As last night’s incredible round of 16 Champions League victory over Sevilla proved, Leicester City’s results have markedly improved since they sacked title winning manager Claudio Ranieri and replaced him with his former assistant coach Craig Shakespeare. Nevertheless, the Foxes’ defence of their title is still one of the worst efforts in recent times. Few expected Leicester to reproduce last season’s heroics and bigger clubs, who were inconsistent last season, have got their act together this time around. But after the 2-0 defeat at Swansea in February Leicester had earned 21 points from 25 games and sat one place and one point above the relegation zone. Back-to-back wins under Shakespeare have seen a return to something like last year’s form.
However Leicester City are not the only club to botch their Premier League title defence. Last year, Chelsea struggled to reach the heights of their 2014-15 season. Key players – Nemanjca Matic, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, to name three – put in subpar performances. Manager Jose Mourinho, not always one for level-headedness under pressure, began criticising players, referees and even team doctors and after Chelsea lost to Leicester in December of that year, which put the reigning champions in 16th and one point above the relegation zone. Of course, Chelsea did what they always do in these situations: sacked the manager. They recovered under interim boss Guus Hiddink, but still only managed 10th place.
Going back to 1973-4, Leeds United won what would prove to be their final first division trophy under iconic manager Don Revie. Then, at the end the season, Revie left to manage England and Leeds appointed Brian Clough as his successor. It was a strange appointment. Yes, two years earlier Clough had led Derby County to their first ever first division title and he was undoubtedly the most talented up and coming manager around at the time. But Clough, for some time, had also been an outspoken critic of Leeds and Revie, accusing them of playing boring, dirty football, and even at times, of cheating. Unsurprisingly, Clough soon fell out with his senior players, and after six games, Leeds found themselves in 19th place on a meagre four points. Leeds sacked Clough, brought in Jimmy Armfield, who led them to the European Cup final—take note, Leicester City fans—where they lost to Bayern Munich. In the league, however, Leeds, with Bremner, Giles, Lorimer, Clarke and all those other stars in the side, finished in 9th place.
In the thirteen seasons between 1975-6 and 1988-9 Liverpool won ten First Division titles and were runners up twice, in between winning four European Cups. Only once in that time did they finish outside the top two, ironically in one of the European winning seasons: in 1980-1, they finished fifth. And although they lost the same number of games, 8, as eventual champions Aston Villa, Liverpool drew 17 matches, including five in a row, during October and November. The following year, manager, Bob Paisley brought in Mark Lawrenson, Bruce Grobbelaar and Craig Johnstone and promoted Ian Rush and Ronnie Whelan to the first team. Liverpool won the league and continued their domination for the rest of the decade.
With Liverpool off colour in 1980-1, Aston Villa stepped in and won their first title since 1910. The following season, however, Liverpool were back to their best, and with European football to distract them, Aston Villa ended up in fifteenth place on February 9th, when title winning manager, Ron Saunders, resigned over a contract dispute. Saunders’ former assistant, Tony Barton, managed to move Villa up four places by the end of the season. Barton also lead Villa to European Cup Final glory, when they beat Bayern Munich 1-0 in Rotterdam.
More recently, Manchester City’s Board of Directors, the fans and the media have come down hard on their team and their manager whenever City have done anything but win the league. Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini have both been replaced. Even Pep Guardiola was doubted and criticised when City’s form dipped earlier this season. One wonders how the current lot would have handled the 1937-8 campaign; the previous season, City had won the league and scored over 100 goals. Defending their title, City still managed to score 80 times but let in 83 and ended up relegated. To date, they are the only defending champions to have suffered this ignominy.
One club that came close to repeating that feat was Everton. In the 1927-8 season, club legend Dixie Dean scored 67 goals in 46 games to help the Toffees win the First Division title. The following year, Dean played only 33 games and managed 27 goals as Everton finished 18th after losing their final six matches. The year after that, Everton won just six times all season and were relegated. They bounced back immediately, however, winning the second division title with Dean playing a full season and scoring 48 goals. And in their first year back in the top flight, they were champions again as Dean scored 40 goals from 47 games. But as before, Everton didn’t do well as defending champions, 11th the following year and 15th the next.
Before he was a world cup winning England manager and a knight of the realm, Alf Ramsey won the first division with unfancied Ipswich Town. In 1961-2, Ipswich, who had only been promoted the previous season, outdid defending champions Tottenham and highly rated Burnley to win their only first Division title. The following year, however, Ipswich struggled and ended up 17th, four points outside the relegation zone. Then Ramsey left to manage England and the next season, Ipswich were relegated back to Division 2.
With Eric Cantona in their team, Leeds won the very last First Division title in 1991-2 before the inaugural Premier League season. Cantona only scored three goals but set up many more for his team mates, particularly striker Lee Chapman. Then the following December, with Leeds down in 13th place, Cantona left for Manchester United who were struggling in eighth place, nine points behind league leaders Norwich City. Manchester United went on to win the league for the first time in 26 years. Leeds meanwhile didn’t win away from home all year and finished 17th.
Yet perhaps the team Leicester City find themselves compared to the most is Blackburn Rovers. In the early nineties the club, under owner Jack Walker, hired a champion manager in Kenny Dalglish and bought top players like Alan Shearer, Chris Sutton and Graeme Le Saux. In 1994-5 they won the Premier League, Blackburn’s first top flight win in 81 years. The following season, Dalglish had moved upstairs to become Director of Football, to be replaced by Ray Harford, Sutton and le Saux spent time out injured and Blackburn after flirting briefly with relegation and spending most of the season in the bottom half of the table, won four of their last five games to end up a mediocre seventh. Here’s hoping Leicester avoids a similar long term fate.