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
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.
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.