There are very few jobs in this world, where you can go from an absolute hero on one day to an utter failure the very next day. A football manager’s job, especially a Premier League manager’s job is one of these rare job types. Consider the case of Arsene Wenger. Lately every season, there are two very noticeable waves of emotions for the Gunners fans. Every season, in most cases towards the end, Arsenal fans are placated with their continued Champions League participation and a FA Cup every now and then and their anger, which had boiled over in #WengerOut hashtags and signs in anti-Trump protests, earlier in the season fizzles out.
Indeed, the odds of Arsene Wenger continuing at Arsenal are getting long but there is one Premier League manager, who is in a bigger danger of being shown the door. Last May, it would have been impossible to believe that these words could be written just nine months down the line but Claudio Ranieri is almost certain to be replaced before this season is over. Betting blog The Sack Race suggests that there is 4/7 odds on a bet that Ranieri will be the next Premier League manager to be sacked i.e. the betting company (Betway) would provide 4 pounds per 7 pounds bet on that event happening. It is an event that would have seemed as unlikely in May 2016, as Leicester’s conquest of the Premier League was in August 2015, but now it seems that the sacking is imminent.
Some pundits are saying that the club will give him time at least to play the two Champions League matches against Leicester and if the team does not progress to the next round, they will drop the axe. Others believe Leicester should move even faster and get a new manager in as soon as possible. But the question is, how is the new manager, whosoever he is, supposed to stop the rot in Leicester. The champions have won only five games – all at home – in the campaign to defend their title. They have not won a single away game and actually only have three draws to show for their travels. The team got dumped out of the FA Cup by a 10-men Milwall from League One on the weekend and they sit only one point above the relegation zone in the league. The only saving grace was their group topping performance in the maiden Champions League campaign but that fairy tale also seems to be coming to an end, with a double header versus one of the top-four sides in La Liga.
So, sooner or later the club will have to part ways with Ranieri and will have to bring in a new manager, whose first job will be to stop the champions from getting relegated. The question in front of the new manager will be, what to change in the set up to ensure that his club does not get relegated? This is an attempt to answer that question.
One of the most frequent retorts to the question – “what can be done to revive Leicester?” is “Get back Kante.” No doubt the champions are missing Kante’s tackling and composure in the midfield. But in terms of stats, what does it translate to?
Squawka’s stats comparison between Leicester of this season and the Champions of last season, as well as the fairly tough Leicester seen in this season’s Champions League shows that the team is passing a bit more in the Premier League this season, albeit with a slightly lower success rate. At the same time, their chance creation has dropped from last season – in both this season’s Premier League as well as the European campaign.
While the above stats do not prove that the Foxes are clearly missing Kante, but if we look at the tackling and takeon stats, it is clear that the midfield is one of the major areas, where they are losing the plot. In both getting the ball from the opponent and in moving the ball past a defender, Leicester are much below the level of last season.
When we look at defending stats, here as well it becomes apparent that they are missing a solid DM performer. They are much worse than last season in interceptions, blocks, as well as clearances. In all, in the league, they are putting in ten fewer defensive actions than last year. A good defense, aided by a good DM would not allow this to happen.
In terms of attack, one would have assumed that with players like Mahrez and Vardy continuing to play for them, much would not change. But instead, we have season all through these season that these two definite pillars of Leicester’s title win have faltered repeatedly through the current season. Leicester struggle so badly to score goals this season, that they are only likely to score in 60% of the game, while last year they were almost going at a rate of two goals per game.
Leicester are shooting fewer times than compared to last season in the Premier League, they are a bit more wayward than last season, but perhaps most importantly, almost all the reduction in shots is linked to shots from inside the area.
Unsurprisingly, there is almost a reduction of 0.9 goals per game, in goal that were scored from inside the penalty area of the opponent. They are not as dangerous from set pieces either, scoring 0.3 fewer goals from set pieces. While these two numbers do overlap with each other, you can see that the Champions are missing out on scoring one goal per game due to them not creating enough opportunities closer to the goal, and also due to them not utilizing whatever deadball opportunities they manage to create.
In conclusion, it does seem that the joking retort that they should get Kante back, is fairly accurate – Kante’s loss perhaps has hurt Leicester more than Vardy’s loss of form. Without Kante, the midfield has lost its spine – they are neither able to get the ball back, nor are they able to move the ball forward swiftly to create goal-scoring opportunities. The lack of composure and direction in the midfield also hurts Leicester in defense as now opponents are able to get closer to the Foxes’ goal and more often than not, they are scoring them.
Now the new manager, whosoever he is and whenever he has to tackle this, should be focusing on Leicester’s midfield, not the faltering defense and neither the out-of-form Vardy. A good midfielder in the Kante mold can connect very well between the defense and the attack. Either Ranieri or his successor has the unenviable job of finding a Kante replacement in the next 13 game weeks.