Yesterday saw Leicester comfortably beaten 3-0 by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge to give them the unwanted stat of having the joint second lowest haul by a defending Premier League champion, along with Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea team of last season.
What makes for even starker reading is that of all the 8 points they have picked up this season none of them have come away from home and they have conceded 13 goals in just 4 matches when on the road. It’s the kind of performances away from home that will have Claudio Ranieri scratching his head as to why Leicester are a completely different side away from The King Power.
Obviously we will never forget their fairytale title win last season but the glory days of Wes Morgan lifting the trophy last May seem such a long way away now as Leicester are bought back to reality. The Foxes currently sit 13th in the Premier League but the big question that has to be asked is whether or not Claudio Ranieri is putting too much focus on their inaugural Champions League campaign.
After taking English Football by surprise last season it seems as if Ranieri once extend that element of surprise across Europe as they look to not only qualify out of the Champions League but go on to win it at the very first attempt.
Yesterday’s decision to rest Riyad Mahrez with their tie against Copenhagen in midweek in mind would have not only raised eyebrows but also give Chelsea a massive advantage before the game had even started. You could point to Mahrez having played everyone of the last 36 league encounters but that said we’re only in October of this season so you couldn’t really point to player fatigue either.
You can also point to Mahrez and Jamie Vardy being hauled off against Manchester United but the caveat there was the fact that they were already 4-0 down after half time and with FC Porto just around the corner it was almost nonsensical. So perhaps Ranieri is opting to use his best players with what he considers more ‘winnable’ matches.
With Leicester sitting top of their Champions League group with a maximum point haul of 6 so far, were to win against Danish side Copenhagen in midweek then they could almost secure qualification to the Round of 16 already it wouldn’t be mathematically secure but with 10 points usually required to advance to the knockout stages it would take one almighty collapse for them to pick up 9 points and still not advance to the post Christmas phase of the competition.
And it’s perhaps here that Ranieri has weighed up his options this season and thought to win the Champions League then Leicester only have to play 13 games whereas a defence of the Premier League will require 38. Add the fact that after winning a title they always say it’s harder to defend it and perhaps the Champions League route takes on more plausibility.
It was always going to be a difficult task to defend the title especially with a wave of new managers taking over the giants of English Football. The arrivals of Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte made something that was difficult now almost impossible.
What will Leicester define as success, is it once again earning a place in Europe next season, is it top half or is it just survival. After coming into the season as champions expectations would have been raised there would have been a sense of realism going into the campaign as well
At the end of the day, if you were to ask any Leicester fan if they would take a 17th place finish on the final day but then winning the Champions League a couple of weeks later then I’m sure you wouldn’t have to ask them twice to accept that offer.
Perhaps Leicester are finding it hard to manage a squad on two fronts, let’s not forget that last season saw them out of the cups relatively early and therefore they only had to play once a week and not have the concern of rotating a squad to compete on many fronts. This year even with the summer additions bought with this mind they are seeing their squad stretched to it’s limits
At the end of the day you can’t say that Leicester and Ranieri have decided to throw away this season on a domestic level in a bid for European glory but they are certainly putting more Eggs in their European basket, will it be a decision that pays off later in the season? I guess we will just have to wait and see.
You always have to be careful when using the adage ‘this side is too good’ to go down but Leicester definitely have enough quality to stay up this season but it’s fair to say that they won’t be reaching the heights of last May when it comes to the Premier League as for their foray Europe, well as we learned last season absolutely nothing is impossible with this side.