Two points separate the five teams between second and sixth in the Premier League as the race for the Champions League places gets more tense by the week. Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Tottenham tightened the gap further, and even Chelsea dropping points kept it 10 clear of the pack.
The real intrigue in England, though, is at the bottom of the table, where Sunderland followed last week’s 4-0 win over Crystal Palace with a loss by the same scoreline at home to Southampton; Hull lost 2-0 at Arsenal. Crystal Palace lost 1-0 at Stoke. And in the biggest result of them all, Swansea continued its surge of form under new boss Paul Clement and beat Leicester City 2-0.
These are worrying times for the defending league champion, which is one place and one point off the drop zone with Liverpool, Hull and Arsenal next up on the schedule–and that’s after a Champions League knockout first leg against Spanish title contender Sevilla. The loss to Swansea marked five defeats in a row–and no goals scored–for Claudio Ranieri’s side. Even the coach can see that N’Golo Kante’s departure is not the only reason for this alarming slump. Throughout the team, players have regressed. Jamie Vardy has only scored five goals, Riyad Mahrez has not scored from open play since last April, and center backs Robert Huth and Wes Morgan look like their age (a combined 65).
Ranieri received a vote of confidence from the club board this week, but he has reportedly left the players bemused by some of his changes as he tries to get a performance out of them. There have been suggestions of a mole inside the Leicester camp who has briefed opponents about bad attitudes in the squad. He vowed to make changes for the upcoming set of cup games, against Millwall and Sevilla.
“Of course I must change something, because it is not possible to continue in this way,” he said.
With Swansea and Hull getting a momentum boost from their new managers, Leicester and Middlesbrough, with only four wins all season (the same number Clement has achieved at Swansea since January), are now sucked into the battle for survival. The challenge for the decision-makers at those clubs is whether to stick with the coach–Leicester did the same with Nigel Pearson in 2014-15, and survived, while Boro chairman Steve Gibson is one of the more patient owners–or twist, knowing that time is running out for any new man to make an impact.