3 Reasons Behind Leicester City's Current Hot Streak
After a magical 2015-16 campaign, Leicester City seemed to have reverted to their previous status as relegation contenders this year.
At the end of February, they were a lowly 5-6-14 in league play, putting them in the thick of a relegation battle. They were also on the verge of being eliminated from the Champions League after a 2-1 defeat to Sevilla and had just been eliminated from the FA Cup by a Millwall team stuck in the third tier of English football. It's safe to say the magic from the previous season was gone.
So, the Leicester City board made the bold decision to sack manager Claudio Ranieri just months after taking the club to unimaginable heights.
The move was met with major criticisms. At least early on, though, it seems as though the higher-ups have made a decision that was difficult but correct.
Craig Shakespeare has taken over following Ranieri's dismissal, and the team is 4-0-0 since he was appointed as manager. In only a matter of weeks, Leicester has moved up to 15th place in the standings (now 6 points clear of relegation with a game in hand over 18th place Hull City), while also advancing to the quarterfinals of Champions League after defeating Sevilla 2-0 at home.
They accomplished this in the second leg of the round of 16 last week, making them the last English Premier League team remaining in the competition.
Leicester have looked like their old selves over the past four games, so let’s examine some potential reasons for such a dramatic turnaround.
Leicester City were the EPL's best tackling team last season -- with 22.9 tackles per game -- but that number has dropped all the way down to 17.2 this season (including the games since Ranieri was sacked). That's changed over the last four games with Shakespeare in charge, as Leicester City has averaged over 24 tackles per match.
Losing tackling machine N’Golo Kante hurt the team tremendously in this department under Ranieri, but they have now (at least temporarily) managed to learn how to tackle effectively without him. Nigerian midfielder Wilfred Ndidi, who Leicester acquired from Genk this January, has been a huge plus in this regard -- he has 21 tackles in these four games after only having 16 tackles in his five league games under Ranieri.
It is a small sample size, but there is no doubt that Ndidi’s improved play over the last four games has been a major reason for Leicester City's turnaround.
Jamie Vardy Is Back
One of the major problems for Leicester City this season was that Jamie Vardy had been mostly ineffective.
In Champions League and EPL matches, he had scored only 6 goals with 2 assists in 28 appearances under Ranieri. However, in a mere four appearances since Ranieri’s departure, he has scored 3 goals with 2 assists. It would be unfair to attribute all of Vardy’s failures to Ranieri, but he's clearly performed better since Shakespeare took charge.
Riyad Mahrez Is Also Back
Mahrez managed to score 7 goals with 3 assists in 29 combined appearances in Champions League and the EPL under Ranieri, but has scored 2 goals with 1 assist since his former manager got sacked. Mahrez has also won two man of the match awards under Shakespeare, according to WhoScored.com’s rating system. That's something he had only done twice in all of his appearances under Ranieri this season.
Like Vardy, Mahrez has experienced a massive increase in production over the past four games. Ranieri himself may not have been the problem, but it certainly seems that the change has at least provided a wake-up call to some of the team’s key players, resulting in a drastic increase in performances.
Claudio Ranieri is a fantastic manager, and we're not trying to imply he's the reason for all of Leicester City's struggles. However, major changes in Leicester’s play has taken place since his firing -- the team’s four-game winning streak under new manager Craig Shakespeare is a clear indication of that.
The Leicester City players appeared to be complacent this season after such a remarkable run, and firing Ranieri sent a message that their current level of play would not be tolerated. It is unfortunate Ranieri had to be a martyr just one season after lifting the title, but it is impossible to argue against the move after seeing how the players have responded.