EPL: Why Leicester City were relegated after spending heavily in the transfer market

After a wretched campaign in which they had three different managers and lost 22 of their 38 league matches, Leicester City will be playing Championship football next season.

It is a remarkable fall from grace for a side that shocked the footballing world by winning the Premier League in 2016 and the FA Cup just two years ago.

With their fate out of their hands on the final day, victory over West Ham did not matter as Everton edged a win against Bournemouth.

So where did it all go so wrong?

Pre-season problems with ‘different expectations’

There were warning signs in pre-season that a chaotic campaign was about to unfold.

Brendan Rodgers had done a stellar job as manager since joining from Celtic in February 2019, leading the club to domestic cup success two years later and also securing the Community Shield.

His team had fallen agonizingly short of a return to the Champions League with consecutive fifth-place finishes, before coming eighth last term and reaching the semi-finals of the inaugural Europa Conference League.

That was the point at which the Northern Irishman wanted a refresh of the squad to push for the top six again, moving players surplus to requirements and bringing in those who could provide more hunger and energy.

When he left to go on holiday last summer, Rodgers provided the decision-makers with a list of players he wanted to sell, which included midfielder Nampalys Mendy and forward Ayoze Perez.

He spent time speaking to players he wanted to sign – including Chelsea defender Levi Colwill, who ended up joining Brighton on loan.

But when Rodgers returned for the start of pre-season, he was stunned to see those he wanted out still at the club.

Covid had hit the club’s owners hard, with their King Power Duty-Free business brought to a standstill because of a halt to the airline industry. That meant the purse strings at their other ventures – including Leicester – had to be tightened.

“Of course, I want to improve the squad. I want to develop the squad,” Rodgers said last July. “I said that midway through last year, but if it’s difficult financially. I really respect the club, so I don’t want to go to war with them.

“It’s unfortunate. We have to do some work and if we can do that, then hopefully we can affect the squad because if we are going to compete anywhere near where we have been, then we need to be able to do that.

“If not, then it’s a different expectation.”

It took until the final hours of the transfer window for the club to make their only significant summer signing – centre-back Wout Faes joining from Rennes for about £15m.

Managerial mix-up

Leicester won just one of their opening 10 games of the season but recovered to sit 12th – four points clear of the relegation zone – when the season stopped for the World Cup.

It was almost relentless suffering after the restart, though, as they secured only four more victories over the rest of the campaign.

There is a general feeling that delaying the decision to sack Rodgers was extremely costly.

He was initially backed – despite fans unfurling a ‘Rodgers Out’ banner after the 2-1 home defeat by Chelsea on 11 March, and a 1-1 draw at Brentford in the following game.

Rodgers stayed in the post during the international break, and the board finally acted after a 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace dropped them into the bottom three.

But there didn’t seem to be any real plan for a successor.

While the club scrambled around for a replacement, caretaker boss Adam Sadler oversaw home defeats by Aston Villa and Bournemouth.

MEZIESBLOG understands Leicester spoke to a number of candidates and an approach was made to the representatives of Graham Potter, who had just been sacked by Chelsea, but the Englishman wanted to wait until the end of the season to decide on his next move.

A three-year deal was then offered to former Leeds boss Jesse Marsch after he impressed during his interview, but the American rejected it, feeling it was not the right opportunity.

With eight games left, Dean Smith was installed alongside former Foxes manager Craig Shakespeare and ex-England captain John Terry, but it was too little, too late.

James Maddison questioned the “hunger” of his team-mates after the demoralizing 5-3 loss at Fulham – during which supporters had chanted ‘You’re not fit to wear the shirt’. They followed that up with ‘We are going down’ during the dismal 3-0 home defeat by Liverpool.

There was no way back.

Not replacing leader Schmeichel

The decision last summer to allow club legend and captain Kasper Schmeichel to join Nice after 11 years and 479 games of distinguished service – and not signing an adequate replacement – ranks highly on the list of costly mistakes.

Schmeichel was a vocal leader both on and off the pitch. He was also the one who had sprinted towards the helicopter transporting club owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha when it crashed outside the King Power in October 2018.

The Dane, then aged 35, was offered only a one-year contract extension and instead took up the offer of a three-year deal on the French Riviera.

Alex Smithies joined on a free transfer from Cardiff as third-choice behind new number one Danny Ward and back-up Daniel Iversen.

Having spent four years as understudy to Schmeichel, Welshman Ward did have a spell of keeping six clean sheets in eight games, but was never convincing and conceded an average of 1.8 goals per game before being displaced by Iversen.

The goalless draw at Newcastle in their penultimate game was, incredibly, their first clean sheet since November – ending a run of 21 games without a shutout.

They have conceded 68 league goals this season. Only Leeds (78) and Southampton (73) – both of whom have also been relegated – and Bournemouth (71) conceded more.