What is Happening to Leicester City?

Last season, Leicester City defied all odds (5000-1 odds, to be exact) and won the Premier League for the first time ever.  After nearly being relegated to the Football League Championship the season prior, Leicester took the reins of English football and dominated the entire season. The season was full of feel-good stories, such as the inception of the 64-year-old manager Claudio Ranieri era, the emergence of Riyad Mahrez as one of the best on-pitch playmakers in the world and Jamie Vardy’s unstoppable streak of 11 games with a goal scored, breaking Ruud van Nistelrooy’s previous record of ten.

Leicester finished the season with 81 points, comfortably ten points ahead of second-place Arsenal.  In addition to the Prem title, Vardy won the Premier League Player of the Season, Mahrez took home the PFA Player’s Player of the Year and Leicester qualified for the UEFA Champions League the next season.

The offseason for Leicester, however, was shaky and worrisome, a contradiction to their wonder-season that had just ended.  Star defensive midfielder N’Golo Kanté left for money and global stardom at Premier League rival Chelsea, Leicester was dealt 4-0 and 4-2 losses to Paris Saint-Germain and FC Barcelona respectively in two preseason friendlies and Mahrez seemed to be following Kanté and leaving for greener pastures at bigger clubs such as Arsenal or Barcelona.

Leicester were fortunately able to keep their core group together; Vardy was content as the club’s star striker, surprise role-players such as Andy King and Danny Drinkwater signed new long-term contracts and the defensive wall that had become Leicester’s trademark was still much intact.  Led by iron-man captain Wes Morgan and emerging goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, Leicester seemed prepared for another season succeeding in the Premier League and perhaps even doing well in the Champions League.  Mahrez signing a four-year extension gave fans another reason to keep believing in the Cinderella story that Leicester had last season.

When Leicester lost 2-1 to Hull City in the first week of the Premier League season, they became the first ever defending champions to lose their first match of their reigning season.  After drawing with Arsenal the week after, Leicester’s first victory of the season didn’t come until their third match against a less-than-impressive Swansea City, narrowly edging them 2-1.  The next week, they were pummeled by a strong Liverpool side and again two league matches later by Manchester United, both with a score of 4-1.

Leicester lucked out in the Champions League, drawing a very manageable group made up of Club Brugge, FC Porto and Copenhagen, with victories over the former two 3-0 and 1-0 respectively (they face Copenhagen on Oct. 18). Ranieri openly admitted he was preserving some of his players for their Champions League matchup after falling 3-0 to Chelsea on Saturday, and a large reason for their lack of success domestically this season could be their focus on international football.

Leicester City was able to use remotely the same starting eleven all last season due to a lack of European competitions.  Teams like Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool, who all featured in additional competitions last season, were not able to preserve their players due to the high demand of the games they were playing.  For Leicester, the only competition their players had to worry about was the Premier League, with rest coming plentifully between matches.  Now, competing in the Premier League, UCL and the English Football League Cup, Leicester is having to confront as issue they were not familiar with last season: fatigue.

Leicester’s next three Premier League matches pair them with Crystal Palace, Tottenham and West Bromwich Albion, with one CL match in the middle against Copenhagen.  Currently sitting at thirteenth in the Premier League with a goal differential of -6 and only two points outside of the relegation zone, Leicester’s focus on international matches could reawaken the relegation nightmare that had plagued them for years before their glory year last season.  As talented as Leicester City is, they are not beyond the boundaries of moderating how much each player can do.