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It’s telling that the fifth-best season in this club’s 136-year history is considered disappointing.
In the past five seasons, only two teams have cracked the established top six – and Leicester have done it twice (the other, Southampton, finished 6th in the Foxes’ title-winning campaign of 2015-16). Last term, Leicester recorded a joint-Premier League record 9-0 win. They reached the quarter-finals and semi-finals of England’s domestic cup competitions.
And yet those long faces in late July were entirely justifiable. Expectations had been suitably revised after a thrilling run through to mid-December, as Leicester won 12 of their first 16 games to cling hopefully to Liverpool’s coat-tails. It was no fluke, either. Brendan Rodgers’ side were full of verve and venom, happy to take on all-comers. Even after relenting slightly going into February, they remained 14 points clear of Manchester United and in complete command of a Champions League spot.
The collapse was gradual and pained. A 4-0 lesson from Liverpool was squared off, but a mid-January home defeat to Southampton – who had been dissected so mercilessly at St Mary’s in October – kickstarted a run of just four wins from Leicester’s final 17 games. In between, they threw away a first Wembley final since 2000 by losing to a struggling Aston Villa in the League Cup’s last four and, after lockdown, Chelsea swatted them aside in the FA Cup.
Late-season injuries to Ricardo Pereira, James Maddison and Ben Chilwell certainly didn’t help, but the rot was setting in before each of those key men were sidelined. Rodgers’ side were devoid of bodies and confidence for the final stretch, ambling to the occasional feeble point or three amid a self-inflicted implosion – not least, the astonishing 4-1 collapse at Bournemouth, having led with 25 minutes remaining.
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This is a club with ambition, however, and looking at the season as a whole, 2019-20 brought healthy progress. Leicester were awesome before they were awful. They’ll enjoy a season in the Europa League, which presents new challenges for a youthful squad and a far greater chance of success than they would have had in the Champions League. They must both balance and bolster their squad, however: last term demonstrated that the Foxes are still short in reserve.
It is on Rodgers to concoct a hangover cure that will have Leicester thriving once more. Beyond those sore heads, there is an exciting team to behold.
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