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Eye On EPL

Leicester paying the price for their overachievements

Leicester City appear to have a penchant for breaking records.

Coming off a fairy-tale season last year when they pulled off one of the greatest shocks in sport by winning their first English Premier League title, the Foxes are now creating records of the unwanted kind.

Their latest loss, a 2-0 defeat at Swansea last weekend, was their fifth consecutive loss in the league, making Leicester the first reigning English top flight champions to lose five straight matches since Chelsea in 1956.

Claudio Ranieri's team are the only side in England's top four divisions to have failed to score in the league so far this year. Worse still, they have conceded 12 goals in six games since the start of the year.

While they sit one spot and one point above the relegation zone, should Hull City, Crystal Palace and Sunderland win their next league games, Leicester could find themselves at the bottom of the standings when they take on Liverpool on Feb 27.

Jamie Vardy, the league's joint-second top scorer last season with 24 goals, should have worked harder to prepare for this season, knowing defenders are going to mark him tighter and not give him space behind them anymore.

Just like how nobody had imagined Leicester would win the title last year despite starting that season on 5,000-1 odds, few would have expected them to sink so low as defending champions.

One key reason for their freefall is because the team is just not prepared to face the pressure and expectations of living up to their billing as the ones to beat.

I remember that when I was playing for Warriors FC in the S-League from 2005-2009 and won four straight titles from 2006. Every match in the following season was just harder because opponents always delivered their best performance against us as we were the champions.

Teams who would lose 5-0 to other teams would draw 0-0 against us or even spring a surprise victory because they wanted to beat the champions.

For a small club like Leicester, the tag of being the defending champions sits uncomfortably.

Jamie Vardy, the league's joint-second top scorer last season with 24 goals, should have worked harder to prepare for this season, knowing defenders are going to mark him tighter and not give him space behind them anymore.

Apart from key players like Riyad Mahrez, Vardy and French midfielder N'Golo Kante, who left for Chelsea after the title win, the core of the team is made up of average players who struggle to be among the elite.

Despite winning the EPL title, not many players received big offers from rival clubs apart from Kante and Vardy and this shows that even big clubs believed that Leicester's success was a one-off.

The strong team spirit, which was characteristic in Leicester's dressing room last season, has also taken a hit now, with murmurings of discontent from among the players.

Argentinian striker Leonardo Ulloa openly expressed his anger at Ranieri two weeks ago for rejecting an offer from Sunderland and declared that he will never play for the Foxes again.

With nothing really working in their favour at the moment, the least Ranieri could do now is to focus on their defence, even if it means that they have to park the bus and play ugly football.

If they are struggling to score goals, at least they should stop conceding so many of them.

Even a 0-0 scoreline is a decent result that would bring some cheer to the club now.

It might save them from repeating an embarrassing part of history in football - becoming the first reigning English champions since Manchester City in 1938 to be relegated.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2017, with the headline 'Leicester paying the price for their overachievements'. Print Edition | Subscribe