Ranieri frus­trated on how all that was right has gone wrong.

A change in per­son­nel and teams aware of their tac­tics re­quires a re­think by Ranieri, writes Greg Lea

The National - News - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - [email protected]­ational.ae

Clau­dio Ranieri did not hold back in his as­sess­ment.

“Ev­ery­thing was right for the first six months [of 2016] and now ev­ery­thing is wrong,” he said after Le­ices­ter City’s 2-0 de­feat by Ever­ton on Mon­day. “We have to fight.”

The Ital­ian’s frus­tra­tion at just how much his side have strug­gled in the Premier League this term is un­der­stand­able. Around eight months after Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur’s 2-2 draw with Chelsea handed them the ti­tle, Ranieri’s side head into to­day’s clash with West Ham United just three points above the drop zone.

It was widely an­tic­i­pated that Le­ices­ter would be un­able to match last sea­son’s ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­ploits this time around, but the ex­tent to which they have fallen has still come as a sur­prise. Ad­vanc­ing to the knock­out stage of the Uefa Cham­pi­ons League as group win­ners was a fine achieve­ment in the au­tumn, but the club now need to en­sure that they are not mired in rel­e­ga­tion trou­ble by the time the con­ti­nen­tal com­pe­ti­tion re­sumes in Fe­bru­ary. There are nu­mer­ous rea­sons for Le­ices­ter’s de­cline, but the fail­ure to ad­e­quately re­place N’Golo Kante, who joined Chelsea for £30 mil­lion (Dh135m) in the sum­mer, is prob­a­bly the most sig­nif­i­cant.

The French­man’s ball-winning skills were es­sen­tial in 2015/16.

His abil­ity to get across the pitch quickly and snuff out dan­ger per­mit­ted Le­ices­ter to play with a pair of cen­tre-for­wards and only two men in the cen­tre of the park.

As head of re­cruit­ment, Steve Walsh mem­o­rably said after the tro­phy pre­sen­ta­tion at the King Power Sta­dium in May: “Some peo­ple say we play two in mid­field, I say three: Drinky [Danny Drinkwater] in the mid­dle and Kante ei­ther side.” Papy Mendy was signed as a suc­ces­sor but has started just one Premier League game all cam­paign.

Daniel Amartey and Andy King have failed to repli­cate Kante’s qual­ity in that dual role of de­stroyer and en­abler.

With that in mind, the time has per­haps come for Ranieri to move away from the 4-4-2 for­ma­tion that formed the foun­da­tion of his team’s suc­cess last year. Le­ices­ter thrived on the counter-at­tack rather than in phases of es­tab­lished pos­ses­sion last term, when they were able to con­trol the space and, on many oc­ca­sions, the match with­out con­trol­ling the ball.

In re­cent months their nu­mer­i­cal in­fe­ri­or­ity in the en­gine room has led to them be­ing over­run by op­po­nents.

It is in­ter­est­ing to note that while Kante had made 76 in­ter­cep­tions by this stage of last sea­son, Amartey, King, Mendy and Drinkwater cur­rently have only 59 be­tween them.

Ranieri’s charges are find­ing it much more dif­fi­cult to pinch the ball and im­me­di­ately em­bark on quick breaks for­ward, which was the prin­ci­pal way they cre­ated chances dur­ing their ti­tle-winning cam­paign.

Not all of Le­ices­ter’s prob­lems would be solved by de­ploy­ing an ex­tra man in the mid­dle, as Jamie Vardy has looked out of sorts at the top of the pitch and in­di­vid­ual er­rors at the back have proved costly of late. A tweak would un­doubt­edly pro­vide an­other layer of se­cu­rity in the most cru­cial part of the pitch. It would also act as a means of fresh­en­ing things up at the King Power.

Many op­pos­ing teams have fig­ured out a way to negate Le­ices­ter’s strengths, but a switch in shape would give them some­thing to think about.

Ranieri pulled off one of the most in­cred­i­ble man­age­rial feats in English foot­ball his­tory by winning the league last term.

Right now, he and Le­ices­ter need to adapt in or­der to sur­vive.

Paul El­lis / AFP

Com­pared to the pre­vi­ous sea­son, the ri­vals have adapted to Le­ices­ter City’s style of play. Clau­dio Ranieri will have to re­visit his strat­egy and for­ma­tion.

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