So, Leicester City, What Happens Now?
And so goes another Leicester manager. Claude Puel’s position in charge of the Foxes was always in a state of soon-to-be-terminated, every game looked like one on which his job depended, and it was only a matter of time before that ticking time-bomb went off. Well, now it has. Puel has finally been done away with, meaning not since the Foxes’ title-winning season has the same manager started and finished a campaign.
The results didn’t really side with Puel, no wins since New Year’s day, including an FA Cup exit at the hands of Newport, means you couldn’t defend the Frenchman over the games. Inconsistency hasn’t really been a feature of this Leicester team under the former Southampton manager either, wins against Manchester City and at Chelsea have been met with defeats to Southampton, and, the latest, Crystal Palace, this recent weekend. In truth, the only real positive Puel eventually left with was the development of a few younger players, the likes of Harvey Barnes, James Maddison and Ben Chilwell developing under him.
But that’s one part of the problem, in truth. Perhaps the biggest issue has been the problem – as strange as it sounds – that their fairy-tale title-winning campaign has set, what they do next. Quiet mid-table is now seen as unexciting, only a bit of exhilaration will do. Which is understandable, no matter how accidental, or unprecedented it is, once you have a taste or feel of glory, you’ll always wonder if you can do it again.
This conundrum has been the team’s seeming failure to transition to a different mould of football. Puel’s palpable idea of changing the team to a more possession-based front-foot team hasn’t worked, from the previous counter-attacking team didn’t go down well, on or off the pitch, the football became too passive, and many complained about the style, with striker Jamie Vardy having spoken of his discomfort in the new system. Fans were never ready to excuse a system that wasn’t quite yielding either results or delight.
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has been targeted to replace Puel at the King Power, and an appointment looks likely to happen soon, but the Ulsterman’s favoured style of play, which may be less dour than Puel’s, is also possession-based. A new manager bounce may come, and birth wins, similar happened under Puel and his predecessor Craig Shakespeare, but what happens when things start moving towards long-term? Vardy has already aired his discontent at Puel’s style of play, so how would react towards similar methods from Rodgers, or whoever comes in?
This is the flux Leicester find themselves in. Quiet uneventful campaigns won’t do, vibrancy is regularly on demand now, and whichever manager comes in, any long-term transition will begin with its hands tied behind its back.
The biggest story in English football this weekend was probably the Kepa debacle, with the Chelsea goalkeeper refusing Maurizio Sarri’s orders to come off in the League Cup final defeat to Manchester City. Both manager and player have come out to speak of it as a ‘misunderstanding’, but this surely looks like a stain on Sarri’s authority, particularly with the Italian under pressure. The fact that the Chelsea fans were having a laugh at this, a few days after chanting to the manager ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ won’t help talk of a lack of control in the dressing room. The anticipation now is whether or not Sarri starts Kepa at home to Tottenham on Wednesday, and how his side reacts to another hint of a seemingly fractious dressing room.
This looks like last chance saloon for Fulham, as the Cottagers, eight points from safety, travel to 18th-placed Southampton. Things haven’t quite gone well since Claudio Ranieri was appointed, incidentally ahead of this reverse fixture. defeat here means they’ll be at least 10 points off survival, with 10 games to go, and their fate all but sealed. Southampton themselves need points, winless in four and in the final relegation spot, this game looks like one Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side should win, particularly since Fulham haven’t won on the road all season.
Cardiff v Everton
Southampton v Fulham
Chelsea v Tottenham
Manchester City v West Ham
Leicester v Brighton
Huddersfield v Wolves
Newcastle v Burnley
Arsenal v Bournemouth
Crystal Palace v Manchester United
Liverpool v Watford