Have Claude Puel and Leicester fallen down the well at season's end?
I mentioned this in a story once before, so forgive me for repeating myself. When I was a child, I once fell into a deep, dark hole. My adult relatives had sent me next door to fetch more beer while they played cards one evening. Risking children’s lives for alcohol was common practice in Canada during the 1970s.
What happened was no one thought to mention a pool was being installed in the other backyard. I fell in. It took a while for the grownups to come looking for me. The wait probably coincided with how long their remaining beer lasted. Once they pulled me up, everyone apologised and swore they forgot to tell me about the pool, that it wasn’t an intentional prank. I’ve never been entirely convinced that was the truth.
Similarly, Leicester City fans must be wondering whether the football gods have been playing with their emotions, considering how the Foxes run-in is going.
Under new boss Claude Puel, Leicester has resided in the Premier League table’s top half for most of the season. The King Powers that be didn’t care that Southampton had released the Frenchman for playing boring football. Only results mattered. Their overall performance this season drew rave reviews for both the squad and their new boss. Count yours truly among the impressed.
Leicester’s season peaked in January. They were undefeated in seven matches between the Premier League and FA Cup, including a goalless draw with champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Their pace began to slow in February. Only four matches were played. Hammered by Manchester City, Leicester drew their other two league games. The Foxes' lone win came against Sheffield United in the FA Cup.
Business picked up again in March. Chelsea knocked them out of the FA Cup but Puel’s squad beat Brighton and West Brom while drawing with Bournemouth. Leicester were riding a four-game unbeaten streak while sitting on 43 points in eighth place.
The deep dark hole swallowed them in April. Newcastle and Burnley both doubled them up by 2-1 counts, Toon beating them at the King Power. When hapless Southampton came calling, Puel’s charges couldn’t find a goal against his former club. The draw was the month’s only point. A trip to Selhurst Park on the 28th was disastrous. The Foxes were already down two when Marc Albrighton saw red on 56 minutes. Crystal Palace piled on three more goals.
You like to see your team respond after a beating, pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and look for someone on whom to take out their frustrations. Instead, West Ham added to the Foxes’ misery with a 2-0 win in front of the Leicester faithful. May has begun with a whimper. With the current squad doing nothing, the team can only live in the past.
Despite their five-match winless run, Leicester have dropped only one place in the standings. Four teams, Newcastle, Palace, Bournemouth, and Watford, are lurking three points down-table. Brighton is four behind. Even so, the Foxes are odds-on to remain in the table’s top half. Only Newcastle and Brighton have two games remaining. Rafa Benitez’s group face Tottenham and Chelsea. Chris Hughton’s Seagulls have Manchester City and Liverpool.
At season’s end, Puel can claim a successful campaign. He pushed the team up from 14th, where Craig Shakespeare tragically had them. The former Lille boss somehow coaxed nine goals and seven assists from bitterly disaffected winger Riyad Mahrez. In the summer, the Algerian’s situation must be resolved. He hasn’t made the scoresheet in the last six matches. That suggests the squad, with nothing to play for, has switched off early. There needs to be a shakeup to insure the team plays to the final whistle next season.
As Jose Mourinho can tell his French colleague, boring football is only acceptable when you’re winning.