Last season Leicester City became the most unlikely title winners in the history of the Premier League. Twelve months later, the Foxes find themselves embroiled in a battle to avoid dropping down to the second division of British football.
With just one point separating them from the drop zone, Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester face a trip to Wales on Sunday to face fellow relegation battlers, Swansea City. The two teams are tied on 21 points with only goal difference giving Leicester a slight edge.
Although they managed a win in the FA Cup this week over championship side, Derby County, Leicester are still without a Premier League win in 2017. Even more troubling is the fact that the Midlands outfit hasn’t managed to score a top-flight goal in this calendar year.
The trip to Swansea comes just ahead of Leicester’s round of 16 clash with Sevilla in the Champions League and is arguably more important. Depending on how results go on Saturday, Leicester could already find themselves in the bottom three at kickoff on Sunday. If the Foxes are to avoid the dubious distinction of becoming the first top flight champions to be relegated the following season since Manchester City in 1938, a result at Swansea is essential to putting the brakes on the downward slide.
Unfortunately, if Leicester’s away form this season is anything to go by, it doesn’t bode well, with Ranieri’s side yet to win an away match this season. Although the champions may take confidence from beating Derby earlier in the week, and from the fact that if there’s a team that’s worse off than them this season, it’s Swansea.
But after starting the calendar year at the bottom of the table, the Swans have undergone something of a turnaround under new manager Paul Clement. The former Bayern Munich assistant was appointed after the unfortunate sacking of American manager Bob Bradley and has since overseen a change in the Swans fortune.
Improbable wins over the likes of Crystal Palace, Liverpool and Southampton, have seen Swansea climbing up the table. Clement was named manager of the month for January and the Swans do have some momentum going into Sunday, despite last week’s 2-1 loss to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.
In addition to momentum, Clement has the dressing room behind him, with the team taking to his methods and uniting under his leadership. If rumors are to be believed, this is the exact opposite of the situation at Swansea. According to reports, Ranieri has lost the dressing room at the King Power Stadium with players currently confused by his tactical and lineup decisions, and on the verge of open revolt.
Amid rumors of him getting the sack before season’s end, Ranieri received the dreaded “vote of confidence” from the club ownership. Whatever struggles Leicester may be facing in the Premier League this season, the Italian still has managed to steer the Foxes into the last 16 of the Champions League and into the fifth round of the FA Cup.
But Leicester are unlikely to prevail in either of those competitions and with their top flight status very much on the line, Leicester must make Premier League survival their top priority. Coming away from Swansea with three points would be a massive first step in climbing out of the bottom reaches of the table towards safety. Although that will be no small feat against a Swansea side playing for similar stakes in front of an emphatic home crowd.
Tune in for Swansea City vs. Leicester City this Sunday, February 12 at 11:00 a.m. EST on NBCSN.