Here’s what to expect this season from former Premier League winners Leicester City.
It’s been a roller-coaster couple of years for Leicester. After writing football’s greatest ever fairytale in 2016, the Foxes flirted with relegation and received damning criticism for parting with manager Claudio Ranieri.
In fact, preceding such hysteria was the ecstasy of Championship glory and a pulse-quickening great escape to remain in the top division.
Last season afforded Leicester fans a well-earned chance to catch their breath. They punched at about their weight with a ninth place finish and a couple of quarter-final appearances.
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But the thrill seekers at the King Power were non-too-plussed with the soporific football increasingly associated with Claude Puel.
However, the Leicester board stuck with the Frenchman and he has had the summer to try to spice things up.
Even Andrea Bocelli, who serenaded Leicester’s victorious squad back in 2016, could see some fresh faces were needed in defense.
The most glaring need for improvement was the right back position where Leicester added Ricardo Pereira for £22.5 million.
In a climate where buccaneering full backs are vogue Ricardo was a real coup. The Portuguese could walk into almost any team in the league and his cavalier approach will give them some much-needed zeal down the right flank.
Puel also added Johnny Evans to the back line. The Northern Irishman seems an astute signing as Wes Morgan’s milometer tells of the captain’s years.
Outgoings include former Premier League player of the season Riyad Mahrez. While any side would miss a player of such caliber it was expected and the Foxes pounced to sign James Maddison.
The highly coveted 21-year-old scored 15 and created 11 with Norwich last season – and a similar return this campaign would go a long way to fill the creative void left by Mahrez.
Goalkeeper Danny Ward also joined from Liverpool for £12.5 million in an overall positive window. Although losing long-term want-away Mahrez is a blow, Leicester managed to hang on to Kasper Schmeichel, Harry Maguire, and Wilfred Ndidi who were all linked with moves.
Tactically, Puel hasn’t changed anything dramatically since his arrival at the King Power. The Frenchman traditionally advocates a counter attacking style of play – something synonymous to both of his predecessors.
However, Puel does play a more possession based game. According to footballwhispers.com, possession sequences with ten or more passes have jumped from 4.86 to 8.86 since Puel took over.
At times this has translated positively such as a thrilling 3-2 away win at Newcastle last December when Leicester enjoyed 63% of the play and completed 562 passes – a Premier League record for the club. But for long periods of the season Puel’s side looked flat and rather purposeless.
Spearheaded by Jamie Vardy Leicester did press opponents in offensive areas but were too nonchalant at the back. According to Statsbomb, Leicester conceded over 13 shots a game which can be attributed to a lack of defensive organization and aggression.
This was not the case during Puel’s tenure at Southampton when Virgil Van Dijk marshalled the backline, and he’ll be hoping his new defensive recruits will add some much-needed dynamism.
Another big season will be expected from last campaign’s player of the year Harry Maguire; while, Ben Chilwell and Ndidi should continue to develop at left back and as the defensive shield respectively.
Adrien Silva is a solid foil for Ndidi capable of linking play to the talented Damarai Gray who should line up alongside Marc Albrighton and new boy Maddison.
Leicester do have options up top apart from Vardy but the form of most wouldn’t suggest a sudden surge up the table. However, Kelechi Iheancho could be the exception. It was a disappointing first season but the Nigerian will hope for more opportunities and to mirror the sort of goals per minute ratio he enjoyed at Manchester City.
What can Leicester fans expect this season?
It’s certainly never easy to gauge what the Foxes will do next. On one hand, bringing European football back to the King Power isn’t out of the question. There’s no reason why Leicester can’t be the ‘best of the rest’ and aim for a seventh place finish; after all Burnley achieved such a feat last year.
On the other, Puel is already donning a shiny and inviting target on his back. Despite having a solid record in England, seven nil all draws in a single season with Southampton goes a long way toward explaining why he hasn’t manage to arouse English patrons as of yet.
For many, the Frenchman is on borrowed time and the pressure will mount should Leicester get off to a slow start in a fixture list that includes both Manchester United and Liverpool in the first four games.
The good news is that many flaws of Puel’s side ie. dull football, disorganization and defensive frailties, have not been consistent throughout the manager’s career. Foxes fans can hope those matters will be adequately addressed as he enters his second season with the same English club for the first time.
Puel will hope to recapture the verve from his early days but after a positive transfer window and given that five of the aforementioned Leicester players are 22 or under there is reason to be optimistic about the future.
How do you think Leicester will fare this season?