Leicester City had it all. The fame, the glory, the knowledge of knowing they had revitalised the world of football and changed the mind-sets of many fans who believed money trumped all. Leicester City may have been the Champions of England but it was the whole world’s eyes that were on them. Claudio Ranieri’s men had achieved the ultimate dream.
It was the display of courageous defending, followed by a battling midfield with attackers who never stopped trying; a combination which saw Leicester produce some stunning displays. Ranieri’s tactic was to soak the pressure from the opposition and hit on the counter, a devastating attack which led to many goals. In that season alone, the opening six games saw Leicester score 13 goals while they conceded 9. Even though the goal difference wasn’t vast, the Foxes had won 3 games and drawn 3.
Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez were in form, having scored 9 of those 13 goals, dominating the scoreboards. It was the perfect start to Ranieri’s reign and something which would spark undoubtedly the best Premier League season in the club’s history.
The fall from grace
Fast forward two years, and Leicester City are currently struggling to make things tick. Having won just one of their six games this season, Leicester have scored 9 goals and conceded 12. Even though Jamie Vardy is still continuing his goalscoring exploits, his team as a collective are not performing as well as they could. New manager Craig Shakespeare has managed to keep the momentum going up front but his Achilles heel is the defence they are leaving so widely open.
Having led Arsenal three times at the Emirates, Leicester went on to lose the game 4-3 and have been poor ever since. A win over Brighton in their next game seemingly looked like a cure but it was just a calm in the storm as they suffered defeats to Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool shortly afterwards. You can argue that they were tough games but having seen what this side are capable of, it’s seemingly as if they will never reach the dizzy heights of the Premier League summit ever again. But with fans insistent on continuing the hunt for silverware, you feel the focus for Shakespeare will be on the domestic cups if they are to achieve glory once more.
Thai-owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha recently stated that Leicester’s focus will be more geared towards trophies in a cup competition, something visibly attainable given their credentials. What he has described as a re-shift of priorities, Srivaddhanaprabha will be hoping to gain some long-term success by winning head-to-head fixtures against the big clubs in a knockout phase, rather than focusing on the league title. In this manner, the fans will still feel as if the club is continuing its success following the dream season two years ago. The question is – do Leicester have the squad capable to winning the likes of the FA Cup and Carabao Cup?
No matter where they are in the table and how Leicester are performing in the league so far, you do feel on their day, the Foxes are a side capable of beating anybody. On their way to the title run, they had only lost three games, meaning they do have it within them to clinch games against the top sides. What’s been the underlying issue at the King Power Stadium is the holding midfield, which has somewhat deteriorated over time. The loss of N’Golo Kante was a big one and finding a like-for-like replacement proved to be difficult.
On top of that, losing Danny Drinkwater on deadline day this season meant Shakespeare has been left trying to plug a seismic hole. However the signing of Wilfred Ndidi has not gone unnoticed and could be a long-term replacement for Kante. The ball-winning midfielder is pivotal to Shakespeare’s plans and will be key in helping Leicester improve on their current form. His willingness to chase the ball and harry opposition midfielders puts him in the same mould as his predecessor and was a key signing in January. At just 20, Ndidi has plenty of time to make that position his very own.
Alongside him in attack is a standout midfielder who can go on to become a great. 21-year-old Demarai Gray came extremely close to leaving the club on deadline day but was kept instead as his potential could see him become a top player in the league. The tricky winger has demonstrated flashes of brilliance for Leicester in his 18-month spell with the Foxes so far and can be key in winning cup games for his side. It’s his nimble feet and excellent balance that allows him to go past players with ease, and not to mention his long-shot technique which has seen him score some great goals in his career.
These young players coming through are just an example of how good Leicester can be if they allow them to play games. Unlikely to start all the league games this season, these young starlets can find more game time in the cup games, especially when the team need an injection of pace and unpredictability.
Will they gain more silverware?
What’s been the underlying issue at the King Power Stadium is the holding midfield, which has somewhat deteriorated over time. The loss of N’Golo Kante was a big one and finding a like-for-like replacement proved to be difficult. On top of that, losing Danny Drinkwater on deadline day this season meant Shakespeare has been left trying to plug a seismic hole. With signings proving to be off the mark, a lot of pressure is now on the club just to stay in the league they once conquered.
The hope for Leicester is that these players can replicate their league-winning form in a cup competition, and therefore go on to beat sides to make the final. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see more fringe players in the squad and it’s these players who may take their opportunity to show what they can do. The likes of Kelechi Iheanacho, who is still learning at this stage and can only get better once accustomed to the style Shakespeare plays, may prove to be vital when required.
Leicester could be looking at a relegation fight once again this season but if they can focus on the cups, they could be onto more success sooner than they think. Looking at the performance against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup, it proves they are capable of winning those big games. If they can continue to show that kind of attitude, who knows what this Leicester side are able to achieve? They already surprised us once, can they do it again?