Was Leicester City's Sacking of Claudio Ranieri the Right Move?
Leicester City's incredibly unpredictable stretch continues.
Two seasons ago, the Foxes miraculously staved off relegation by winning six of their last eight matches after going into April with just four victories. Despite the late-season surge, the club fired manager Nigel Pearson, reportedly due to his strained relationship with the club's brass. Leicester hired Claudio Ranieri -- a move that drew many criticisms -- to take Pearson's place, and you could say things worked out.
Everyone knows what Leicester did last year, winning the most unlikely Premier League title in history. They started the year as 5,000-to-1 underdogs and shocked the soccer world with a run to the crown, something that may be the greatest team accomplishment in sports history. For reference, the Cleveland Browns had 200-to-1 odds to win the 2016 Super Bowl -- they went 1-15.
We don't have an adjective that accurately describes Leicester's 2015-16 season.
But the pendulum has swung back in the other direction this campaign as the Foxes have struggled from the get go and are currently just one spot clear of the relegation zone. Despite the poor season, after what the team achieved last year, there's no way they could fire Ranieri -- right?
BREAKING: Reports say Leicester City has fired Claudio Ranieri less than a year after winning the PL title | #LCFC https://t.co/fxcgHfwQ1X
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) February 23, 2017
It's definitely a harsh move, but was the sacking justified?
If you take last season out of the equation -- yes, I know, that's impossible to do considering what they accomplished -- firing Raineri isn't that crazy of a move. Leicester have been horrible this year. No one expected them to realistically challenge for the title again, with oddsmakers pegging them to finish seventh, but this season has been an unmitigated disaster.
It started with a 2-1 defeat to newly-promoted Hull City in Matchweek 1, and outside of a solid showing in the Champions League, things haven't gotten much better.
Leicester have been significantly worse this season in every meaningful way. The wins and losses tell that story, and so do the Foxes' per-game rate stats.
|Season||Matches||Losses||Goals||Goals Allowed||Shots||Shots Allowed|
The Foxes are scoring 0.82 fewer goals per game while allowing 0.77 more goals per match. That's not good, and as a result, they've lost 14 times in 25 league fixtures after tasting defeat just three times in 38 Premier League games a year ago.
It's not just that they aren't as good as they were last year, because, again, they weren't expected to play at that level this season. It's that across the board they rank as one of the worst teams in the Premier League.
Per WhoScored.com's rating system, Leicester have, in fact, been the worst team in the league.
|Stat||Total||Premier League Rank|
It hasn't been a run of bad luck or a brief stretch of poor form that has Leicester fighting to stay up -- they are a genuinely bad team.
Of course, the million-dollar question here is: Why are they so much worse? Well, there's no easy answer.
Selling N'Golo Kante to Chelsea has been a massive blow (and a huge boost for Chelsea), but other than Kante, this is pretty much the same group of players who won the league a year ago. They're just playing worse.
Jamie Vardy's and Riyad Mahrez's offensive wizardry from last season is nowhere to be found, and the center-back pairing of Wes Morgan and Robert Huth -- stalwarts for the Foxes on their way to the title -- have failed to deliver.
Maybe last year was a total fluke and they were a mid-table side masquerading around as league leaders? There is evidence to suggest Leicester wasn't nearly as good last season as that title would have you believe.
The Foxes got some lucky breaks along the way, fared unsustainably well in one-goal matches and took advantage of a year when England's super clubs -- Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea -- all uncharacteristically struggled.
After all, Leicester, with 81 points, finished 10 points clear of second-place Arsenal, but an 81-point season would've been good enough to win the Premier League title just five other times in the 23-year history of the modern Premier League.
They caught lightning in a bottle.
But as rainbows and unicorns as last season was, all the good feels went away once the Foxes started slipping into the danger zone, flirting with relegation. For clubs at the bottom of the table, the focus is a singular one -- find a way to stay in the Premier League.
Right or wrong, players can't get fired. It's the managers who take the blame, and in modern football, managers don't have a long leash. Two other clubs fighting to stay in the Premier League, Swansea City and Hull City, have already sacked managers this year. Shoot, Swansea is on their third manager after giving Bob Bradley 15 minutes (11 games, actually) to right the ship.
Again, right or wrong, winning a trophy doesn't buy a manager any leeway, either.
The EFL Cup, FA Cup & Premier League were won by Manuel Pellegrini, Louis van Gaal & Claudio Ranieri last season. All have lost their jobs
— Everything Man Utd (@everything_utd) February 23, 2017
This is soccer in the modern, big-money era.
Teams at the bottom of the Premier League are in a do-or-die situation, and that usually results in rash, bold moves. Firing Ranieri less than 12 months after he guided Leicester to a historic title is definitely a headline-grabbing move, and sure, the timing of it is a bit odd after Leicester got a pretty great result -- a 2-1 road loss -- in the first leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie at Sevilla, a strong team that is currently third in La Liga.
But if a new voice helps keep the Foxes in the top flight, it'll be the right call, and with the way Leicester's Premier League campaign was circling the drain under Ranieri, he may not have been the guy to keep them up even if he was the guy who delivered last season's miracle title.