Will Premier League champions Leicester go down?
Foxes one point above relegation zone
Play relegation rivals Swansea Sunday
Not all fairytales have happy endings.
Nine months on from sport’s greatest triumph, Leicester City are in full nightmare mode, with the threat of relegation looming large over the reigning Premier League champions.
Yet to score a league goal in 2017, the Foxes could be the first English title winners to go down since Wilf Wild’s Manchester City 79 years ago.
Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel has branded recent performances “unacceptable,” the club’s berth just one point above the relegation zone “embarrassing.”
“Let’s not talk about last season,” said the Dane. “It’s gone.”
Whether it be recruitment failure or regress to the norm of fighting relegation, Schmeichel was adamant that “It’s time for each one of us – from the top to the bottom of this club – to stand up and be counted.”
CNN Sport takes a look at the numbers that have defined Leicester’s season …
Replacing the irreplaceable
Leicester’s Premier League win percentage last campaign was over 60%, as Claudio Ranieri’s men finished 10 points clear of second-placed Arsenal.
This season it’s plummeted to just 20.8% and the Foxes have failed to win a single game away from home.
From defending champion to relegation zone
Leicester lost two key men in the summer of 2016.
But the departure to Everton of Head of Recruitment Steve Walsh – the man responsible for the acquisition of Kante, Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy – has also played a part in Leicester’s demise.
Ranieri has spent over $34m trying to replace Kante, bringing in Onyinye Ndidi and Nampalys Mendy, but so far neither have come close to matching the Frenchman’s prodigious industry.
Walsh glibly summarized Kante’s influence, joking he enabled Leicester to play with 12 men.
But while Kante made 156 interceptions and 175 tackles last season, more than another player in Europe’s top five leagues, Mendy has been restricted to four appearances and made just one tackle in a Leicester shirt.
“You can get through their midfield and get at their back four a little bit easier now,” explained Watford striker Troy Deeney.
Vardy and Mahrez
Just as alarmingly, the goals have dried up.
The Premier League Player of the Season for the 2015/2016 campaign, Vardy has gone from hitting the back of the net in a record eleven consecutive matches to scoring in just one game since 10 September 2016.
Where the Foxes frontman averaged over three shots per game last season, finishing one goal shy of the Golden Boot, that figure has dropped to one per game, with Vardy 21st in the scoring charts.
Mahrez has similarly struggled. So often the provider – decisively combining with Vardy on no fewer than seven occasions last season – the Algerian has looked a shadow of the man named CAF African Player of the Year.
Yet to score a league goal this season from open play, Mahrez returns from a disappointing Africa Cup of Nations campaign desperately needing to rediscover his spark.
A $31m return on investment?
Earlier this season, Mahrez and Vardy infamously embarked on an eight-game run in which which they passed to one another just twice.
How it’s calculated
Fresh from scoring 27 goals in Portugal’s Primeira Liga, imposing striker Islam Slimani was brought in to lighten the goalscoring burden – and two goals on his Premier League debut in September boded well.
Except Slimani has only scored three times since, and only once in his last six matches.
Currently 16th in the CNN Sport ROI rankings, the $31m signing still has a lot to prove.
Leicester’s most expensive ever player isn’t the only one.
Ahmed Musa, another acquired for in excess of $20 million, has just two league goals in 18 games.
Eleven of those appearances have come off the bench, but the Nigerian forward has still only hit the back of the net once every 350 minutes.
“The first six months of 2016 were fantasy, and the second six months were reality,” lamented Ranieri.
While Chelsea’s tumultuous 2015/16 title defense was statistically the worst ever, the Foxes would happily take 10th place in their current predicament.
What a moment to play Swansea City.
The Swans, Leicester’s opponents for Sunday’s relegation “six-pointer,” enjoyed their own rapid ascension from the bottom to the top of the English pyramid, some 40 years ago.
Rising from the fourth tier to briefly top the first in the early 1980s under player-manager John Toshack, Swansea defied all odds and realized seemingly unattainable dreams.
In a cruel twist, consecutive relegations followed, and by 1985 the bubble had well and truly burst.
After Wednesday’s FA Cup fifth round extra-time win against Derby, Ranieri admitted he would happily trade cup success for precious Premier League points.
If his key men don’t start performing soon, they too could come crashing back down to earth.