Why our expectations for Leicester next season should be mid-table
Sometimes, when sports writers and commentators say that “you couldn’t write this script” they’re exaggerating. With Leicester City’s title win though, you don’t have to write the script – real life has already written it for you, and if you had written the script you’d have been laughed out of town.
Little Leicester going from relegation candidates to title winners in a single year with a bunch of rejects and misfits, culminating in Andrea Bocelli singing Nessun Dorma at Leicester’s last home game, revealing himself to be wearing Leicester shirt mid-song? Get outta here, kid.
Expectations for reigning champions are generally to keep around the same level, but for Leicester we should recognise them as the one in 5000 (or higher) chance they are. Ranieri himself has said that top 10 is the goal for next season, although this could be a similar strategy to the club’s insistence that they were just focussed on avoiding relegation while they were flying high early in the season.
However, though Leicester’s achievement has been magnificent and they deserve a huge amount of credit for it, it would be sensible to keep expectations low for next season.
First of all, their starting XI’s availability has been astounding this season.While the Leicester medical team has clearly done a fantastic job, not all of this can be put down to them. It only takes a bad challenge, an unfortunate collision, or an awkward fall for any one of the mainstays to be side-lined, potentially for a long-time. Imagine the praise that Vardy, Mahrez, and Kanté have received for their performances this season, and now imagine how Leicester might have fared if one of them had received a broken leg because they were on the wrong side of a tackle that’s only seriously dangerous about, say, 1 time in 5000.
This would bring in the rest of their squad, who may be a similar level to the starters but haven’t featured for a reason. Whether this is that they haven’t absorbed the lessons in training or that they wouldn’t fit within the team style, having a starting XI below full strength is clearly not ideal, but it’s something Leicester will have to put up with much more next year.
Leicester have played 43 games this year by the end of the season; Tottenham will have played 53, Arsenal 54. If you only took the North London clubs’ first 43 games, they’d have finished their seasons in early March. Extra European games next season, unless Leicester choose to deliberately throw all cup competitions to concentrate on the league, will mean less training and recovery time, so (probably) less organisation in games and fewer starters starting.
Leicester have also never seemed the best team statistically, hinting that while they might be good, the push to the top may have been partly the result of riding a perfect storm. They’re 5го in Michael Caley’s most recent Expected Goal Difference table. If you make the (fairly large) assumption that these will continue to next season, this is a drop out of the top 4 even without considering the increase in games and injuries that are certain and probable to happen next season.
And finally, human nature is a factor. As Leicester did this year, it’s feels better to set a lower initial goal and beat it than to fall short of an aim that was always likely to be unattainable. Don’t ruin the fairytale by expecting a happy ever after.
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