LONDON: Eight months after completing one of sport’s most remarkable triumphs of the underdog, Premier League champions Leicester City stand potentially one more bad result away from a place in the relegation zone.
Such has been their rapid demise that defeat against Manchester United on Sunday, coupled with good weekends for relegation rivals Crystal Palace and Swansea City, and a place in the bottom three will be theirs.
Having suffered a third successive defeat on Tuesday with a 1-0 loss at Burnley, the almost unthinkable scenario of Leicester dropping out of the top flight a year after straddling its summit moved another step closer.
Manager Claudio Ranieri may not be pressing the panic button, but the post mortem following their Turf Moor reverse, which left them with the worst record after 23 games of any reigning Premier League champions, pinpointed some familiar themes.
Foremost among their current failings is a defence that has gone from rock solid to leaky and a forward line that was razor sharp, but now looks blunt.
Leicester finished last season having conceded 36 goals, yet have already shipped 38 in just 23 outings.
Things are not much better at the other end of the pitch. At this point last year, Ranieri’s side had found the net 42 times, but have currently only managed 24.
While the enormity of Ranieri’s success, as well Leicester’s excellent Champions League form, should be enough to keep him out of the Premier League’s managerial sack race, even reigning title winners can find themselves under pressure.
The seemingly unflappable Italian, however, is staying calm.
“Panic? No,” he said following the Burnley defeat.
“We have to work more, fight more and believe.”
With their squad almost identical to last season’s, barring N’Golo Kante’s departure to Chelsea, a lack of belief seems to be one of the reasons behind their current woes.
A tangible asset of last season’s champions was their seemingly inexorable levels of team spirit that ensured they were resolute under pressure and relentless in their pursuit of points.
That steel has been replaced by a fragility that seems to rear its head every time they travel away from the home comforts of the King Power Stadium.
They are currently without a win on the road this season, having picked up three points from three draws, a dismal return compared to the 11 wins and six draws they harvested from 19 away games en route to the title.
They will be happier, therefore, to be hosting United, who were left frustrated with a 0-0 draw against Hull City on Wednesday.
The highlight of the weekend’s fixtures sees Arsenal, beaten at home to Watford on Tuesday, hoping to rejuvenate their title bid with victory on Saturday at leaders Chelsea, who are nine points clear at the summit.
Tottenham Hotspur, who are ahead of Arsenal on goal difference in second place, host Middlesbrough on Saturday, when Liverpool visit Hull City, while Manchester City host Swansea on Sunday.