Leicester’s recent propensity for breaking records is showing no signs of letting up after their 1-0 Champions League win over FC Copenhagen on Tuesday night.
The Foxes made it three wins out of three in Europe after also dispatching of Club Brugges and FC Porto in Group G.
In doing so, they became only the fifth side to achieve a 100% record after three games in their debut campaign after AC Milan, Paris Saint Germain, Juventus and Malaga. They are also only the third side to keep clean sheets in each of their opening three games.
But they currently have the unwanted record of being the only side to pick up more points in Europe than they have domestically, with nine points in the Champions League and only eight in the Premier League so far.
While Leicester have been excelling in Europe, things have been very different in the league. Claudio Ranieri’s side currently sit 13th, having lost four games by mid-October – one more than in the entirety of last season.
Even the most optimistic Leicester fan would have acknowledged that they would have failed to replicate last season’s incredible league campaign, particularly while dealing with the rigours of the Champions League for the first time.
But fans and experts alike have been surprised with just how poor the Foxes title campaign has been after an opening day defeat to Hull City and thrashings at the hands of Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea.
Ranieri has also confessed himself to be “angry” at the Foxes’ Jekyll and Hyde performances, suggesting the squad are also falling below his expectations and claiming the league is still their priority.
So what is causing such a contrast between the two competitions?
The first and perhaps most obvious factor is rotation. After more of less sticking with the same starting XI for the majority of last season, Ranieri has lived up to his old nickname by ‘tinkering’ with his squad at the weekend to preserve them for European excursions.
The Italian saw his strongest side comfortably beaten by Liverpool in September before winning in Bruges with largely the same side. After the first-half collapse against United however, he removed Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy at half-time, seemingly accepting the game was beyond them.
He also benched Mahrez and Islam Slimani against Chelsea and didn’t bring them on until the 67th minute – by which point the game was already lost.
So while Ranieri would hope for better performances from those coming in – after all, players like Okazaki, King and Schlupp were great when they came in last season – it does seem as though he is holding something back for European games.
After all, taking the Hull game aside (in which Leicester were without the injured Nampalys Mendy and suspended Robert Huth), the Foxes have recorded wins against Swansea and Burnley and draws against Arsenal and Southampton – which is a pretty respectable record.
Leicester have arguably been unlucky with their fixtures; having three top-four contenders before a midweek game is never easy, while they have Spurs four days before their next Champions League game in Denmark. If Ranieri is trying to rest his best players before Europe, he isn’t getting the easiest games to do it – and you’d expect the likes of Okazaki or King would fare better at home to Burnley than at Old Trafford.
On top of that, it seems Leicester are generally performing better on the European stage. Riyad Mahrez has put in some dazzling displays in Europe and has three goals as opposed to just one in the league.
Similarly the Foxes look as unbeatable in defence in the Champions League as they did at the end of their title-winning season, with Morgan and Huth seemingly far more comfortable against European opposition.
Even the bit-part players are stepping up – there were a few groans from Leicester fans seeing King start, yet he put in such an assured performance next to Drinkwater that you have to wonder how he’s struggled so much in the league.
Much has been made of the Foxes contrasting home and away form – they’ve lost every game on their travels yet are unbeaten at the King Power – but the other factors may be just as relevant. After all, Leicester’s best performance this season was against Club Brugges while Porto and Copenhagen were prime examples of grinding out a win.
It will be very interesting to see how Leicester’s performance against Crystal Palace this weekend contrasts to the one at Spurs before the Copenhagen game and even more interesting to see if their away form improves when the Champions League takes a break.
If it doesn’t, they may end up on course for another record – the first Premier League team relegated in a Champions League season.