Friday, 24 February 2017

Ranieri also a victim of levelling up at the bottom

The brutal sacking of Claudio Ranieri might have made cold economic sense to Leicester's owners, but what price the loss of public affection? Last season many a neutral fan shed a tear at their story; they've now become the side most people want to see relegated. Ranieri was certainly let down by players like Mahrez, Vardy and Drinkwater who didn't match last season's standards and he made some indifferent signings.

But the club has also been the victim of a levelling out of standards among the bottom 14 clubs. Last season they overachieved by 20 per cent and profited from the terrible form of the top six. This season they have underachieved by 20 per cent. That can make a big difference when all the teams have huge sums of TV money to spend and there are no truly bad sides. Is there really that much difference between say Midlands rivals Stoke, West Brom and Leicester? Factor in injuries or loss of form to say Rondon and McAuley and Arnautovic and Shawcross and Albion or Stoke might be fourth from bottom. 

The Premier League used to have whipping boys like Derby in 2007-08  (a record low of 11 points), Sunderland in 2005-06 (15 points) and Aston Villa last season (17 points). Yet it's hard to find a truly bad side now. There's been some terrible defending admittedly, from top and bottom sides, but Sunderland are improving under David Moyes and new bosses Clement and Silva have inspired mini-revivals at Swansea and Hull City and Big Sam will surely improve results at Palace. There are good players too; many a Premier League side would like to recruit Defoe, Sigurdsson, Maguire or Zaha. Perhaps the weakest sides on paper are Bournemouth and Burnley, but they both have inspirational young managers in Eddie Howe and Sean Dyche. Indeed, perhaps Leicester could learn from the example of Burnley. They went down with Dyche, but kept faith in his ability and saw him win promotion and then rise to mid-table in the Premier League. 

Leicester's owners have destroyed some of the romance of the game and should never have sacked Ranieri after what he achieved. But it's the levelling up of the bottom pack outside the top six that has caused the board to panic. The motto of my daughter's school is "always tighten your helmet strings after battle" and that is what Leicester have failed to do this season. In a levelled-out league any lowering in intensity can cause a slump towards the relegation zone and that has cost Claudio his job. 

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