too much, but that is not the case this season as a like-for-like replacement for the Frenchman wasn’t brought in.
Leicester fans may be able to take some solace from Blackburn Rovers’ dismal title defence back in 1995-96. The shock title winners from the previous season only mustered 4 wins in their first 13 games, and by November were sitting 11th in the table. Ray Harford managed to turn things around with the help of the top scorer Alan Shearer and the team finished in a respectable seventh.
Ranieri desperately needs Jamie Vardy to follow in Shearer’s footsteps and recapture the devastating goalscoring form he displayed last season. After 14 games the England striker has mustered two goals; pathetic returns compared to his 24 of last term (see video above).
Leicester have miraculously earned a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League, but progression deeper into the tournament could hurt their chances of Premier League survival. The 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Porto proved that Ranieri can’t afford to play second string players in Europe, so he may have some difficult decisions on his hands in the latter stages of the season.
The wealth of talent available at Leicester should be enough to ensure their survival. But this complacency needs to end and they must recapture the passion that they showed when fighting for the title last season.