Leicester City, also known popularly as the ’Foxes’, managed by Nigel Pearson were promoted to the English first division in the 2014-15 season.
As most sides do tend to struggle after promotion, they weren’t any exception as they were rock bottom of the table on matchday 29 having failed to win any of their 7 previous matches. But a miraculous turnaround saw them winning 7 of their next 9 games ensuring a dramatic escape which was rather comfortable in the end, finishing on 14th place with 41 points.
However, this wasn’t enough for the fan favorite Nigel Pearson to keep his job much to the agony of the Leicester faithful. Claudio Ranieri was surprisingly handed the manager’s hot seat to the surprise of the whole league. Yes he was successful at Chelsea, Serie A and Ligue1 but never had he won any trophies. But this wasn’t the stat Leicester fans were concerned. Their main concern was that just prior to being the Foxe’s manager he had a torrid spell as Greece national team failed to qualify for the Euros ending bottom of the qualifying group, a resume which didn’t create much optimism among the supporters.
But what happened in the 2015-16 season nobody could ever dream of even in their most beautiful of dreams. Ranieri quietly went about in the transfer market buying Christian Fuchs, N’golo Kante and a few others who were no big names at that time. Who knew that the forgotten orthodox 4-4-2 system would do wonders for the manager then!
What unfolded in that season was that Leicester City had completed one of the most remarkable stories in the history of English football by winning the Premier League title, winning 23 games and losing only thrice; collecting 81 points, 10 above their nearest title rivals Arsenal and it was enough to earn them immortality.
This wouldn’t have been possible without a duo who the club will regard as Heroes forever: Englishman Jamie Vardy and Algerian Riyad Mahrez. Previously a non-league player, Vardy stepped up into the biggest stage big time scoring 24 goals and assisting 6, in the process breaking Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s record of having scored in 10 consecutive matches. Partnering Vardy, Mahrez notched up 17 goals and 11 assists earning him the PFA player of the year award.
While these two were tearing apart English defenses, a certain player named N’golo Kante, partnered by Danny Drinkwater, had turned into an instant fan favorite for his whole hearted, tireless work in the midfield. With 4.7 tackles and 4.2 interceptions per game he recorded the best stats by any player in the Premier league that season. Club captain Wes Morgan with experienced German Robert Huth made sure of their safety at the back as they had the joint 2nd best defense in the league
Written off as relegation candidates at the start of the season, when the bookmakers made Leicester 5,000-1 outsiders to be crowned champions, ‘The Tinkerman’ guided his team to the first top-flight title in the club’s history after Tottenham were unable to beat Chelsea on match day 36 and registered the club into the history books. Leicester City defeated Everton (3-1) in their last home game of the season at the King Power Stadium, and the Foxes tasted title for the first time. They replicated what Nottingham Forest achieved in 1978 under Bryan Clough. A day no one in the Football world will ever forget. The 2015-16 season title holders had been an inspiration to every club proving that anything is possible. From the jaws to relegation to the ecstasy of Victory, it was quite a journey.
But in England, in the Premier League life is tough, it’s harsh. One patchy spell, one bad game, one moment of madness can make your life unbearable in the top flight. We have already witnessed this in the 2015-16 season only as Chelsea were officially and statically proved to be the worst title defenders in the Premier League since it formed in 1992. Jose Mourinho who led Chelsea to their 4th Premier league title in his 2nd spell as the club head coach was sacked after picking up just 11 points in their first 12 games in the Premier League. Interim manager Guus Hiddick couldn’t take Chelsea higher than 10th spot with a meager 50 points.
Just like title defense is tough, keeping your best players out of the clutch of the European powerhouses is more of a challenge. Vardy, Mahrez, Kante all were striving to seek for greener pastures. Even though the first two eventually signed new contracts, the core of the team was gone with the French ‘Beast’ having moved on to Chelsea. He was considered to be irreplaceable and so it proved to be. There began the demise of Leicester City, they just couldn’t cope with early setbacks. They started to feel the heat of the toughest league in the World. 2016-17 will be a long year for Leicester City, with European commitments proving to be a burden more than a mode of revenue gain.
Survival with their main agenda Ranieri brought in Amatey to replace Kante; Hernandez to add to the defense and a striker in the form of Islam Slimani from Sporting Lisbon to add to the strike force of Okazaki, Ulloa and Vardy who performed very well the season before. But as predicted by many, none of the signings except Slimani has flourished under Ranieri as of yet. 4-4-2 system isn’t working any more as most managers have started exploiting the cracks in it. The deadly duo of previous season Mahrez and Vardy look to be off form as Leicester are ailing at 14th in the table having won only 3 out of their 13 games. They lost 6, having scored only 16 goals. The duo scored only 5 goals between them. The defense of Huth and Morgan looks old now as they have shifted in 22 goals already.
Arrogance and self-confidence had taken Vardy to the bright lights of the Premier League and he had achieved something special. It was a remarkable feat as he did something which Van Nistelrooy had done in two campaigns 2002-03 and 2003-04. But, the Englishman is suffering a goal drought now, which by means his first but this season he has the burden of Leicester expectations ever him.
Vardy is an international striker, a Premier League winner and a player competing in Champions League. He is realizing what happens when expectations are not met. Many strikers especially English ones have had fantastic seasons but failed to replicate the same form in the subsequent seasons; just like James Beattie for Southampton.
On the other hand, since August Mahrez has successfully passed to Vardy on just 9 occasions and only once since September 17. The current PFA Player of the year holder has 4 Champions League goals to name but only 3 in the league, one more than his teammate. At this stage last season Leicester had 132 shots, this term they have only 83. Vardy has only 10 with 4 on target – a mere 40% accuracy. He has created only 9 chances as compared to last year’s 17.
In a few weeks Vardy turns 30, an age at which many attacking players who rely on pace begin to decline. However his career has been a story of triumph over expectations and he has previously silenced his critics in spectacular fashion. Would anyone bet against doing the same feat again? Not many.
Leicester have 13 points and are flying in the Champions League, leading the group which is another terrific achievement in itself. Being optimistic, it may be only a matter of time before the players start performing in the league again turning around their fates. A few January signings will only add to the firepower which the team already possess. The Leicester faithful are only hoping for such a phase to arrive so that the defending champions are back on their track again. Should that happen, the Foxes can dramatize the Premier League and the Football world once again.
Photo by Ungry Young Man