The champions won their fourth successive game last week leading many to wonder whether the Leicester revival is a direct consequence of Ranieri’s sacking.
Really, what’s going on at the King Power Stadium? Facing flak for their move to sack Claudio Ranieri towards the end of February, the club has since had quite a remarkable transformation. The English champions – who were in dire straits right until Ranieri’s exit – won each of their four games since, including a turnaround win to progress into the Champions League quarterfinals at the cost of a bemused Sevilla. The Leicester revival that looked so improbable just a little over a month ago looks well on course now.
Widely vilified for firing their benign, grandfatherly, virtually haloed manager, Leicester’s sudden surge in form since poses some curious questions regarding Ranieri’s influence on the team and its form in the current season. And, of course, that of current manager Craig Shakespeare, who has overseen Leicester’s escape from relegation in 2014-15 as also their miraculous title-winning season next year under the Italian.
— Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) March 18, 2017
Since Shakespeare has taken charge in February, the intensity, organisation and preparedness of the team has looked on point. Key players from last season, including the likes of Vardy and Mahrez seem to have regained their vigour and drive. And the team looks to take games by the scruff of the neck as they did last year. The energetic pressing, quick movement and haring counters from last season are all back. And the champions have rapidly accelerated away from the drop zone with three consecutive wins.
That’s all fantastic for supporters and neutrals alike. But the question still remains – what is going on at the King Power Stadium? What has changed since Ranieri? And is Shakespeare the true architect of this Leicester revival?
Players, though, insist that not much has changed
Naturally, no one would criticise Ranieri after last season. Not intentionally in public, at the very least. But players have suggested that not much has changed since February. At least not much in substance. Ranieri’s sacking would, of course, have had some fallout. Vardy’s claims of having received death-threats in the aftermath is one on the extreme end. But there may well be some guilt, sadness and other assorted miseries wedged somewhere in the players’ minds. But on the other hand, there would also be an element of relief in some sense.
Ranieri’s second season at the King Power was typified by him living up to his moniker of the “tinkerman”. His constantly shifting tactics, playing styles and even fundamental things like the basic formations clearly took a toll on both the team and individual players. And that aside from the strain accompanying the poor results and the expectations following their title win last season. Things were not quite working out for Ranieri. And even the novelty of mixing it with the giants in Europe looked to be coming to a close – Ranieri’s last match in charge was Leicester’s 2-1 loss away to Sevilla in their last-16 first leg of the Champions League.
3 – Craig Shakespeare is the 1st manager in PL history to have his side score 3+ goals in each of his first 3 games in charge. Scenes.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 18, 2017
It’s now understood that beneath the surface of Ranieri’s gameplans and philosophy, it was Shakespeare and his staff who had the pulse of the team. With Ranieri away a lot, the staff was in charge of the meat of the training – organisation, core drills, and the general management of the players. With the Italian gone, Shakespeare has essentially worked towards strengthening those basic aspects of Leicester’s game that worked so well last year. And, of course, kept a consistently simple gameplan. And clearly, the players have responded very well.
Mahrez on Ranieri’s sacking and Leicester’s prospects for the remainder of the season
Midfield ace Riyad Mahrez spoke with Sky Sports ahead of their game with West Ham in week 29 about the Leicester revival and the impact of Ranieri’s sacking on the team:
“The players and the club know we didn’t let Ranieri down so whoever wants to speak can speak. The criticism doesn’t affect us. People speak because it is their job, they have to criticise. We are here to play and to win games.
“Criticism is good for the team, it keeps us strong and then we can fight with more power.
“We didn’t for six, seven months, now we have started. But that doesn’t mean everything is good, we’ve only won three games. We need to keep going because it’s not finished.”
Sacked by Leicester, but still getting awards.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) March 24, 2017
On beating Sevilla and making it to the Champions League quarterfinals:
“The Sevilla game was special. We knew it would be a tough game but we put the intensity we needed to win the game.
“It is very good seeing Leicester in the quarterfinals. We will see if the quarterfinals are the end or if we keep going.
“I don’t think we can win it but the same was said about the Premier League. But the Champions League has huge, huge teams.”