On this day in 2015, the Foxes sat bottom of the Premier League, facing an immediate return to the Championship. Two years on, they sit 17th, two points off the foot of the table.
So far, so unsurprising – except for the fact that in-between these relegation-threatened seasons, they pulled off the greatest sporting triumph of all-time, winning the Premier League, and making the name Leicester City famous all around the world.
Just nine months after he turned a squad of misfits and rough diamonds into champions, boss Claudio Ranieri is now the bookies’ favourite to be sacked – his charges have failed to score a league goal in 2017, let alone win, and he was knocked out of the FA Cup this weekend by third-tier Millwall.
But Leicester’s topsy-turvy season will continue on Wednesday night when they face Sevilla in the Champions League round of 16 – the Foxes topped their group at a canter as they found the form of last season when playing in Europe’s premier competition for the first time.
As they prepare to travel to Spain, just why have they failed so miserably in the Premier League this season – and can they up their game enough to pull off another shock against Sevilla this week?
As the graph shows, almost everything that could be going wrong for Leicester this year, is going wrong. Unsurprisingly, they’re performing worse in almost every single category.
The attacking force of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez has been blunted severely – Leicester are taking fewer shots, (13.74 last year to 10.72 this) and at a worse accuracy, (45% to 43%) and creating nearly three chances/game less this time around (10.16 to 7.52).
All of this means on average, Leicester are scoring 0.94 goals/game less in the Premier League in 2016/17 than they managed in 2015/16 – now averaging less than a goal per match at 0.96.
Defensively, the Foxes are being outfought in individual duels (46% to 42%), making fewer clearances (31.26 to 29.48), while being guilty of making more individual errors (0.26 to 0.28) and conceding over twice as many times (0.95 to 2.05).
One obvious factor behind Leicester’s fall from grace has been the loss of N’Golo Kante. The Frenchman signed for Chelsea in the summer (the only regular from last year to be snapped up by one of the supposed big boys), and his absence has been keenly felt at the King Power Stadium.
The all-action midfielder made 156 interceptions and 125 tackles for the Foxes last season – comfortably the most of any player in the Premier League.
While Ranieri has tried Andy King, Daniel Amartey and new signings Nampalys Mendy and Wilfred Ndidi alongside Danny Drinkwater in Kante’s old position, none have been able to match what he gave to Leicester last year.
The fact that interceptions are down to 14.04 per match, compared to 21.58 last year, and the team’s tackle percentage is down to 35% from 44% shows the impact that losing Kante has had on the side.
What is interesting, however, has been Leicester’s performances in the Champions League.
Winning four games out of six (and only losing after resting players for their dead-rubber final match against Porto), the Foxes topped their group with ease – in stark contrast to their poor domestic form.
While the results have been as good as last year, their stats have been markedly worse than even the current Premier League season.
The Foxes are making far fewer passes, interceptions, clearances or blocks, and are only creating half as many chances as they were in their title-winning campaign.
However, they have been far more effective – with 53% of shots being on target, and upping their set piece goals/game to a high of 0.67, meaning they’ve managed to net 1.67 per match.
They’ve also cut out the defensive errors that have plagued this Premier League season, making just 0.17 mistakes at the back each match, compared to 0.28.
This suggests an issue of concentration, with the motivation of excelling in Europe appearing to be focusing Leicester players’ minds – a motivation that might be difficult to find in the Premier League after the miracle of last season.
Leicester’s title-winning blueprint was unprecedented, as they were near the bottom of the table across a number of categories that champions would normally dominate in.
As this table shows, Ranieri has kept with the same game-plan.
Just as last year, the Foxes are continuing to rank low across all 20 Premier League teams for possession, successful passes/game and pass accuracy – but unlike last year, their counter-attacking game isn’t yielding results.
Interestingly, they’ve fallen from 1st to 13th in the league for interceptions/game (a hangover from the loss of Kante), but have also slipped from 2nd to 18th for set piece goals – showing how other sides have got to grips with a key part of the Foxes’ gameplan.
While Ranieri’s failure to adapt or motivate the dressing room could be to blame, much of the responsibility for Leicester’s woes this year must lie with the players. Nobody has covered themselves in glory this year, but the spine of last year’s side have all underperformed.
Jamie Vardy has struggled badly to find the net this year, with just five Premier League goals so far this season, compared to 19 last time around.
His low ratings for shots, shot accuracy and take ons suggest a player low on confidence – as well as a team starving him of chances.
Vardy’s chief creator, Riyad Mahrez, has been well below-par this year too. He’s only averaging a total of 0.25 goals and assists per game this year, compared to 0.83 last season.
Those same stats in the Champions League, however, total 1.11 per match – which shows the Algerian has been able to turn it on in Europe’s premier competition.
Mahrez is also performing 37% fewer take-ons in the league this season, and is suffering 24% fewer fouls. Leicester were awarded 13 penalties last year, with Mahrez’s quick feet around the box helping get his side some crucial spot-kicks – something that’s been lacking this time.
Defensively, the Foxes have been far leakier in 2016/17. When looking at keeper Kasper Schmeichel’s form this year, he’s actually making more saves/game than last season but conceding far more goals – which indicates a defence giving up plenty more opportunities to the opposition.
Instead, the form of Wes Morgan may be the most concerning.
The Leicester captain, who was so solid last year, has been a shadow of himself.
He’s making 42% less tackles, 15% fewer blocks and is down to 53% duels won in the Premier League this campaign.
However, Schmeichel and Morgan’s form in the Champions League might give some optimism before their testing tie against Spanish side Sevilla.
Schmeichel didn’t concede a goal in any of his group stage appearances, with Morgan also improving his stats to nearer where they were last year.
Added to Mahrez’s Champions League improved figures for goals, shot accuracy and pass completion, and Foxes fans will be hoping their players can return to form on the biggest stage.
With Ranieri under huge pressure, and the relegation zone in full view, Champions League success would be the strangest turn yet in the unusual tale of Leicester City.