EPL form a worry as Leicester enters defining week in Europe
LEICESTER, England (AP) — Champions one season. Relegated the next.
It has only ever happened to one team in the highest division of English football — Manchester City in 1937-38 — so Leicester is trying to avoid an unwanted piece of history this season.
At the start of a week when the team from central England could clinch a place in the last 16 of the Champions League, it is Leicester’s form in the Premier League that is possibly the biggest talking point.
A 3-1 loss to Watford on Saturday left Leicester in 14th place in the 20-team league and just two points above the bottom three. No one foresaw Claudio Ranieri’s team winning the Premier League last season — the pre-season odds on that happening were 5,000-1 — but its rapid fall from grace is taking many by surprise, too.
“The relegation is very close to us and we have to react,” Ranieri said after the loss to Watford. “I expected difficulties, but not so strong.”
On Monday, Ranieri dismissed a suggestion that his players have been distracted by competing in the Champions League.
“I don’t think it’s a distraction, it’s enjoyment,” Ranieri said at a news conference ahead of the home match against Club Brugge on Tuesday. “I don’t see the difference.”
Yet, in five Premier League matches played the weekend before a Champions League game, Leicester has collected just one point. Leicester has already lost six games in the league, which is double the number of losses from last season’s title-winning campaign.
“If you see the match against Watford and the match against Copenhagen or Brugge or Porto, it’s the same,” Ranieri said. “The difference is in the Champions League matches we score, in the other matches no.
“Our focus is this: Try to win tomorrow and then go back into the Premier League and try to improve our table. Yes, of course I have to work harder, everyone has to work harder.”
Leicester was fortunate to be drawn in one of the weaker Champions League groups and the team has made the most of it, winning three games, drawing the other and conceding no goals.
The Foxes only need a point on Tuesday to be sure of a place in the knockout stage, allowing the focus to switch entirely to the team’s league form — at least until February.
“Our fairytale is continuing,” Ranieri said. “We did something special last season and we’re doing it again this season.”