The opening of the 2016/17 season couldn’t have gone any worse for Leicester City as they twice led Arsenal to lose 4-3 before their first win over Brighton and Hove Albion was followed by five Premier League games without a win. Such was the poor form of the Foxes that Craig Shakespeare’s tenure came to an end and his replacement came in the form of former Southampton manager, Claude Puel.
Now with a fresh new outlook which has seen a resurgence of form for talisman Riyad Mahrez and an overall defensive stability that was lacking in the early days of the season, Leicester are starting to come back to their best form. However, with Puel now in charge, how far can the Foxes really go this season? And where will they be expected to finish?
What are the new expectations?
A lot of what past managers Claudio Ranieri and then-assistant manager Shakespeare brought to the side was defensive awareness, ultimately what helped them with the remarkable title victory two seasons ago. In that 2015/16 title-winning campaign, Leicester City only lost three games and conceded 36 goals, 18 at home and 18 away.
However, a dismal start to last season as well as this campaign meant their positions were under fire and ultimately both were sacked for poor results. Whilst they only conceded 36 goals back then, this season they’ve already let the opposition breach them 26 times, only 10 goals less than two years ago. This poor form meant someone who was almost too defensive at Southampton and sacked for his “negative” tactics would be a sure-fire way to help them get their defensive mojo back.
However, how will Claude Puel do with a team who are lacking a lot of motivation to succeed?
Will Leicester regain their winning form?
During his spell at Southampton, the Frenchman led his Saints side to an 8th-place finish, making the League Cup final, and narrowly losing 3-2 to Manchester United. They also missed out on a Europa League qualifying spot by a single point to Everton in 7th. All of this, however, did not deter the Saints board from terminating Puel’s contract due to not scoring enough goals at home, in fact only bagging 17 goals in 19 games.
The level of excitement had gone too with some players such as Dusan Tadic and former Saints player Jose Fonte disagreeing with the negative style of football that had led to extremely defensive displays. However, will these problems be a factor at the King Power Stadium?
Looking at the results Puel has led the Foxes ever since being in charge, it’s starting to look as if he has actually developed his tactics in a way that will lead Leicester to not only scoring more goals than his Southampton side but also performing defensively better than they have done previously. After ten games in charge of Leicester City, Puel has amassed 20 points, beating the likes of Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton.
In that run, the Foxes have risen from 18th to 8th, an incredible feat considering how poorly they were playing beforehand. The main factor of their recent success has been Algerian midfielder Mahrez who has really taken the new management by storm with his impressive individual performances. Whereas before he had a dark cloud over him regarding his contract situation with the Foxes, he has now returned to the form that had made him an English league champion.
With Puel in charge, the Foxes are seemingly going back to their best football. There may be areas that need further improvement, as evidenced in their recent 3-0 defeat to Crystal Palace but there are plenty of positives too. After the Foxes lost to Palace Puel admitted that it “was a poor performance”.
“It was a bad day. We didn’t start the day with a good intensity or tempo, or good quality. It was difficult to find a solution. Our play was too slow on the pitch. We needed more intensity. It was not enough in the first half. In the second half we tried to react to get into the game. We had a goal ruled out and then just after Wilfred Ndidi was sent off, so it was difficult to create chances to come back. It is a disappointment after the good game at Southampton but it is now important to look forward, to learn from this game and to train with hard work. We need a good recovery because we need to be fresh mentally and physically”, told Puel LCFC.com website.
However, with the big games coming up against Manchester United at home and Watford away, victories in these games would really cement Puel as a success.