Leicester City Are Playing Like League Champions Again
Since their controversial sacking of Claudio Ranieri, the manager who guided the club to last season's historic Premier League title, Leicester City have been a completely different -- and much better -- team.
The bold move to fire Ranieri sure seems like it's paying off right now as Leicester just shocked the soccer world (again) by beating Sevilla 2-0 (3-2 on aggregate) on Tuesday to advance to the Champions League quarterfinals.
That's right -- Leicester City is in the last eight of the top club competition on the planet. What is life?
It's been a quick turnaround this season. After struggling through the first two-thirds of the campaign, flirting with relegation in the process, the Foxes have gotten back to the form that carried them to the top of the league a year ago.
Sure, we only have a three-match sample without Ranieri, but the team's improved performance has been staggering (statistics courtesy of WhoScored).
|Split||Matches||Losses||Goals||Goals Allowed||Shots||Shots Allowed|
|2016-17 With Ranieri||25||14||0.96||1.72||10.9||14.4|
|2016-17 Without Ranieri||3||0||2.67||0.67||14.7||12.7|
Under newly-appointed Craig Shakespeare, the Foxes have ripped off successive 3-1 league wins over Liverpool and Hull City before topping Sevilla by a 2-0 score in the second leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie.
As we mentioned at the time of Ranieri's firing, Leicester were in very bad shape as recently as three weeks ago. It wasn't a run of hard luck that had the Foxes nearing the drop zone; they were legitimately one of the worst teams in the Premier League, ranking among the bottom in nearly every meaningful statistic.
Maybe the most impressive thing about this recent run of excellent form is that the victories have come against some pretty stout competition aside from Hull. Liverpool and Sevilla are both currently in the top four of their domestic leagues. Heck, Sevilla is a mere three points behind giants Barcelona in La Liga.
Can Leicester maintain this form and keep up their Champions League magic? Well, those are two different questions.
Advancing to the semifinals of the Champions League is going to be a tall order, and a lot of it will depend on who the Foxes draw for their quarterfinal tie. While they're going to face a top-notch foe regardless, a matchup with Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Real Madrid would almost certainly spell doom. But as the Foxes taught us last year, they're capable of anything.
As for continuing this form, it's certainly possible. Losing Kante has left a gaping hole in front of their back four, but the way they've played of late is pretty much the way they played for 38 matches last year on their way to glory.
Even if their Champions League run flames out in a big way in the quarterfinals -- which is a distinct possibility if they are pitted against Barca, Bayern or Real Madrid -- the Foxes have rekindled what worked so well for them a year ago. They've been organized defensively, dangerous on set pieces and ready to pounce on the counter.
If they can carry this form over to the 2017-18 Premier League season, Leicester could find themselves back in the top half of the EPL table.