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Men’s Football It’s all about perspective in Leicester

AS LEICESTER collapsed against Bournemouth on Sunday, like a chocolate fireguard in front of a roaring blaze, I was reminded of a two-panel cartoon I once saw. 

In one, a man on a desert island sees a small yacht in the distance and, waving, cries: “A boat!” In the other, the man in the yacht sees the island in the distance and, waving, cries: “Land!” The title of the cartoon was Perspective.

Leicester’s season promised so much. An eight-game winning streak which began in mid-October meant that by mid-December they briefly looked like genuine title contenders. They’ve been second or third for a large part of the season and in the top four since September, a position they currently cling on to courtesy of a goal difference marginally better than Manchester United’s.

Compare this with the 2014/15 season. Then, Leicester were bottom for most of the season but survived courtesy of a glorious, dizzying run of seven wins and a draw in their final nine games (their only defeat being against champions Chelsea). 

That season ended on a high and is fondly remembered. This season is petering out on a low and threatens to be remembered for all the wrong reasons. 

Yet, it’s worth bearing in mind that Leicester’s pre-season target was to usurp one of the big six and maybe clinch a Europa League spot. They’re still on track for that and whatever happens this season, even if Leicester lose their final three games, it will, by any measure, be more successful then the season of “The Great Escape.”

More wins, fewer defeats, more goals scored, fewer conceded. In fact it will be Leicester’s most successful season, points wise, since the title triumph. It’s clear that what happens at the business end of the season can colour our perspective.

This isn’t to say there is no reason for Leicester fans to be concerned. The teams’s current run of form has seen them eek out 21 points from their last 19 games, just one point more than they accrued in the 19 games before Claude Puel was sacked last season.

Leicester’s slide down the table has taken many by surprise but their poor run of form extends back to mid-December. It’s just the poor form has been obscured by their league position and a couple of good cup runs. 

But their place in the League Cup semis was secured before Christmas and their march to the FA Cup quarter-finals was thanks to three matches against lower league opposition. The first time they played a Premier League team, they lost.

Brendan Rodgers, despite all the early season plaudits he gained, certainly looks like a man bereft of ideas. A lasting criticism of his time at Liverpool is that once Luis Suarez left, the team lost their bite and Rodgers could not marshal his troops to the same kind of form.

Suddenly he looked less title contender and more decidedly average manager.

The forward line is also one of Leicester’s weak areas. Over the last few transfer windows much of the squad has been upgraded. It’s a young, dynamic team, albeit one lacking strength in depth and whose inexperience and youth explains the mental fragility that saw them unravel against Bournemouth and be outfought in other key games this season, such as in the League Cup semi-finals against Aston Villa.

But the forward line has not been strengthened since the title win. If anything, it’s weaker. 

True, Jamie Vardy, fuelled by Lucozade and port, Skittles and vodka, is leading the race for the golden boot, but the team is over-reliant on him for goals and since Christmas he has seemed largely like a peripheral figure, watching the real action from afar.

When Leicester won the title Vardy was more-often-than-not paired with the criminally underrated Shinji Okazaki. The deceptively skilful Leonardo Ulloa provided a useful Plan B from the bench or occasionally, when Claudio Ranieri wanted or needed to mix things up a bit, in the starting XI. 

Neither were bit part players. The goals they scored were worth 10 points to Leicester that season; the difference between first and second.

Both have now left the club and over the last four years Leicester have spent more than £100 million on five replacements, three of whom have also departed either permanently, Ahmed Musa to Al-Nasar, or on loan, Islam Slimani to Monaco and Fousseni Diabate to Amiens.

Kelechi Iheanacho has yet to live up to the promise he showed while at Manchester City, nor has he crafted a convincing partnership with Vardy. This is not a criticism of the young Nigerian; to get the best out of Vardy the team needs to play in a way that does not suit Iheanacho’s strengths.

Similarly, Ayoze Perez has yet to justify the £30m Rodgers spent on him in the summer. But then his best form came when Rafa Benitez played him alongside Salomon Rondon acting as a target man. 

By contrast, Rodgers persists in playing Perez on the right of a front three. This might explain his meagre return of seven goals from 30 appearances.

Could it be that the reliance on Vardy is actually beginning to stifle the team? The striker thrives in teams that play direct, transitioning quickly from defence to attack and playing the ball forward to him before the opposition has time to reorganise. 

Just like under Puel, Leicester under Rodgers are playing a more possession based game. At the moment there seems to be no Plan B.

One of the reasons that the great escape season is remembered so fondly is because it turned out to be tasty amuse-bouche for an even more glorious and dizzying run to the title the following season. 

Momentum from one season often carries over into the next. Crucially it can drag you down as well as propel you up. 

That brings back memories of another season Leicester fans desperately try to forget. In 2000 Peter Taylor replaced Martin O’Neill. At the start of October the Foxes were sitting top of the table. 

In April they still had aspirations to finish in the top four. Nine defeats in their final games saw them finish 13th. The poor form carried over into the following season and they were relegated.

Only next season will we have the perspective to know whether Leicester are waving or drowning.

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