Leicester City—shock league champions last season to relegation candidates this. Claudio Ranieri, who without a doubt led the club to the greatest moment in their history, was fired just nine months after the title coup to fierce criticism from the majority within the game.
It was suggested that the players had stopped playing for the manager, that the charismatic Italian had lost the dressing room, and that Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy & co. were overly arrogant about their abilities following the previous season’s exploits.
The club’s Thai owners decided that the buck stops with the gaffer, and Ranieri was gone. His fairytale period in charge at the King Power Stadium was over. The side now needed a new face and Ranieri’s number two, a familiar voice within the Leicester camp, was given the chance.
Whilst Craig Shakespeare’s Midas touch has begun to wear off just recently, there can be no denying that his appointment—first as interim manager, then on a deal until the end of the season—has lifted the club.
He was given one game to prove himself, and it couldn’t have been much more difficult. A home game with the pressure of the crowd and the expectation to deliver a result is one thing, but hosting title challengers Liverpool added to the challenge.
A superb 3-1 win followed. Vardy was on the score sheet, the KP Stadium was rocking and the scenes were reminiscent of their title winning campaign.
It was back to basics for Leicester. The same system and the same tactics that had set them on their way to history in 2015/16 were employed by Shakespeare.
Ranieri has a reputation. He likes to change the team around often. His nickname is ‘tinkerman’ and it is not hard to see why. He changed the tactics this season, arguably concerned that the way they played last season wouldn’t be as effective.
Shakespeare—who was part of the coaching set up under Ranieri’s predecessor Nigel Pearson—reverted back to the style that had served them so well.
Under Pearson, the system had led to the great escape from what looked like certain relegation in 2015, as the club won seven of their last nine games.
After Pearson fell out with the hierarchy, Ranieri was brought in and, rather surprisingly, kept things much the same. It led to a title.
So perhaps it should be unsurprising that Shakespeare has gone back to that system. He has been there throughout the success of the system.
In the aftermath of Shakespeare becoming the boss, the Foxes won six games in a row, including a 2-0 Champions League triumph over La Liga high fliers Sevilla which saw them qualify for the quarterfinals.
They have lost their last two—a 4-2 defeat away to Everton and a 1-0 loss at Atletico Madrid—but there can be no shame in their performances.
It has become abundantly clear that for Leicester to do well, the players must be settled and enjoying their football. They were last season and, under Shakespeare right now, they are again. If the enthusiastic fan favourite stays in the hot seat, who knows what Leicester could achieve next?