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The Leicester Mystery

2017.01.22

Leicester won the Premier League last season with an incredible run. They lost only 3 games out of 38. As I write this, they are 15th in the league – just above the relegation zone — having lost 10 games already (out of 21).

So what went wrong?

Firstly, it’s interesting what didn’t go wrong: they didn’t have all their best players stripped from them by “bigger” clubs. If you think of the key players who performed for Leicester, they are still there: Mahrez, Schmeichel, Morgan, Huth and Vardy stayed (the last turning down Arsenal). They lost Kante to Chelsea but the heart was not ripped out of the team.

So it is something of a mystery but not one beyond comprehension. If Leicester fans will forgive me, 15th is closer to Leicester’s natural position than 1st. I expect they will climb the table somewhat and I seriously doubt they are in danger of demotion, but even before the start of the season few expected that they would be challenging even for a top four position. Last year, lightning struck all over the place. The big teams all underperformed and Leicester had the season of their lives. They played brilliantly but many unlikely things had to go right for them to win it.

Leicester have a bigger burden this year, in the form of the very welcome “distraction” of the Champions League. It is understood that teams need a big squad, with high quality players to replace injured and tired players, to compete simultaneously in the gruelling Premier League at the same time as taking on the titans of European football. It’s inevitable that without a considerable strengthening of its squad, Leicester would pay for it in some form. What’s amazing is that Leicester’s domestic form would suffer so much while they have been so strong in Europe. They topped their group in the Champions League. It’s standard wisdom that you need more “technically gifted” players for European competition whereas you can get by on more “physical” players in England. But so far, Leicester have done “better” in Europe (in an admittedly easy group) than the Premier League this season.

Lastly, it’s rare to win the league back-to-back. It seems that the effort of winning it tends to drain teams ahead of the next campaign, while rival teams are desperate to take revenge and get strengthened by managers aware of the need to catch up. I hate to say it but it’s one of the failings of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal. They may have won the double (FA Cup and Premier League in the same season) and gone a whole Premier League season undefeated but even such a great team couldn’t retain the Premier League the next season.

The real mystery would have been if Leicester were challenging for the Premier League.

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コリン・ジョイス Colin Joyce
コリン・ジョイス
Colin Joyce

1970年、ロンドン東部のロムフォード生まれ。オックスフォード大学で古代史と近代史を専攻。92年来日し、高校の英語教師、『ニューズウィーク日本版』記者、英紙『デイリーテレグラフ』東京特派員を経て、フリージャーナリストに。07年に渡米し、10年帰国。著書に『「ニッポン社会」入門』、『「アメリカ社会」入門』、『「イギリス社会」入門』、『驚きの英国史』など。最新刊は、『新「ニッポン社会」入門〜英国人、日本で再び発見する』(小社刊)。