How Have Leicester Coped As Premier League Champions In The Early Part Of The Season?
August 24, 2016
Miracles do happen. To put it into context, the bookmakers had it priced at 5000/1 for the words ‘reigning champions’ to be positioned in front of Leicester City during this Premier League campaign. The unthinkable became thinkable and the unbelievable turned believable as the Foxes clinched the Premier League title for the first time in their history with two matches to spare.
Despite their sensational season last time out, many remained sceptical as to whether they could sustain their incredible consistency. At the start of the season, 888Sport had Leicester at 33/1, not one of the favourites to win Premier League, with relegation seemingly a more realistic prospect with the bookmakers at 16/1. So just how have Claudio Ranieri’s side fared in their defence of the trophy so far?
Leicester have failed to build on the momentum that they built up during the tail end of their glorious campaign which saw them remain unbeaten for their final 12 games – amassing an incredible 28 points from a possible 36 in the process.
Pre-season was initially met with the resilience and solidity that defined their top-flight legacy as top goalscorer and Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year Jamie Vardy rejected a move to the Emirates, which in-turn provided a huge boost to the club and his manager.
However, the man-management abilities of the ‘Tinkerman’ could not prevent the powerful influence of N’Golo Kante fleeing for Stamford Bridge. The French destroyer was arguably their star player last season with his relentless energy and ability to snuff out danger sorely missed in their opening matches.
A shock defeat at the KC Stadium on the opening day against a club in disarray and turmoil was not in the script, with the sought-after Riyad Mahrez having a poor game by his own high standards. Is the Algerian’s mind elsewhere?
On the other hand, last Saturday demonstrated why Leicester ended last year at the summit. Their organisation limited Arsenal to very little in the way of clear-cut chances, with the Midlands club always dangerous on the counter-attack. Ultimately, it was the Foxes who were left to curse their luck with a stonewall penalty for a foul on Ahmed Musa not awarded by referee Mark Clattenburg and a handful of promising openings not converted
In spite of this, there was much to admire in the way they responded after the setback against Hull. More than anything, it epitomised the character of this squad. Vardy was back to being his vivacious self and Mahrez was mesmeric, as evidenced by his mazy run in stoppage time which was superbly kept out by Petr Cech.
The performance of club-recording signing Musa was also extremely encouraging, with his direct approach and rapid turn of pace adding to this attacking threat. Having wowed fans with two superb pre-season goals against Barcelona, the Nigerian looked a justified way for Leicester to break their transfer record. Like the rest of his team-mates, he failed to ignite on the opening day, but signs are there that he could strike up a lethal partnership with Vardy.
Leicester are no longer the hunters, but the hunted. As odds-on favourites against Hull, they were expected to be the team dominating and the onus was on them to go on the offensive. They faltered.
Their encounter against Arsenal was a complete contrast. They conceded the lion’s share of possession to the Gunners and yet seemed content in doing so – it was a Leicester performance symolic of their title-winning season. Perfecting the role of the underdog and playing with a fearless mentality. Only this particular 90 minutes was filled with hard-luck stories and near-misses.
Leicester are no longer a surprise. Their unconventional tactics from last season will be snuffed out more often than not, so it is up to Ranieri to conjure up a Plan B and do all in his power to retain the magical Mahrez. I am not expecting another phenomenon, but Leicester have already immersed themselves in football history – anything from this point onwards is a bonus.