Leicester City is back from the dead.
Under Craig Shakespeare, the club has won three games in a row, including defeats of Liverpool and defending Europa League champions Sevilla. There’s plenty of work to be done, but they’re three points above the drop zone and into the Champions League quarterfinals. After an unprecedented goal drought in Premier League play, they have eight goals in their last three games.
Suddenly things are looking up. But with all the success also comes more questions.
Personnel wise, Shakespeare hasn’t changed a thing. Tactically, he’s done very little apart from “simplifying” things, according to midfielder Danny Drinkwater. And yet, they’re suddenly feared again. Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon singled Leicester City out as the team he’d least like to draw in Champions League play, with teams like Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, and Real Madrid still on the map.
This leaves the soccer world to ponder, where did it all go wrong under Claudio Ranieri? The conditions many blamed Leicester City’s seemingly imminent demise – fixture congestion, a regression to the mean, an aging defense, superstars slumping – all remain for Shakespeare, yet he’s figured out how to flip the switch almost immediately.
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In the Italian’s last days with the club, the players appeared utterly devoid of any courage or spirit. With rumors of a player revolt, what could it have been that sucked the squad dry of any drive, fight, or confidence? And what is it about Shakespeare’s appointment that has regenerated the club morale?
Whatever caused the players to lose faith in Ranieri so suddenly, so quickly after such an unimaginable high must have been stark. The club had so recently attained an historic achievement, and yet the players appeared to have become entirely disillusioned with Ranieri’s leadership and tactical abilities.
Claudio Ranieri’s resume clearly speaks for itself, but should he procure a new job elsewhere in Europe, it’s a dark mark he’ll no doubt be asked to defend. The Italian seemed an incredibly likable character to the public, one who had his players’ backs, and the squad seemed to return the sentiment until things began to fall apart. With so little tangible change under Shakespeare’s leadership on the field to point a finger at, the immediate turnaround is just as confounding as it is impressive.