Relegation fears real for Ranieri and struggling Leicester
ABS-CBN Sports on Jan 24, 2017 09:15 AM
FILE- In this May 7, 2016, file photo, Leicester's team manager Claudio Ranieri and Leicester's Wes Morgan lift the trophy as Leicester City celebrate becoming the English Premier League soccer champions at King Power stadium in Leicester, England. Leicester City, with a payroll that was spare change compared to the Premier League's big spenders, romped to the first league title in its 132-year history, clinching with two weeks to spare. "Nobody believed we could do it," captain Morgan said, "but here we are." (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)
LONDON (AP) — The momentum that carried Leicester to the Premier League title last season has been replaced by genuine worries of relegation.
Leicester has only 21 points from 22 games this season, the worst record for a defending champion since Ipswich had the same in the 1962-63 season.
"Our goal is to reach 40 points," Leicester coach Claudio Ranieri said after his team lost to Southampton 3-0 on Sunday, referring to that number as the target for safety. "I maintain the focus on 40 points and we must do that as soon as possible. Of course it (relegation) is realistic and that is why I want the 40 points."
Leicester is only five points clear of the relegation zone, but is also still involved in the Champions League. The team will play Sevilla next month in the last 16.
Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez were the key players in Leicester's success last season, but both have been far less effective this time around.
Vardy scored 24 league goals, including a Premier League record for goals in consecutive games with 11, last season but has only five so far as a defending champion.
Mahrez, currently on international duty at the African Cup of Nations, has been unable to influence games like he did last season when danced through defenses and contributed many assists.
After receiving about 30 million pounds (then $40 million) from Chelsea for midfielder N'Golo Kante, Ranieri has not hesitated to splash the cash.
In came Napalys Mendy, Ahmed Musa and lslam Slimani, signed for a club record fee of about $33.5 million, but the trio have yet to make much of an impact.
Leicester's aging center backs, Wes Morgan and Robert Huth, may just be starting to creak.
On Sunday, Morgan was beaten by Shane Long late in the match and conceded a penalty by trying to stop him.
Leicester has already conceded more goals this season than they did in the previous season.
Ranieri liked to call Kante an octopus because "he gets to every ball, everywhere."
But with the Frenchman now at Chelsea, Leicester have badly missed his ball-winning abilities in front of the back four.