Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Has Leicester City’s Season Been Underappreciated?

Leicester City beat Aston Villa 2-1 yesterday, a result that temporarily put them second before Manchester United’s win over Newcastle yesterday evening.

With Manchester City running away with the league and West Ham’s surprisingly in fourth place at the time of writing, are Leicester City’s achievements so far this season being overlooked?

A VICTIM OF THEIR PAST SUCCESS

Leicester players celebrate winning the Premier League in 2016. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Leicester were not expected to be occupying third place in February at the start of the season. This is a brilliant achievement so far, but the club has set itself high standards after a fairytale past six seasons.

The club shocked the world during the 2015/16 season when they defied 5,000-1 odds to win the Premier League despite being relegation favourites.

Before 2016, a third-place finish would have been considered an incredible season by both the media and fans. From 1994 to 2004, Leicester spent eight of those ten seasons in the Premier League. Their highest finish was eighth place and two League Cups were won during this time.

For many years, the two League Cups in 1997 and 2000 under manager Martin O’Neill were seen as the greatest achievements in the club’s history.

Martin O’Neill and Matt Elliott celebrate League Cup success with Leicester in 2000.

The club spent from the 2004/05 season until the 2013/14 season in the lower leagues, including one season in League 1. They earned promotion back to the Premier League in 2014 and performed a great escape, earning survival from relegation in 2015.

Former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri was hired, which brought question marks from Leicester fans and the media.

It turned out to be an excellent appointment, with the Italian guiding Leicester to that surprise Premier League triumph with N’Golo Kanté, Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy the heart of this team.

The club has never looked back, with regular top-half finishes. Relegation is not an option anymore for this club.

Success is now expected from the Leicester owners, as we have seen with the sackings of Ranieri, Craig Shakespeare and Claude Puel. Whilst third place is still a great season, it is far less of the achievement it may have once been.

THE JOB DONE BY BRENDAN RODGERS

Leicester players alongside Brendan Rodgers.

Brendan Rodgers was appointed in February 2019 after the sacking of Puel. He joined Leicester after a successful period at Celtic where he won multiple trophies. It was his first job in England since he was let go by Liverpool early on during the 2015/16 season, which saw the aforementioned title win for Leicester.

Rodgers was the closest a Liverpool manager got to winning Liverpool a Premier League title before his successor Jürgen Klopp managed the achievement last season.

Many questioned whether Rodgers would succeed due to the relative ease of the Scottish Premiership. He’s managed to silence those critics by not only how the team has played but also where the team are now compared to when he came in. This needs to be taken into account and seems to have been forgotten, which again could be down to the previous Premier League title success.

Leicester were in twelfth place after the 4-1 loss to Crystal Palace on 23rd February 2019, Puel’s last game charge. Rodgers managed to guide the team to a ninth-place finish.

Many predicted Leicester to have a good season but the top four was not even discussed. Rodgers had Leicester in the Champions League spots for most of the season before struggles in the second half of the season resulted in a fifth-place finish. A loss at home to Manchester United on the final day of the season confirmed their place outside of the Champions League spots.

Jesse Lingard celebrates his goal against Leicester last season.

The collapse seemed to be talked about more than the achievements of finishing fifth. Leicester fans would have taken that at the start of the season.

The struggles in the second half of last season were used against Leicester in people’s season predictions. This seems to have galvanised the club, with an excellent season so far. With 49 points, 15 wins, 4 draws and 6 losses, 44 goals scored and 27 conceded in 25 games, they are in a good position to avenge the ghosts of last season.

THE TEAM ASSEMBLED BY LEICESTER CITY

Leicester players celebrate against Wolves. (Photo by Tim Keeton – Pool/Getty Images)

The Leicester team is not a huge amount different to the one we saw when Rodgers came in. Kasper Schmeichel, Ricardo Pereira, Youri Tielemans, Wilfred Ndidi, James Maddison, Jamie Vardy and Harvey Barnes all started Puel’s last game in the 4-1 loss to Crystal Palace.

However, Rodgers has got this side playing in a way that his two predecessors failed to do.

Leicester lost Harry Maguire to Man United for £80 million and this was seen as a big loss for the Foxes. Çağlar Söyüncü came in and was an instant fit into the defence. The Turkish international was one of the league’s best centre backs during the 2019/20 season but injury ruled him out for several weeks this season.

Summer signing Wesley Fofana replaced him and Söyüncü struggled to get back into the team before Fofana’s injury allowed him back into the starting eleven.

James Maddison has already scored more goals in all competitions this season than any prior season in a Leicester shirt.

This season has seen the rise of Harvey Barnes, with the English winger knocking on the door of the international team. He has had the best season of his career so far, with 12 goals in 31 appearances in all competitions.

This Leicester team is dangerous and has every capability, provided the group stays together, to consistently challenge for Champions League places.

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