It wasn’t too long ago that the world of soccer was totally consumed with the firing of Claudio Ranieri by Leicester City. The club had just been dumped out of the FA Cup, were down 2-1 in the Champions League to surging Sevilla, but worst of all, they were stuck in the relegation zone.
No defending English champion had been relegated since 1938, but Leicester was stuck in quite a deep mire. Most of the talk about the decision was framed around winning the title last year, and not about what wasn’t working this year.
But now, interim boss Craig Shakespeare is helping to write quite a drama that even William would be a fan of. In his first three games as Foxes boss, they’ve won three times, including beating Liverpool and now advancing to the last eight of the UEFA Champions League.
The Leicester of last season, defined by resolute defending and a lightning quick counterattack, seems to have returned in full flow, and now Leicester fans are dreaming of another fairy tale in Europe while slowly forgetting about their potential relegation nightmare.
Three games do not make a season. However, there are many around England (and Europe) wondering if Leicester can pull another shock. Now that they look like the title winners from last year again, isn’t anything possible, especially if Jamie Vardy can start bagging goals again? And maybe, with the fears of relegation starting to ease, is that freeing up the team to be themselves?
All of that comes as merely speculation, and Leicester isn’t exactly clear of the relegation muck as of yet, but they certainly don’t look as restrained, contained or tentative anymore. Part of that could easily be a new manager bump, and a certain willingness to defy the press narrative about how Ranieri was sacked. Some of it could be Jamie Vardy once again looking like one of the best strikers in England, or Wilfried Ndidi beginning to at least somewhat replace what N’Golo Kante did so well last year.
Whatever the causes may be, they are beginning to look more like the Leicester many expected to see this year, not what the product turned out to be. And while Sevilla were certainly no slouches, the task gets quite a bit harder to come, with the opponents list looking decidedly more serious: Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and potentially Atletico Madrid and Manchester City.
Considering what they did last season, though, the team and their fans have every reason to believe they can pull another shock.
It’s tough to imagine a story better than Leicester City winning the Premier League last year, but they might be writing one right now.