This time last season the entire Leicester City squad were set to bask in glory, having mounted the most incredible Premier League campaign of all. Nobody had seen anything like it before. Not you, your dad or your dad’s dad. There was something mythical about the way little Leicester sailed a creaky ship from the very edge of the world, to the most bountiful island on the planet.
But to accept this season’s fall from grace without challenge would be doing the club and its supporters a grave disservice. For the same players wore blue & white this season – with the notable exception of N’Golo Kante, who plied his trade with honour in West London. And while Kante’s loss cannot be underestimated, I’d like to highlight four legends of the 2015/16 campaign who let their supporters down badly in defence of their crown.
The guvnor of the side, Vardy struck the back of the net 24 times last season, at a rate of 0.67 goals per game. His return this season falls well short at 0.36 strikes per game, and that decline has cost the foxes dearly in the Premier League points earned column.
Vardy was on the verge of moving to Arsenal last summer and had he, I believe we’d be lauding his timing today, in the way that we have Kante. I can’t help but think the distraction of that move has had a damaging impact on the striker’s motivation, possibly damaging his relationship with Claudio Ranieri at the same time. It was both telling and sad that Vardy’s level of contribution increased when Ranieri exited the club in late February. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Vardy following his former manager out of the club during the summer.
Mahrez was simply magical in Leicester’s title winning campaign. Every weekend seemed to bring a new image of a blurred #26 shirt cutting in from the right while terrorising one of the world’s most experienced defenders. Not so this season. The diminutive Algerian has struggled for form throughout and the impact on Leicester’s creative output has been catastrophic. His goal’s ratio has dropped from 0.46 goals per game to 0.18, while Mahrez’ assists have dropped from 11 to 3. It’s simply not good enough for a player who was last season’s PFA and African player of the year. As with Vardy, Marhez’ future is a hugely significant question facing both club and player. Despite this season’s drop in form, there is little doubt that Mahrez will be on the target list of several Champions League clubs.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when the Leicester City captain raised the Premier League trophy with boss Ranieri last season. But the big man simply hasn’t gotten the job done this year. In the case of Morgan, I don’t doubt his application or toil, but when it comes down to the statistics of defending, there can be no hiding. Morgan was a giant in defence last season, winning 167 duels with a tackle success rate of 67%, while winning 93 aerial battles. He’s fallen well short this season, winning 104 duels with a tackle success rate of 52%, while his aerial successes dropped to 65. A poor return that has impacted the stability of City’s rear guard and led to the team shipping far more goals this season. The foxes need to be led by example next season and that work has to start at the back with Morgan. Many will hope that he can regain the form of 2015/16 and I believe that he will.
The final player in our analysis is former manager, Ranieri. While he didn’t personally contribute on the field, the likeable Italian simply has to take responsibility for the players that he choose to put on it. Supporters have every right to question the motivation of those mentioned above, amongst numerous others who have escaped mention here. Inexplicably too, Ranieri sacrificed a title winning formula, tinkering with a winning formation and personnel. A formula for disaster you might say, and that is exactly what it delivered. While Claudio’s sacking was universally unpopular, the club’s owners should take credit for being decisive in trying circumstances and ultimately steering the club away from the real threat of relegation. The above said, Ranieri will never be forgotten by the Leicester City faithful, and rightly so.
Leicester have the resources to become a stable top eight club and that has to be their single biggest objective in 2017/18 and beyond. I think the jury remains out on whether Craig Shakespeare is the right man to deliver that stability, but I’m tempted to trust the owner group based on their record in recent years. Having produced the sporting story of the millennium, there aren’t too many supporters of the game who are ready to say goodbye to Leicester City just yet. But it is critical that the club continues to grow while their popularity level remains high, if they’re to create the long term benefit that their incredible title winning season deserves.
Have your say on this article in our Facebook Group.