What a difference a year makes. Just seven months after completing one of the greatest underdog stories in modern sport history, Leicester City is stuck near the bottom of the Premier League table in 15th place.
At this time last season, Leicester was sitting in 1st place having lost just 2 matches. This season has seen them lose 9 of their first 20. So, what’s happening?
Jamie Vardy is not Jamie Vardy from 2015-16
Last season, relatively unknown striker, Jamie Vardy, was scoring goals at an insane clip for the Foxes, including a Premier League record 11 consecutive game goal scoring streak. Through 20 games last season Vardy had tallied 15 goals. This season through 20 games, he’s only found the back of the net 5 times, and 3 of them were in one game against Manchester City. For Leicester to get back to their winning ways, they need #9 to find his goal scoring touch from a season ago.
Struggling away from home
Leicester have yet to record an away win so far in the Premier League in 10 tries, managing only 3 draws and 7 losses. Last year, the Foxes were far and away the best team away from home, winning 11, drawing 6, and losing only 2. This obviously needs to improve to see the Foxes make their way back up the table.
It turns out N’Golo Kante is pretty good
The outstanding midfielder for last year’s champions moved on to greener pastures (and a greener bank account) at South London club, Chelsea. Worth noting, Chelsea is currently dominating the Premier League and sits alone atop the table after 20 matches. They won a Premier League record-tying 13 consecutive matches before a loss to Tottenham last Wednesday. Last year, Kante led the Premier League in both tackles (175, 31 more than the next best) and interceptions (156, 15 more than the next best). His productivity was off the charts for Leicester. (Stats via FourFourTwo.com)
The Foxes have not been able to find a midfielder this season who can replace Kante’s production. Just this week, they signed Wilfred Ndidi from Belgium league club KRC Genk. The Foxes are hoping Ndidi can be the permanent solution for Kante’s departure.
The Premier League itself is a grinder of a season. You play nearly every Saturday, and during the holidays, sometimes up to 3 games in a week. When you throw in 6 additional midweek games, it can take its toll. Bigger clubs like Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, and Chelsea are used to this sort of grind and tend to overcome it. This is the first time in Leicester City’s club history they’ve been a participant in the Champions League. They actually are performing fantastically in the elite competition, winning their group and advancing to the round of 16, but it may be affecting their domestic schedule. It’s not too surprising to see a smaller club struggle with this many games.
Power teams have returned
The big boys are back. Chelsea is currently eviscerating every team in their path and lead the league by 5 points after 20 games. Familiar Premier League giants Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester City, Arsenal, and Manchester United round out the top 6. One of the keys to Leicester City winning the league last year was the struggles of the historically bigger clubs (especially Chelsea). Against the top teams this year, Leicester has not fared so well. Their results against these top 6:
Home vs Arsenal: 0-0 draw
Away at Liverpool: 1-4 loss
Away at Manchester United: 1-4 loss
Away at Chelsea: 0-3 loss
Away at Tottenham: 1-1 draw
Home vs Manchester City: 4-2 win
That’s only 5 points out of a possible 18, as well as some pretty bad beat downs on the road.
Outlook for the rest of the season
Realistically, as long as Leicester City doesn’t get relegated, they will bounce back next year. It would take a miracle for them to make the Champions League next season at this point. Assuming they are safe, as the end of the season approaches, you can bet they will put all their time and effort into the Champions League knockout stages. There should be enough home games against middle and lower tier teams for them to easily stay up in the Premier League.