Leicester City came from absolutely nowhere to win the 2015-16 Barclays Premier League. It was a remarkable story - the stuff that dreams are made of. It was random. It was unpredicted. It was quite simply unfathomable.
A record-breaking striker in Jamie Vardy who worked his way up from as low as the eighth division of English football. An Algerian winger with silky skills and an eye for goal in Riyad Mahrez. An unknown quality in a small package through N'Golo Kante and you've got the most unlikely Premier League deciding trio since the competition's birth. Take one of those three out and what have you got left? Oh, you know, just two players that combined for 41 goals, seventeen assists and 113 chances created and came in at 7th and 8th on the 2016 Ballon D'or rankings, respectively.
So as we head into Christmas and you look at the Premier League table. Searching down and further down and there sits the Foxes. The reigning Champions in 15th place. Just three spots above the relegation zone. 17 points out of a maximum 51. The title defence began against promoted and manager-less Hull, heavily-tipped to win, knowing they'd be without their tenacious midfield anchor Kante who departed for Chelsea. The Tigers however steal the upset of the opening weekend with a 2-1 win before improving against Arsenal and Swansea in the following weeks with a draw and a win.
Big defeats to teams they'd shocked last season (Liverpool 4-1, Manchester United 4-1 and Chelsea 3-) all away from home proved one of the team's major weaknesses was their inability to perform away from the King Power Stadium. All four of their wins in the 2016-17 campaign so far have been at their home (2-1 v Swansea, 3-0 v Burnley, 3-1 v Crystal Palace and 4-2 v Manchester City). Some of their major scalps last season came at well-known away grounds such as the Etihad and Stamford Bridge so there's more to it than the team's travelling woes.
The loss of Kante has cut deep and the scars are still evident four months in. Nampalys Mendy was brought in from Nice however suffered from an injury early on and upon his return has struggled to make an impact. Daniel Amartey has seen more first-team action but is still a young product showing promise rather than expected to make an immediate difference to the team, though he displayed his quality under intensity in scoring the Foxes' equaliser last week against Stoke. Kante completed 82% of his passes last season, and made 156 interceptions, won 125 tackles and performed 68 clearances. His stats this season have also been great with Chelsea, but not quite near the dizzying heights of his consistent and reliable form of 2015-16.
Participation in the 2016-17 Champions League is also likely to have weighed heavily on the young side that is inexperienced in Europe. With progress through to the Round of 16 after a brilliant group stage, Claudio Ranieri will be having plenty of selection headaches in trying to keep a fit and firing squad to combat the heavy schedule. Chelsea experienced a similar issue in their title defence last season, albeit with more depth and money with participation in the Champions League ultimately leading to the demise of Jose Mourinho's tenure in London and the lowly finish of 10th with a number of high-profile stars such as Eden Hazard enduring career-low seasons. Islam Slimani became Leicester's most expensive signing and has scored only 5 goals in all competitions - a disappointing return given his price tag and Jamie Vardy's dip in form.
The Foxes waited until December 10 to remind everyone why they're England's reigning Champions, turning in a stunning performance to put 4 past Pep Guardiola's Manchester City with Jamie Vardy breaking his goal-scoring drought to produce a hat-trick Andy King curling a lovely strike into the top corner to make it 2-0 just five minutes in. The 4-2 result was reminiscent of Leicester's exhilarating 3-1 victory over City at the Etihad in February which was arguably their most famous win of the season.
Just when it looked like this side was revitalised back to their unstoppable best, further setbacks followed as they lost 1-0 to Bournemouth and saw their key striker Jamie Vardy receive a red card in a 2-2 draw with Stoke despite displaying their fighting spirit by coming from behind with only 10 men.
Not many people expected Leicester to defend their crown this season. Their maiden title win was widely viewed as a fluke and their form this season can support that claim. However, last season the Foxes constantly flew under the radar when they were expected to fail. So with high expectations, and more pressure and attention as they attempt to defend their title, the players that were such revelations last season have ultimately faltered to claw their way back to their blistering best. We saw it return for the clash with Manchester City. Then when the attention returns following a big win, poor results occur follow again.
It may not be a case of the loss of a crucial player, or the weight of extra competition. But the fact that the 2016 title was the first silverware tasted for majority of the Leicester squad shows they have struggled to adapt to new expectations and haven't maintained the winning mentality for long enough to achieve consecutive results the following season. Five months of the season still to go. The title is off-limits with Chelsea holding a commanding lead but Leicester can still prove me wrong with an inspired re-discovery of form to boost them up the table in the second half of the season.