A glance at the Premier League standings does not make for particularly pleasant reading for Leicester City. The 2016 champions currently find themselves languishing down in 17th place, with Saturday’s 2-1 reverse against Chelsea their third defeat in four games.
On this occasion, however, the table does not tell the whole story. Indeed, it was always going to be a difficult start to the campaign for Craig Shakespeare and his players, who have locked horns with Arsenal, Manchester United and Antonio Conte’s side in the opening weeks. A victory over Brighton and Hove Albion may be the only tangible reward they have collected from their first four encounters in the Premier League, but Leicester should take heart from the fact they have only been narrowly beaten by the three members of the top six they have faced so far.
The East Midlanders had a largely successful summer in the transfer market, with the notable exception of the botched deal for Adrien Silva (Leicester missed the player registration deadline by 14 seconds, which means the Portuguese midfielder is not able to play for his new employers until January). Elsewhere, Harry Maguire has already made a positive impression following his move from Hull City, Kelechi Iheanacho possesses a fantastic goalscoring record at this level and Vicente Iborra adds bite and physicality in the centre of the park. Danny Drinkwater may have been sold to Chelsea, but the Foxes managed to keep hold of star man Riyad Mahrez – who was uncharacteristically poor at the King Power Stadium on Saturday – despite reported interest from Roma and Arsenal.
Shakespeare therefore has a good squad to work with, and there is no reason why Leicester should not be targeting an eighth-place finish this term. It is important that they do not panic after a return of three points from a possible 12, particularly as they have given each of Arsenal, United and Chelsea a test. Leicester were unfortunate to lose to the former on the opening weekend, going down 4-3 in a dramatic encounter at the Emirates Stadium, while they could easily have drawn with the other two on a different day.
The Foxes are working from an established template, which revolves around a 4-4-2 formation and counter-attacking approach. That system and style have served them extraordinarily well in the last few seasons, so it makes complete sense for the club to keep faith with the tried and tested. An attacking pool which includes Mahrez, Jamie Vardy, Iheanacho, Islam Slimani, Demarai Gray, Marc Albrighton and Shinji Okazaki means Leicester will not be short of goals, while Wilfred Ndidi is one of the most promising young midfielders in the country and Maguire is a very talented prospect at the back. Between the sticks, meanwhile, Kasper Schmeichel is arguably the division’s best goalkeeper outside the top six.
“Performance-wise I thought it was okay, looking at the commitment and endeavour,” Shakespeare said after the weekend defeat. “History tells you Chelsea may go on and win by three or four but we showed a lot of character and resilience. When we got back to 2-1 we just couldn’t find that final bit that was required to get something from the game and I just feel at the moment the big moments aren’t going our way.”
It was a fair assessment of the match and could also be applied to Leicester’s prior losses to Arsenal and Manchester United. On Saturday’s evidence, it will not be long before Shakespeare’s charges clamber away from the relegation zone and up the Premier League table.