7th May 2016. By Edward Stratmann.
When Jeffrey Schlupp started against Swansea last week, it was the German born flyer's first Premier League start since November 7 for Claudio Ranieri's brilliant Leicester City.
Having began the season as Leicester's undisputed starting left-back, Jeffrey Schlupp would've been delighted with his solid start to life working under Ranieri. But following the Foxes' demoralising 5-2 loss at home to Arsenal in September, Ranieri did away with Schlupp as his left-back, instead installing Christian Fuchs, who's been magnificent ever since.
Ranieri preferred to deploy Schlupp as his left-winger for a brief period thereafter, but unfortunately Schlupp lost his spot on the wing too, with Marc Albrighton's stellar form keeping him out.
A frustrating hamstring injury in December then kept Leicester's Players' Player of the Season from last term out for around two months, something that was an especially disheartening setback given his struggles to cement his spot earlier in the campaign.
To his credit, however, Schlupp has gone about his work with an exemplary attitude, despite his circumstances, as he's never become disgruntled and remained a wholly supportive and committed member of the squad.
"We lost against Arsenal and conceded five goals so the manager changed it. You take it on the chin," explained Schlupp to the Guardian.
"I've had a few chats with Ranieri, of course, and he says he wants to see me further up the field at left-midfield. I'm comfortable anywhere on the left-hand side so I'm willing to learn and listen to what he says. I'll go from there."
And while the Ghanaian international has had to be content with making contributions off the bench since his return from injury, which, in truth, his dynamic set of attributes actually lends itself rather nicely to, he's always given his all and done his best to make an impact. This sort of togetherness and collective unity that embodies Ranieri's side has undoubtedly been a key cornerstone in their success.
"If you saw us in training, it's just pure passion and togetherness. Everyone's so close, everyone knows what to do if they are called upon in the first team," says Schlupp.
Ranieri's ethos is everyone has a role and when they're called upon they're ready to perform it to the best of their abilities, and Schlupp most definitely adheres to this.
Against Swansea City last weekend, in the absence of the suspended Jamie Vardy, Ranieri tinkered with his setup smartly by including Schlupp at Albrighton's expense to ensure his side didn't miss the pace, directness and incision of their goalscoring hero. It must be said the tactic worked perfectly, for Schlupp ran riot against the Welsh outfit, putting in a menacing yet intelligent man of the match performance to help propel the Foxes to a scintillating 4-0 victory. The fact he completed an astonishing 10 successful dribbles suitably illustrated what an elusive and damaging proposition he was to the Swansea backline.
Fittingly, in that same game when Albrighton replaced him on 81 minutes, the pair shared a warm embrace that evidenced the strong cohesion and camaraderie Ranieri has installed into this special group.
For Leicester's following fixture, a colossal clash at Old Trafford vs. Manchester United, the Italian tactician rewarded Schlupp's splendid exertions against Swansea by handing him another start. The occasion held particular significance for Schlupp, as he undertook a six week trial with the Red Devils, an experience he remembers fondly.
"To me, it was an opportunity, I went there, saw how it worked and came back here a better player," said Schlupp. "I did meet Sir Alex a couple of times actually. He was really nice to me and just told me, obviously, I'm here because I'm a good player, just to enjoy it and then who knows what will happen.
"I don't think I could ever turn down a move to Manchester United but I didn't get the opportunity at the time. However, it has moulded me into the player I am. Leicester City is my club, has always been my club and I'm grateful to be here."
Despite Leicester being unable to obtain the required victory that would've given them the title, Schlupp still showed his vast qualities against Louis van Gaal's side. His pace and power saw him cause plenty of headaches for the home side, in a match where he was fouled five times.
In addition, the man who predominantly operated as Ranieri's left winger performed well executed switches with Riyad Mahrez, Leicester's right winger, and also enjoyed short spells upfront when switching with Shinji Okazaki. These interchanges never allowed United to settle into a pattern of how best to deal with Leicester's attackers, and successfully created confusion amongst the United backline throughout the match.
Defensively, Schlupp showcased his strong defensive capabilities as he made a slew of vital interceptions and persistently tracked back to help his fullback, Fuchs, to further amplify his worth and justify his inclusion.
All in all, it was another fantastic body of work from the 23-year-old, who continues to show what a valuable member of this squad he really is. With he and his teammates having just completed their fairytale season by being crowned champions after Tottenham's draw with Chelsea, Schlupp, who joined the club 13 years ago, will unquestionably be enjoying this hugely special moment.
Winning the title unequivocally serves as the best possible reward for all of Schlupp's perseverance, selflessness, hard work and loyalty to his beloved Leicester.
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7th May 2016. By Edward Stratmann.