Relegation for the Premier League champions? Yes, that’s right, it’s a real risk. Last year Chelsea briefly had to look over their shoulders, but the Foxes really are right amongst the bottom of the table tussle in February. Another emphatic defeat saw the King Power Stadium devoid of atmosphere on Sunday and Claudio Ranieri is now favourite for the sack with a number of bookmakers, even thought the club have publicly backed him.
— Leicester City (@LCFC) February 7, 2017
It seems so silly, doesn’t it? ‘There’s no loyalty in football’, ‘has everyone forgotten last season?’. Well, yes, because last season was the past and it matters very little to owners. Relegation would cost Leicester millions of pounds and, although many fans would not trade 2015/16 for Premier League safety, Ranieri is understandably under pressure. The Italian should be under scrutiny for being unable to halt their slide.
The simple truth is, Leicester look like the worst team in the top flight of English football at the moment. Whether that is because of the loss of N’Golo Kante (it isn’t) or it’s that all of these players produced the best form of their careers last season with the momentum they built, Leicester are in very real trouble. After a fascinating weekend, the bottom six are separated by only two points and the champions – despite Crystal Palace’s abysmal showing against Sunderland – look the weakest unit.
Defensively they are being carved open at will and they have not scored in their last four Premier League matches. Over their four match losing streak, they have conceded ten times. Considering their success was built on the reliability of their backline for much of last season, that is arguably the most alarming area of all. Robert Huth and Wes Morgan are playing like the defenders that made Leicester one of the favourites for relegation the season prior. The Foxes’ title winning campaign was a glorious, victorious outlier, but it has made a fight for Premier League safety a shock.
Hull and Swansea have faced respective periods of doom this season, yet both clubs – thanks to managerial changes – now look a lot stronger. It would be a real surprise if both were relegated and there is a good chance they both make it to safety. Palace always have a chance of putting a string of wins together while Sam Allardyce is at the helm, or that’s at least meant to be the narrative surrounding his appointment, Sunderland have Jermain Defoe and are buoyed by the return of Didier Ndong and Lamine Kone. Palace are the team in the greatest turmoil below Leicester at this point and they have a manager famed for turning such situations around.
Optimism is all good and well, but Leicester’s players are right to be realistic about the danger of the drop. Comments from Kasper Schmeichel this weekend were a needed reminder that even the champions can be relegated.
While it is hard not to feel a twinge of sympathy for the charming Ranieri, he now has possibly the greatest task of his managerial career on his hands. Leicester are an unmotivated, dysfunctional unit and the improvement of teams around them makes them most likely for relegation at this moment in time. It was their spirit that inspired the fairytale of last season and, unless they can reinvigorate that, the champions are destined to be in the Championship next season.