Eight weeks of the Premier League have already passed and, while it is still too early to definitively say who will win the title this year, have already been enough to tell us one very important thing: After taking the world on the unlikeliest of Cinderella stories, the Leicester City hype train has crashed.
Leicester has lost all four of its away games, a feat that has not happened to a reigning champion since Blackburn in 1995. Another glaring statistic is Leicester’s failure to score in three of its eight games. This does not sound overly horrendous, but when one considers the fact that Leicester did not score in three out of all 38 games last season, it is a shocking difference.
Manager Claudio Ranieri always tried to downplay the aspirations of his team, even when it became obvious that no one was capable of overtaking the Foxes. A bit quirky perhaps, but it is a philosophy that reaped many rewards last season and is part of the entire Leicester City charm.
At the beginning of the summer, Ranieri acknowledged that Leicester would find it incredibly difficult to carry the same form and even insisted that his team would not repeat as champions.
While Ranieri was being realistic, given the incredible difficultly to repeat as champions, it appears that he may have actually damaged his team’s confidence. Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez look absolutely nothing like the dazzling players of last season. Wes Morgan has been struggling to anchor the defense, and the usually stellar goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel has been inconsistent.
Excuses can be made for Schmeichel, as the Dane has been plagued with hernias, but the rest of the team seems utterly lost. The quick-striking swagger that struck fear into the hearts of Leicester’s opponents has completely vanished, leaving the champions looking like lost puppies.
A critical difference between the champions and this year’s Leicester squad is the absence of playmaker N’Golo Kanté, who left for a £32 million deal with Chelsea. Kanté was arguably Leicester’s most important player last season, heading every counterattack move that Leicester made thanks to his prowess at making tackles and intercepting the ball.
It is a heavy blow Leicester has still not recovered from. Leicester’s 3-0 defeat this past weekend at Chelsea really hit this home, as Kanté was one of the most dominant players in the midfield.
A more concerning problem for Leicester is the drop in both Vardy’s and Mahrez’s forms. It has gotten to the point where Mahrez — the winner of last year’s PFA Player of the Year award — now starts games on the bench. Vardy might as well be joining Mahrez on the bench since he lacks on-field productivity this season.
It is an alarming display from the pair, who scored 41 goals between them, that has noticeably had an impact upon the Foxes this year.
The lone bright spot of the season has been the addition of striker Islam Slimani. Slimani has done his best to pick up the slack from Mahrez and Vardy. But the addition of Slimani has created a chemistry problem between the trio that has yet to be resolved.
The puzzling thing about Leicester is that the team is actually doing incredibly well in its debut Champions League season. In fact, the Foxes are guaranteed a spot in the Round of 16 regardless of what happens in this week’s set of games.
Granted, Leicester has benefitted from a ridiculously easy group compared to the other teams representing the Premier League. However, Leicester does play like Leicester City in the Champions League and not like the bewildered Foxes that we have seen in the Premier League.
It is almost as though the champions are aiming for a surprise Champions League win — keeping the dream alive in some form — instead of actually doing well in the Premier League.
The way things stand, Leicester will ultimately finish the season in the bottom half of the table. While it would take a complete catastrophe for the team to be relegated, it will take a miracle for the team to finish in the top six.
Until Leicester solves its confidence issues, things will continue to go poorly for the defending champions, a bittersweet end to an incredible journey that took us all by storm.
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