Leicester’s season is unravelling. The concern must be that the impact will be felt over a far longer period.
Punching above your weight is hard to maintain. Nobody has done it more spectacularly in the Premier League era than Leicester in 2016, and the fact they were back challenging for the top four a few years later and winning the FA Cup is almost as remarkable. Clubs like Leicester shouldn’t get one crack at this type of thing in modern football, never mind two. It’s the sort of unacceptable situation that forces clubs to sign up for dastardly yet predictable Super Leagues where the proper teams get to compete forever and ever and ever.
Now, though, at last, Leicester are facing their punishment for their impudence. This has been a horrible season, pockmarked by injuries but now mired in slapdashery and imcompetence and general bad vibes. That their most recent league win was against Liverpool feels strangely apt for these perennial botherers of the big boys, but the reality is that this season now threatens to unravel so spectacularly that it is not just this campaign that is written off but any hope of a swift return to the levels of even the last couple of fifth-placed seasons.
The Foxes, so close to qualifying for the Champions League last year now find themselves 10 points adrift of any kind of European qualifying spot this time and remain in Europe this season only because UEFA created a new competition for them to drop into after flunking the Europa League. Brendan Rodgers had never even heard of it when Leicester ‘secured’ their place in the Europa Conference League; it is now his only hope of salvaging the season. And that’s if he survives that long.
This may sound a bit dramatic, but that’s how far Leicester have fallen and, despite the horrendous late collapse against Spurs and the shambolic nine first-half minutes here in which Leicester shipped three goals and one of their fans attempted to fight the entire Nottingham Forest team, you still don’t feel they’ve quite hit rock bottom. They’re bad enough that things could get worse than a 4-1 defeat to local rivals from the division below.
The nature of that first-half collapse, so soon after The Bergwijn Incident, is particularly troublesome. You’d think that would be the sort of disaster that stays with you. Remember how we shambolically instantly gave away another goal just after conceding in that game against Spurs? Yeah. Let’s try to make sure we don’t do that again. Definitely don’t play a blind back pass into the area 24 seconds after we’ve conceded a goal, Daniel.
The worst thing about the third goal in that sequence seven minutes later is that it was surprising only that it took seven minutes. Ryan Yates and Philip Zinckernaegel both should have got the third goal before Joe Worrall eventually did.
It should be noted for the record at this point that Nottingham Forest were absolutely brilliant during this period and for much of the game, with Brennan Johnson and Djed Spence both thoroughly fulfilling their brief of forcing the BBC commentary team to mark their every touch with the observation that they will be Premier League players next season one way or the other. Nottingham Forest have firmly put their early-season struggles behind them and when they are good they are very, very good. Their high ceiling and Leicester’s low floor meant that something like this afternoon’s spanking was always a possibility, even if the sheer extent of it all was dizzying and intoxicating.
Forest did give Leicester a gift of their own to allow Kelechi Iheanacho to reduce the deficit before half-time and send thoughts spiralling towards a great and improbable comeback. The great, dramatic irony is that the only way that sort of comeback would be likely for anyone right now would be if they were playing against rather than for Leicester. Spence duly finished the holders off with a fourth goal to accurately reflect both Forest’s dominance and Leicester’s misery.
The other perils of this particular season have seen Leicester play just four times in 2022, but the season-defining games come thick and fast now. Rodgers and his team must somehow put all their disappointments behind them to take on Liverpool, West Ham and Leeds in the Premier League as well as get through a two-legged Europa Conference play-off before the month is out. Grim as thing may currently look, Leicester could well begin next month in even worse shape on current evidence.