Leicester City have vowed to fight off the pitch – but they are crumbling on it – The Athletic

By Rob Tanner8h ago

The international break was supposed to be a period of calm, a chance to take a breather from the washing machine Championship schedule and recharge for what will be a frenetic final push for promotion.

While Enzo Maresca and his players who were not away on international duty took the opportunity to do just that, all the drama that usually surrounds Leicester happened off the pitch.


Now, after a fourth defeat in their last six games, the problems are mounting on it too in what is the most challenging period of the season.

In the past week, the Premier League hit the club with a charge for an alleged breach of its profit and sustainability rules (PSR) for last season, when Leicester were relegated despite the seventh-highest budget in the division. The EFL then made it into a pincer attack by imposing a registration embargo on the club for an expected further breach for this season.

Leicester responded in a defiant manner, issuing legal action against both leagues in the staunch belief they are not sticking to their own regulations. It is a battle that threatens to be played out in front of an independent panel and will likely see Leicester hit with a big points deduction.

It is a dark cloud that now hangs over Leicester’s season and could mean that if they are successful in their mission to return to the Premier League — which is becoming increasingly imperative but is certainly hanging in the balance now — there will be an asterisk against their name if any future charges are proven.


Explained: What Leicester’s Premier League PSR charge really means

That asterisk will grow in size too when the club’s accounts are published next week and show another huge loss on the back of their £92.5million ($117m) loss the season before.

But, on Friday night, the question was how would Leicester respond both on the pitch and in the stands at Ashton Gate.

As usual, the away end was packed with blue. Leicester fans travel in big numbers and provide loud support on the road. There was, however, a nervous vibe transmitting from the Atyeo Stand, as much to do with recent events and the erosion of their team’s cushion at the top of the table, which had seen them pushed down to second by Leeds United ahead of kick-off.

In the end, there was even acrimony in Bristol, with some fans venting their frustration at another performance in which possession was dominated but chances squandered. A clean sheet went missing in action once more as Leicester were beaten 1-0 by Bristol City, Anis Mehmeti’s 73rd-minute strike proving the undoing.

Once, promotion seemed a certainty. Now there seems to be nothing but uncertainty.

Mads Hermansen is beaten by Mehmeti’s winner (Ryan Hiscott/Getty Images)

It may be the first time this season that Leicester fans — certainly on the road — have targeted their players out of frustration, but there were others caught in their crosshairs.

While there were some loud chants of “f*** the EFL”, the Premier League’s name was absent from such recrimination. If, as seems likely, Leicester have breached the Premier League’s PSR for last season, then, in the minds of many fans, the situation can be summarised as “fair enough, let’s take our medicine”. But breaking the rules will be on some of the decision-makers at the club, and there were some chants along those lines.


The EFL’s attempts to punish the club for possible future breaches — however likely they may be — as if it were some real-life retelling of the Philip K Dick novella Minority Report, in which crimes are punished before they occur, is a different matter in the eyes of those supporters, who are both perplexed at how events have unfolded off the pitch and increasingly concerned about results on it.

Three years ago in May, the lucky ones were inside Wembley witnessing an FA Cup triumph, dreaming of European adventures and more efforts to upset the established Premier League elite.

Those ambitions and the decisions taken around that time to try to fulfil them have paved the way to the predicament Leicester find themselves in.

Leicester supporters at the end of their 1-0 loss to Bristol City on Good Friday (Ryan Hiscott/Getty Images)

The club budgeted for a consistent European challenge under Brendan Rodgers, with improved contracts and further investment in their squad. Last season’s shock relegation, the cost of sacking Rodgers — the highest-paid manager in the club’s history — and not selling a significant number of playing assets have all helped to leave them struggling to conform to PSR.

Maresca, who remained calm and measured after a defeat that left his side outside the top two for the first time since the opening weekend of the season following Ipswich’s 1-0 win away to Blackburn Rovers, insists performances are not affected by off-field matters.

“I don’t think so,” he replied when asked about a chastening week for the club. “Because you can be concerned or worried when you lose a game when you don’t create and the performance is no good.

“You can be worried about something outside of football when the performance is not there but the performance was there today.”

Maresca’s team have only won one of their last six Championship games (Ryan Hiscott/Getty Images)

In three days, Leicester return to King Power Stadium for the first time since March 2 to face Norwich City. A lot has changed since that home 2-1 defeat to Queens Park Rangers, which came midway through a six-game run that has yielded just four points and has seen a 12-point lead over Leeds, then in second, and 14 ahead of Southampton, then third, wiped out. They now trail Leeds by a point following their 2-2 draw away to Watford.


There has been a shift in mood. The question now is whether Maresca and his players — and, more importantly, the fans — can restore their optimistism again?

“It (the fans’ reaction to defeat in Bristol) is quite normal,” Maresca says. “You can understand that but the only thing I can say is that, especially at this moment, we need them. We need them until the end.”

Even when Leicester were surging away at the top of the table, Maresca warned that the road towards promotion would not all be plain sailing — but even he could not have foreseen the stormy seas that he and his players are now having to navigate over the final eight games of the season with so much at stake. Not just for the team but the club as a whole.


(Top photo: Ryan Hiscott/Getty Images)

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Rob has been a journalist for twenty years and for the past ten he has covered Leicester City, including their Premier League title success of 2016. He is the author of 5000-1, The Leicester City Story. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobTannerLCFC