By Eddie Ikin
Cast your mind back just nine months, and Leicester City fans were living the dream.
Andrea Bocelli was belting out Nessun Dorma at the King Power Stadium, and Leicester skipper Wes Morgan held the Premier League trophy aloft after his side thumped Everton 3-1 in their penultimate game of a truly historic season.
What a contrast to what we see now.
The defending champions currently find themselves sitting in 16th place, two points above the drop zone and with just 15 games left.
So why has their title defence been so pitiful? Here are four reasons why…
The Loss of Ngolo Kante
Ngolo Kante was the Foxes’ Duracell bunny during their title-winning campaign.
The former Caen midfielder received plaudits for his energy, interceptions and knack of being in the right place at the right time to thwart opposition attacks.
He established a formidable partnership with England midfielder Danny Drinkwater, who seemed to raise his game as a result of the Frenchman’s presence.
Always willing to run that bit further than anyone else, and never shying away from a 50/50 challenge, he provided the backbone all great sides need.
Assistant manager Craig Shakespeare perfectly summed up his impact. “Everyone thinks we play 4-4-2 but in fact we play a 4-5-2 formation. Our usual back four, Mahrez and Albrighton out wide with Kante playing either side of Drinkwater.”
After Kante’s departure to Chelsea, Claudio Ranieri’s side looked to another French midfielder to fill the huge hole he’d left.
Nampalys Mendy was signed from OGC Nice for a then club record fee. The former Monaco midfielder has had injury troubles and unfortunately for Leicester has not looked an adequate replacement for his predecessor. Then again, not many would.
As well as Kante’s departure in the summer, Leicester also lost experienced head of player recruitment Steve Walsh.
The Lancastrian was responsible for signing the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy who played starring roles in the club’s first-ever top flight title.
Walsh moved to Everton as director of football, with his old role entrusted to John Rudkin, Leicester’s own director of football.
Despite breaking their record signing mark three times last summer, the club has seen those players struggle in their debut seasons.
Mendy, as mentioned, hasn’t worked out. Ahmed Musa (left) has been used mainly as an impact sub, without actually having much impact. Striker Islam Slimani cost £30m and has shown glimpses of class but has missed crucial games with niggling injuries.
Then there’s defender Luis Hernandez, who has now departed after just six months, and Bartosz Kaputska who only gets outings with the under-23s.
The club failed to capitalise on their status following their historic achievement. For Leicester fans, it’s a case of what might have been if Walsh was still in charge.
Nobody had a bad word to say about Ranieri last season. His infectious smile and wit had the British media eating out of his hands. He could do no wrong.
His nickname of ‘The Tinkerman’ no longer applied because he didn’t have to change a thing. No injuries to worry about, and his team were playing out of their skin.
It was the same XI in week out.
So why, in the first game of this season did he start to tinker? The old saying ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ springs to mind.
He dropped two key members of the title-winning side in Shinji Okazaki and Marc Albrighton, two players which embodied the work ethic of last season.
Instead, he went for the talented but inexperienced Damarai Gray and summer signing Musa.
The Foxes could not string a sequence of passes together. Drinkwater and Vardy looked totally off the pace. They missed the link that Japanese forward Okazaki provided between midfield and attack, and Albrighton’s crosses.
An opening-day loss at newly-promoted Hull was a sign of things to come. What’s alarming for City fans is their manager still doesn’t seem to know his best side.
Key players’ loss of form
The remarkable level at which both Vardy and Mahrez played last season has tailed off dramatically.
With just eight goals between them after 23 games, the dynamic attacking duo have failed to kick on.
Vardy has lacked service, whilst Mahrez, has at times, looked disinterested.
Of course, they were never expected to match last campaign’s achievements, which saw them make the Ballon d’Or top 10.
Both were rewarded with bumper new contracts. They now must start to repay the faith the club has shown in them.
Realistically, survival was always the goal this time around, an aim echoed by Ranieri who insists the target is 40 points.
Let’s face it, the Foxes are in a relegation scrap. Without drastic improvement, especially away from home, they will go down.
Leicester are in real danger of tarnishing quite possibly the greatest sporting achievement of all time.