What’s eating Leicester City?
Around the turn of the year they were not just comfortable in the Champions League places but an outside bet to get involved in the title race. Their only defeats in the previous few months were to Liverpool and Manchester City, they were in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup and Brendan Rodgers was being widely touted for the Arsenal job.
Since then, the wheels have come off. They were beaten in that semi-final by Aston Villa after being careless in the first leg, have lost to Burnley, Southampton and Norwich in the league, and their wins in 2020 have come against Newcastle, West Ham and Villa in the league, and three Championship teams in the FA Cup.
They haven’t won any of their games since the restart, culminating in the limp loss to Chelsea in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Sunday, and suddenly it actually looks quite worrying for them.
“Every time we watch them at the moment it feels like they’re either getting worse or making it easier for their opponents,” said Daniel Storey on the latest edition of the Totally Football Show. “At the moment Leicester seem to be only going one way: from talking about third place being in their grasp, it’s now starting to look like even sixth is going to make them sweat.
“If they miss out on the Champions League – they might have taken this at the start, but Brendan Rodgers will be incredibly annoyed with his team’s underperformance.”
So what has actually gone wrong? Tom Williams identified a number of key areas:
“I think it’s probably the case that teams have figured them out a bit. If you look at their results since the restart, they’re three games without a win, but it started well before that. The rot set in at the turn of the year, if not even sooner.
“Having said that, if you look at their xG for the first half of the season there’s a suggestion they were outperforming that, as it was.
“We know Leicester’s great goal threat is Jamie Vardy galloping into space, and if teams sit a bit deeper and deny him that space, it takes away an awful lot of their attacking threat. Vardy has gone off the boil because chances aren’t being created for him.
“James Maddison: I know he didn’t play [against Chelsea] but he’s not looked at it for a little while. The same for Youri Tielemans. Harvey Barnes was in good form pre-lockdown but hasn’t looked the same player since coming back. I think they’re missing Ricardo Pereira – I know he’s ‘only’ a right-back but he’s a really important element in their squad and there’s no-one else who can replicate what he brings.
“I’d be worried if I was a Leicester fan. They looked shoo-ins for a top-four finish around the turn of the year, people were even talking about getting into the title picture. But now if they cling on to the top four, by the skin of their teeth, I think their fans will sign for that now.”
Natalie Gedra added: “We talk about Vardy not scoring as much as he used to, but there are other players who have dropped form. Ben Chilwell was brilliant in the first half of the season, but he’s not so brilliant now. Maddison has some good spells, but he’s more inconsistent compared to the beginning of the season.”
Finally, the defence hasn’t looked so hot either in the last three games.
“Their central defensive partnership also feels really clunky at the moment. Caglar Soyuncu was probably the best non-Virgil van Dijk central defender in the first half of the season, but him and Jonny Evans seem to have lost that concentration.
“The Barkley goal [against Chelsea] was a great example: there was just a massive space between them in the middle, which Barkley just wanders into and finishes with ease. That just wasn’t happening in the first half of the season.
“The passing out of the back is sloppy: there was one moment where Kasper Schmeichel made a bad pass, Evans made a bad pass then it was shanked out.”
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