Leicester City’s momentous title triumph seems light years away following their 5-0 drubbing by Porto last night. Their drastic drop in form this season is causing Claudio Ranieri’s men to nervously look over their shoulders. The Soccer Sofa discusses how they can transform their fortunes going into 2017.
N’Golo Kanté was rightly rewarded with a spot in the PFA Team of the Year and his presence is sorely missed by the Foxes. At points last year Chelsea’s midfield was invisible, but their new number 7 has, along with Antonio Conte, put an end to that.
Daniel Amartey has been selected to fill the void Kanté left when he signed for Chelsea but has looked a shadow of the player the Frenchman was. Danny Drinkwater’s passing instinct has also left something to be desired. Could this be attributed to the fact that Kanté is no longer winning the ball back and laying it off quickly into space?
Leicester’s defensive tactics worked well when they had one of the world’s best defensive midfielders protecting the defence. This season, however, they have looked fragile and likely to leak goals.
Kanté’s boots must be filled if Leicester are to continue playing the same defensive, counter-attacking tactics against superior opposition. Sporting Lisbon’s William Carvalho or Manchester United’s out-of-favour Morgan Schneiderlin would both be players in Leicester’s price range.
Vardy who? Mahrez who?
Aside from Mahrez putting in a few excellent displays in the early stages of the Champions League, last season’s deadly duo have been average at best.
Their joint efforts resulted in 41 goals last season (Vardy 24, Mahrez 17) and 19 assists (Vardy 8, Mahrez 11). Only so much can be blamed on the fact Leicester are shipping goals, that is no reason for the forwards’ form to drop so dramatically. After more than a third of the season, Vardy only has two league goals, which is partially down to his severe lack of confidence, but partly down to Mahrez’ sudden inability to find the England star. Since September 17, Mahrez has only successfully passed to Vardy once.
On Match of the Day, Alan Shearer said: “They are not closing people down and working hard enough when they don’t have the ball.
“Vardy is not putting in the effort that got him so many goals last season.”
Champions League Exploits
The only way Leicester could top last season would be for them to dive deep into the latter stages of the Champions League, which is not impossible.
No team had ever kept four consecutive clean sheets in their first four UCL games until Leicester did so this season. Losing 5-0 to Porto has left a bitter taste in the mouth, but should Leicester show some of that defensive ferocity they showed so often last year, coupled with a bit of lady luck, they could progress.
£70million investment over the summer means Ranieri has a squad big enough with the demands and will not want to be embarrassed. It is crucial they focus on the league whilst there is a European break until February, as they do not want to be fearing relegation when some of the biggest ties in the club’s history come around.
Ranieri must Tinker
Nicknamed ‘The Tinkerman’ in his Chelsea days, Claudio Ranieri has persisted with the same system that won them the title last year, which is fair enough to an extent. But when it is blindingly obvious that teams have worked out how to play against you, there has got to be a plan B.
Despite being forever in Leicester City folk law, the Italian has got to find a system that gets results THIS season. The Thai billionaire owners will no doubt be unhappy with anything lower than 10th after such investment, including new bumper deals for Vardy, Mahrez, Schmeichel and Drinkwater.
Playing three in midfield may be an option for Ranieri. Nampalys Mendy has only featured in one game this season after signing for £13million. It is surprising that a player tipped to be the next Claude Makélélé has played so few games, especially after presumably being signed to replace Kanté.
The time to drop Vardy and play Okazaki and Slimani up top together has come. The Englishman is behind both in the goal-scoring charts this season and Okazaki always offers energy and dynamism, traits Vardy is currently lacking in. Demarai Gray is also a player who should be given an extended run. Marc Albrighton’s performance levels have dropped considerably and Gray will be eager to impress.
Things need to change at Leicester and Ranieri has to implement those changes through his team selection.