Leicester’s 3-1 defeat to Arsenal on Sunday afternoon capped off the bleakest few days of the Foxes’ season so far.
Coming less than 72 hours after they were booted out of the Europa League by Slavia Prague, it was not just the defeat – which meant they missed the chance to move second in the Premier League table – that was so damaging. Leicester were also dealt the hammer blow of having star man Harvey Barnes stretchered off in the second half.
Straining to reach a loose ball, Barnes’ knee buckled and he collapsed in a heap. The 23-year-old international was then stretchered off with his leg heavily strapped, with Brendan Rodgers later confirming the blow would see him miss at least six weeks of action.
The cruelty of this injury is hard to overstate. Over the past few weeks, Barnes has showed signs that was transforming into a fully fledged superstar, with only a handful of Premier League players being involved in more goals since the turn of the year. Many were even calling for him to be drafted into the England lineup for the World Cup qualifiers later this month.
As if that was not enough bad news, the ever reliable Jonny Evans was also forced off 20 minutes from time. Evans was at least able to leave the field under his own weight, but his withdrawal still added to the unreal list of injuries that Rodgers has had to deal with this season.
The seemingly indestructible Youri Tielemans aside, every single senior first team Leicester player has missed some games through injury this season. Now though, with just 12 games left, the situation is at its most severe.
James Justin, Leicester’s player of the year so far, will not feature again this term after rupturing his ACL, while the similarly influential James Maddison is also out for an indeterminate period. Add to this the absences of Dennis Praet, Ayoze Perez, Wesley Fofana, Wes Morgan and now Evans and Barnes, as well as Jamie Vardy still playing within himself following hernia and groin problems, and Leicester are well short of their strongest XI.
It you are getting the feeling that you have seen this movie before, it is because you have. Last season, with the squad similarly decimated, Leicester blew an even more comfortable position in the top four, winning just three of their final 12 Premier League games and dropping out of Champions League places on the final day.
In order to avoid a repeat of this capitulation, their next three games will be key. At this stage last season, Leicester’s momentum was sapped by failing to beat relegation threatened Norwich City, Watford and Brighton in the space of four games. Their next three fixtures are against teams in a similar position, in Burnley, Brighton and Sheffield United.
There has been a lot of talk of Leicester’s improved mentality this season and before the Arsenal debacle, progress had been made. Back to back defeats to West Ham and Aston Villa at the beginning of the campaign were followed up by three straight wins over Arsenal, Leeds and Wolves, while losses to Everton and Leeds led to extended unbeaten runs.
Responding to these most recent setbacks will take more mental strength this time around and with the Foxes down to their barebones and those who do remain looking knackered, the signs really are not good for the rest of the season.