The Foxes have gotten fat. The gluttonous success of last season has seen Leicester emerge this term in a food coma.
Sluggish and slack, the Premier League champions have lost their appetite and it’s led to their current slump which sees them sit one point off the relegation zone. But while many see yesterday’s vote of confidence from the board as an indication head chef Claudio Ranieri is set for the chop, it’s important to understand there are wider issues beyond the charismatic Italian.
Indeed, recruitment, both in backroom staff and on the pitch has ultimately failed them this season. Losing their head of recruitment Steve Walsh to Everton has had a bigger impact than was first envisaged because their transfer record since has poor.
It was pretty clear in the summer that the defence needed to be bolstered – a problem which was further neglected in last month’s window – and the failure to do so has resulted in 10 goals being conceded so far in 2017 with Leicester leaking three or more goals on three occasions in that period.
Christian Fuchs and in particular Robert Huth and Wes Morgan have been exposed. Without the protection of N’Golo Kante, the defensive midfielder who has made more tackles than any other Premier League player since arriving from France two years ago, the ageing centre-back pairing have been left incredibly vulnerable.
Both are immobile and have been prone to errors in a 4-4-2 which accentuates their shortcomings as the high line of last season remains but without the unremitting pressure on the ball from Kante.
Nampalys Mendy was bought to fill the vacuum but the 24-year-old has struggled with injury and when fit has looked lightweight and off the pace. The defensive foundation which last season’s title triumph was built upon has since crumbled and left in its wake a frail frame.
The recruitment further up the pitch has been no better either. Islam Slimani is yet to feature this year after playing for Algeria in the Africa Cup of Nations. Ahmed Musa has now gone 11 games without a league goal and has started just two of their last 12 games.
But while this all points to a club issue, Ranieri has his fair share of the blame for this season’s slide. The ‘Tinkerman’ has returned with his mixed messages lurching from bad to baffling. In recent weeks he’s employed a 4-4-2, 4-4-3, 4-5-1 and has even switched to three at the back. The indecisiveness smacks of a manager unable to find a solution and he’s hardly helped himself by playing the likes of Musa and Shinji Okazaki out of position while he’s persisted with Fuchs when Ben Chilwell has impressed.
The tight-knit unit of last season has also unfastened and it’s led to the unravelling we see before us. Many appear to lack effort and is it any wonder after Morgan, Fuchs, Andy King, Kasper Schmeichel, Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater signed lucrative new deals after last season.
Perhaps rumours of a divided dressing room have emerged from too many new contracts married to the ego-boosting success of last season.
While there are strong arguments for and against sacking Ranieri it’s important to remember it is still February. Last season’s fairytale will give the Italian some breathing room and Sunday’s trip to fellow strugglers Swansea could provide a perfect turning point.
If it doesn’t, and the slide continues, the owners may well look to trim the fat.
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