Leicester City’s faltering start to the season leaves them in 13th place in the Premier League with only eight points from eight games. Tom Simmonds sees parallels with another one-off EPL winner, but with enough evidence that should dissuade Foxes fans from worrying unduly.
In the late afternoon of 14 May 1995, Jamie Redknapp stuck a free kick into the postage stamp to beat Tim Flowers and give Liverpool a 2-1 win over a Blackburn Rovers side who, despite holding top spot since Boxing Day 1994, had to endure an anxious wait.
Blackburn were praying West Ham could hold onto a 1-1 scoreline against Manchester United at Upton Park. Any change in United’s favour would have sent the title to Old Trafford, not Ewood Park. West Ham’s Czech goalkeeper, Ludo Miklosko, formed a one-man barrier against the red tide to ensure that – for one year – Blackburn broke United’s monopoly on the title.
While Blackburn’s title – enabled by Kenny Dalglish’s canny spending of Jack Walker’s millions – was narrower than the procession that Leicester’s march to the 2015/16 crown became, there are similarities in the way both sides have worn their champions’ livery. However it should also be pointed out that, underwhelming as their performances so far may be, Leicester are coping with this a lot better than Blackburn did in 1995/96.
After beating QPR 1-0, courtesy of Alan Shearer’s penalty on day one of 95/96, Rovers lost four and drew one of their next five games, scoring only four times – three of these from Shearer – sinking to 17th before a 5-1 home win over Coventry in late September stopped the rot.
Their league season was dogged by inconsistency, a three-match winning streak in the new year was immediately followed by three straight defeats – admittedly to United, Liverpool and a very strong Aston Villa.
A five-match unbeaten run saw Rovers to a seventh-place finish, but it was far from a smooth ride. Deprived of key supplier Jason Wilcox and prolific support striker Chris Sutton for much of the season through injury, they were over-reliant on Shearer, whose 31 league goals in a spluttering side demonstrated just how good he was at his peak. Immediately behind Shearer in the goalscoring table was Graham Fenton with six, demonstrating Blackburn’s level of dependence on the Geordie.
Leicester are also doing much better in the Champions League than Blackburn did. Leicester’s wins against Club Brugge, Porto and Copenhagen leave them in a good position to make a concerted push for the last 16. They have not looked out of place so far.
This contrasts starkly with Blackburn’s disastrous dalliance with Europe’s elite. Handed a similarly friendly group to Leicester’s, they lost their first three group games to Spartak Moscow, Rosenborg and Legia Warsaw, effectively knocking them out at the halfway point. Then came the infamous return game in Moscow, which most remember for David Batty and Graeme Le Saux fighting each other on the pitch, rather than the 3-0 defeat Rovers copped.
The loss of N’Golo Kante to Chelsea is something that any team would struggle to absorb, but Leicester have brought in two attacking players of proven class in Ahmed Musa and Islam Slimani, which should ensure a more even goalscoring spread. In contrast Blackburn’s squad largely stood still after their title win and couldn’t absorb a couple of key injuries and depended on Shearer for goals, Claudio Ranieri hasn’t been negligent in adding top-level talent to help Jamie Vardy et. al.
Leicester have not forgotten how to win, as home victories over Swansea and Burnley demonstrate. The clean sheets against Arsenal and Southampton also suggest that Ranieri’s team can still defend against good sides. Though on the other hand, the margins of the defeats against Liverpool, United and Chelsea will be cause for concern. Overall though, the signs are there that Leicester are heading for the kind of season that their fans would have snapped your hand off for in the summer of 2015.
Leicester fans, are you frustrated by your team’s start to the season? Do you agree with Tom that it will click into place for you soon?
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