Andy Brassell's Monday Briefing: Leicester have to face return to reality
Leicester earned the right to enjoy themselves in the Champions League but need to roll their sleeves up in the Premier League, says Andy Brassell, in his regular Monday review of the weekend action...
"Sloppiness had no place in Leicester’s make-up last season, and has not featured in their Champions League campaign this time. A little more fear of what’s over their shoulders propelled them upwards for a large part of last season, and needs to be recovered if they’re to start picking up more points ."
There are statistics, and there are statistical anecdotes. Sunday's home defeat to West Bromwich Albion was Leicester's first in 21 Premier League matches at the King Power Stadium, but nobody could say it hasn't been coming.
A glance at the table, confirming that Tony Pulis's side had leapfrogged Claudio Ranieri's, suggested that the continuing unbeaten run was more a lingering anomaly that an indication of a current trend.
Firstly, this column should underline that it would prefer to praise Leicester than bury them. Their ambition, with respect to the Champions League, deserves to be applauded. Those who sniff and claim Leicester have been given an easy group (as opposed to a favourable, doable draw) conveniently overlook the fact that all of the other three teams in their pool have European club competition experience that dwarves their own. Porto and Copenhagen, in particular, are old hands, part of the Champions League furniture.
So for Ranieri and his players to have achieved what they have to date is magnificent. The coach's desire to grab this (possibly one-off) opportunity with both hands and make the most of it, with possible domestic consequences, represents the sort of willingness to live out sporting dreams, rather than fret about the balance sheet, that many feel has largely seeped out of the game.
It's time, though, to take a slightly larger dose of reality. Seeing West Brom pass them in the table should jolt Leicester into action, and make them remember where they came from. After taking only 12 points from the first 11 games, re-focusing on hitting last season's initial magic number of 40 points has to be the priority for now. They don't want to be dragged towards the relegation battle.
A friend who recently visited Celta Vigo mentioned how paranoid the locals are about re-entering Europe (even if just in the Europa League) after their 2003-04 experience of participating in the Champions League and going down in the same season. They went out in the last 16 that year to Arsenal's Invincibles - there's no shame in that, of course - yet ended up being relegated to the Segunda on the season's final day.
That Celta were an overspending, bloated mess; not something that anybody is accusing The Foxes of being just yet but having made significant investment to attract Islam Slimani and Ahmed Musa, it's not a comparison that they're in the position to laugh off yet either.
Losing on the road at Liverpool or Chelsea might not be fun, but neither is it the end of the world, especially as they enjoy the perks of last season's labours. Losing a home game they should certainly win, largely through a lack of focus and application, is a lot more concerning.
There's justification in the idea that Ranieri has to take his part of the blame, turning over his starting line-up a bit too much. His team selection on Sunday was perhaps a little too ambitious, including Slimani, Musa and Shinji Okazaki, with plenty of players to finish chances but a few less to create them in the first place. Graft, rather than dazzle, is needed right now.
Sloppiness had no place in Leicester's make-up last season, and has not featured in their Champions League campaign this time. A little more fear of what's over their shoulders propelled them upwards for a large part of last season, and needs to be recovered if they're to start picking up more points domestically.
More big tests in store for Pep
Nobody could accuse Pep Guardiola of having had an easy introduction to the Premier League so far. There was more harsh reality on Saturday, with Middlesbrough stealing a point from Manchester City at the very end of a game that they might have put away much earlier. The coach will have to encourage his side to rediscover the ruthlessness they showed at West Brom quickly, with successive away trips to Crystal Palace and Burnley up next.
The Clarets' dramatic win over Palace on Saturday means they have the third-best home record in the Premier League so far, which includes handing Liverpool their only loss. It'll be fascinating to see how far they can stretch City.