The hunt for reasons as to why Leicester have been unable to keep pace with the extremely high standards they set in January and February has been swift and brutal. Ricardo and Yakubu have been singled out for heavy criticism: the former for having the cheek to concede exactly the same number of goals in his eight games between the sticks as the proposed replacement, Chris Weale, did in his last 8 starts; the latter for failing to score in his last six matches, despite these barren spells being a common feature of long lost golden boy Matty Fryatt’s time at the Walkers.
To blame individuals on the pitch is too simplistic, too crude, too one-dimensional an analysis. It is time to propose a much more subtle reason why the last six games have gone so very badly for Foxes – Sven wasn’t in charge for any of the return fixtures.
The contrast between Sven’s results when facing a Championship side for the first time and the rematch is quite stunning. In his first meetings with other Championship teams Sven’s Leicester have played 19, won seven, drawn three and lost nine. By contrast, in the return fixture against the very same teams Sven’s City have played nine, won seven and drawn two. No Championship manager has beaten Sven at the second attempt. Only two teams (Leeds and Preston) have managed a better result than in their first meeting, but neither of them won.
We can only speculate why this might be happening, but it seems reasonable to assume that Sven was not being modest when he confessed to not knowing as much about the Championship as he might have liked when taking the manager’s position. In an interview with Mick Collins he admitted, “I watched many games on video to prepare for teams I might not have seen lots of, but the technical people here are very good, and they can condense them down for me.”
Sven would be the first to admit that this is no match for watching players first hand, and even that does not tell you the whole story – is that tricky winger good, or is the full back just making him look special? Only when his own side matched up against these opponents have the true strengths and weaknesses of the opposition and his own XI been revealed. Second time around, lessons learned, Sven has ruthlessly demonstrated his managerial prowess. At least, that’s what the stats would suggest.
If it is true then City fans should expect this period of turbulence to continue for a short while yet. Leicester’s next four fixtures are all against sides who first faced the Foxes when Paulo Sousa was in charge. Any more poor results and Leicester can kiss goodbye any hopes of the playoffs. But the 18 teams who remain in the Championship next season will know their one free pass against Leicester has expired. If Sven is learning as quickly as the numbers suggest, the Foxes will be a formidable force next year.