THE BLOG

Champions Of England? You're Having A Laugh

24/01/2017 18:04
David Davies/PA Wire

The creeping tide of familiar mediocrity may be comforting for Gary Lineker, but for those of us who woke up at 6am to travel to Southampton on Sunday, or any Leicester fan who has followed the Foxes around the country this season, the mood is of abject frustration not comfort.

Once again, as I stood and watched the Champions of England put through their paces and battered by, with all due respect to Southampton, a mediocre side, I was left raging. It was a performance that barely deserved spectators let alone the generous applause the travelling fans gave Leicester as they left the pitch, humiliated once more.

This all might sound harsh, after all City pulled off the greatest sporting upset of all-time last season, but going from Champions of England to a relegation dog fight in a matter of months is unacceptable. Not Chelsea, not Manchester City nor any other previous champions would settle for it - so why should Leicester?

For Foxes fans to be contented with Leicester's domestic performance this season is to admit that last year's heroics were a fluke, and to ultimately undermine the club. Leicester were comfortably, by 10 points, the best team in the country last year - and we should damn well expect them to play like it.

Of course, given the unusual nature of last season, the loss of Kanté, the greater exposure to our tactics and the more congested fixture list, it would have been reasonable to expect Leicester's opponents to up their game and take more points against City this term. But, the dismally woeful standards being set by the Foxes are almost beyond reproach and simply, not admissible.

I have protected Claudio Ranieri on the back of last season for weeks - but no more. Though enshrined forever as the club's greatest ever manager, Ranieri has killed everything that made last season's side great. Obviously, this has not been intentional, but his decisions, and ultimately his actions have irreparably corrupted Leicester's title defence.

Back in 2014, club chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was mocked mercilessly as he revealed his ambition for Leicester to be a top 5 club by 2017. The long game was for City to be regular competitors for European places - so why after putting the club in the best position imaginable to stake a claim to become an established European contender did Leicester recruit like a side aiming for 17th?

There is no sense and no justification in Leicester fans revelling in the Foxes 're-finding their level', as Geoff Peters puts it. There exists in English football, a footballing graveyard for ambitionless historians. It's 30 miles north of Filbert Way at the City Ground. Leicester fans cannot continue to emulate the outlook of Notts Forest - it is a fate worse than liquidation.

Name any Premier League champions who win the league by 10 points, and the next season aim to finish 16 places lower. You can't - because to aim to regress is lunacy. Ranieri, whom by his own admission, has the final say on all new signings has taken wild punts on players with no experience of the English top-flight and all, bar one, have been failures so far.

Instead of replacing the industrious N'Golo Kanté who did the work of two men in midfield, Ranieri signed a different type of midfielder entirely in Papy Mendy, a powder-puff pace merchant in Ahmed Musa, and a defender in Luis Hernandez who was completely incapable of resolving the lack of pace and advancing years of Leicester's back line.

Had the Foxes shown the type of ambition that Srivaddhanaprabha had talked about in 2014, and signed proven Premier League players of real quality, and filled the gaps that were so glaringly obvious - a relegation battle would not have even been entertained.

Even now, with the club so deeply entrenched in a survival skirmish, they are poking around players that Middlesbrough, again no disrespect intended, could do without. The Champions of England picking the carcass of a side that finished second in the Championship. On top of that, Ranieri declared last week that he will be 'happy' regardless of whether City can steal the Boro's rejects or anyone else for that matter - astonishing naivety about the current gravity of Leicester's position.

In hindsight, it is easy to highlight the battle being lost in summer. But ultimately, the fault cannot solely lie in recruitment. After all, this side is largely unchanged from the side that won the league at a canter last term. And in fairness, the Foxes have shown rare flashes of exuberant quality in the midst of the relegation-worthy performances that have dominated their title defence.

It has been clear, and I have been saying for months now, that Leicester play best when they press-high, play quickly and directly. Instead the philosophy now switches between outright lethargy to playing hot potato. Instead of quick, tenacious incisive attacking football - everything Leicester does has become hopeful. They don't get in team's faces, they don't look for the smart passes, they get the ball and offload the responsibility of making something happen to a teammate at the first opportunity - more often than not to no avail.

The Foxes have been slow, uncaring and demotivated. Imagine winning the league and then being told that halving your points tally was the goal next season. It's demoralising and it's disrespectful. Whilst the attitude of the players cannot lie solely at Ranieri's feet, there is no doubting that a problem with mental application exists. Leicester are the only side this season to have not won any games from behind, but, are also the only side to have not dropped a single point from a winning position.

This just proves that Leicester's quality has not been lost but has enshrouded in tactical nonsense. The club's failure to take themselves seriously last summer has left the Foxes in a chasm of diffidence. If we don't realise that Leicester's regression to mediocrity was anything but inevitable, and don't start to play to the strengths of the Champions of England then we condemn ourselves to failure. Rather simply put, The Foxes have been slain by modesty - Champions of England? You're having a laugh.

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