From ‘out of this world’ last season to ‘normal’ this, Leicester City a team lacking identity

They have been quick, clinical and defensively sound in Europe where they have resembled the champions they are. But in England, Leicester have seemed the sort of team many were anticipating last season, writes Richard Jolly.

Leicester City captain Wes Morgan, left, has looked a shadow of the player whose displays helped Leicester to become Premier League champions in 2015/16. Andrew Couldridge / Reuters
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Claudio Ranieri lit up Leicester City last season. He did again on Sunday. The Italian was on hand to play his part in the city's Diwali celebrations. It was the sort of occasion in which Ranieri, with his ready smile and enduring charm, is well equipped to participate.

It is to his credit that he took time out to represent the club in the community during a busy few days that included a meeting with Leicester’s predecessors as champions and just the third Uefa Champions League game.

Ranieri is endearing ambassador and pioneer alike. He has taken Leicester into territory they had never previously threatened to chart. He is also steering them back into more familiar ground. In his own words, Leicester were “out of this world” last season and are “normal” now.

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Albeit with abnormal traits. The previous time a manager named a weakened team in the Premier League because of Champions League commitments, it was as Manchester City prepared for a semi-final against Real Madrid.

Ranieri omitted Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani at Chelsea as Leicester ready themselves for a home game against Copenhagen, in a group they are already on course to win.

But Ranieri has reasoned Leicester can only confound realism in a maximum of one competition per year. This was a sign all their attentions are concentrated on their one-off Champions League campaign. Yet it amounted to an acceptance that Leicester’s Premier League challenge is disappearing within the opening two months.

It is understandable, in the sense that lightning does not strike twice. Leicester procured 41 points in 2014/15, 81 the season after. Normality, to cite Ranieri’s word, lies much nearer the lower figure.

Chelsea were rightly condemned for going from first to 10th in the space of 12 months during the worst title defence mounted by any Premier League champions. Leicester should be spared such censure. But nor does that grant them immunity. Admiration for their astonishing accomplishments last year must remain, but it can be allied with criticism of their current failings.

Leicester arguably overachieved more than any team in the history of English football last season. They are underachieving now, though clearly not to the same extent. Talk of normality should not extend to Leicester’s set-piece marking which, if overly physical at times in the past, is now strangely lax. They only let in seven goals from dead-ball situations last season. When Wes Morgan left Diego Costa utterly unmarked to score Chelsea’s first on Saturday, the equivalent tally now reached five.

Yet the question of what is the norm for Morgan is pertinent: rewind two years and Leicester’s captain seemed a Championship player promoted beyond his level. Go back to spring and he seemed the most defiant defender in the division. It is tempting to ask which is the true Morgan, although the answer lies somewhere in between. But his personal slump is one reason why Leicester, in four meetings with Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool, have conceded 15 goals.

A side whose intensity, formidable spirit and defensive organisation made them tough to play against now resemble easy touches.

Leicester only lost away at the Emirates Stadium and Anfield last season, each by one goal. Now they have the wrong sort of 100 per cent record on the road: four games, four defeats.

The norm, for Leicester, has entailed playing 4-4-2. The problem, it is becoming glaringly apparent, is that it worked because of N’Golo Kante’s capacity to do the work of two men. It is why Leicester could have afforded to lose Mahrez or Jamie Vardy more than the Frenchman: neither’s departure would have necessitated a change of shape.

Now, even with Danny Drinkwater performing reasonably, Leicester keep getting overrun in midfield by the top teams. They need a new system in such games.

They have been quick, clinical and defensively sound in Europe where they have resembled the champions they are. But in England, Leicester have seemed the sort of team many were anticipating last season.

After the most surreal of years, the identity of the real Leicester remains a mystery.

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