Leicester City: Why reigning champions are finding it harder in the Premier League this season

After their historic success last season, Claudio Ranieri's men have won just two of their first seven Premier League games this year 

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The Independent Football

Cleverer opponents

One of Leicester City’s big weapons last year was the weakness of the opposition, of their unpreparedness and complacency. Teams would come to the King Power, push up and then get beaten by Leicester on the break. This season, though, opponents are savvier. They do not want to get done in the same way, having seen it happen to everyone else last year.

So when Southampton came to Leicester on Sunday they were far more careful and organised, sitting deep, not giving Leicester any space to break into. Leicester had no idea how to cope. The one real opening they made was from a defensive error. Beyond that they created nothing. “Of course teams are very worried with our counter-attack and try to stop us every time,” Ranieri admitted. “We have to find the solution.”

European distraction

Each football club only has a finite amount of physical and emotional energy, even Leicester City. After last year’s draining title win, this year’s big story is the Champions League. In that competition Leicester have started very well, with two statement wins over Club Brugge and FC Porto. But that commitment is inevitably tiring.

Leicester looked distracted before their Champions League debut, losing 4-1 at Liverpool. Before facing Porto it was a similar story, and they lost by the same scoreline to Manchester United. On Sunday, they looked tired, struggling to find the same intensity in attack or defence that was so important last year. This year, they have other priorities too.


Musa has been pushed down the pecking order (Getty)

Musa needs time

There was real excitement about Ahmed Musa, when the Nigerian striker tore into Manchester United during the Community Shield in early August. But since then he has struggled with fitness and adjustment to the Premier League. On Sunday he was not in the match-day squad, and Claudio Ranieri confirmed that, despite his fast start, Musa would need more time to acclimatise to the English game. Islam Slimani has started well, but Leicester need more from Musa too.

“He is working very well, and he is adapting now,” Ranieri said. “When I watch him in the training sessions, he now understands it is tough. But I had to choose. I think that sooner or later, he will come back and he will play.” Leicester made their name with fast counter-attacking football last season but when Jamie Vardy looks tired, as he did on Sunday, Musa is more important than ever. 

Lack of quality on the ball

Leicester have never been a possession team and it was their patience in giving up possession that made them so dangerous last season. This year, though, as champions, they do have to take the initiative more often in matches. Too many teams will come to the King Power hoping to escape with a 0-0.

But Leicester’s problem is that when they have to create chances in open play against a packed defence, they find it difficult. Riyad Mahrez is their one player who has real quality and imagination on the ball but they need more, in case he is having an off-day. A January investment in another midfielder with real quality would be a good idea.

Claudio Ranieri barks orders from the King Power side-lines (Getty)

Inevitable motivation drop

The hardest challenge in football is to win again, to motivate players who are at the mountain-top to go and do it all again. Neither Manchester City nor Arsenal have ever retained a Premier League title, or even come close. The last team to do it was Manchester United, in 2008-09, their third in a row, and they were the reigning English and European champions, with Sir Alex Ferguson and Cristiano Ronaldo to guide them.

It is simple human nature that Leicester will not have the same drive that they did last year. N’Golo Kante has gone and it would only be human for Mahrez and Vardy to wonder if they might have done the same thing. Producing the same energy from the same players two years in a row is unlikely, to say the least.