After a sluggish Premier League title defence, the 2016/17 season was not all full of problematic performances for Leicester City as they competed for the first time in Europe’s elite competition, the UEFA Champions League.
Leicester caused a scare amongst Europe’s finest but a 2-1 aggregate loss to Atletico Madrid saw the Foxes exit the prestigious competition at the quarter-final stage. City were nowhere near out of their depth and if not for a poor penalty decision at the Vicente Calderon, Leicester could have easily found themselves in the final four.
Despite the European heroism displayed by Leicester, the Champions League heroes were nowhere to be seen for much of the 2016/17 Premier League campaign and after a poor run of results which saw Leicester City drop into the bottom three, Claudio Ranieri was sacked by Leicester City on 23rd February 2017. Up stepped Craig Shakespeare, an veteran Premier League coach with eight years experience at Leicester City on his scintillating footballing CV.
Finishing out the season with Leicester, Shakespeare gained an impressive seven wins from 13 remaining Premier League games and dragged the Foxes away from the so called ‘relegation scrap’, ultimately gaining a 12th place finish.
But what does Shakespeare need going forward for his side to compete with the Premier League giants and for Leicester City to represent the Premier League in Europe once more?
The capture of Harry Maguire from Hull for £17 million was relief to many Leicester fans. Wes Morgan and Robert Huth sitting at 33 and 32 respectively have had their moments in the Premier League whilst also at times looking out of their depth. Though in spite of the ever-dependable centre backs deserving lifetime contracts with the club, it could be argued it is time to start looking for a younger, hungry defence in order to revitalise cities backline and to support the clubs loyal shot stopper; Kasper Schmeichel.
Maguire’s arrival was not the first centre half to join the East Midlands team as young Chester City defender Sam Hughes made the journey from Chester to Belvoir Drive early in June. Although the signing was made purposely for the development team, the chance for Hughes to break into the first team will be available during this coming season. Another possibility to refresh the ageing defence is Chelsea’s Nathan Ake. After a successful loan stay at Bournemouth the Dutch youngster has made a name for himself and is on the wish list of many Premier League teams.
With a failed bid from Leicester for West Brom’s Johnny Evans, paying above the odds may be necessary for an established centre half such as Ake. At 22 he would definitely be a tremendous signing for Leicester and a great investment for the future.
Sitting either side of Leicester’s dependable centre halves are two experienced defenders in Danny Simpson and Christian Fuchs. With a couple years left in him, Simpson can still do a job yet, with Ben Chilwell having shadowed left-back veteran Fuchs for a couple years on the bench and after his successful trip with England U21’s at the Euros he certainly looks set to feature frequently in the Foxes starting XI come August.
Alongside Chilwell, in England’s high-class Euro squad was Leicester’s Demari Gray. Although struggling to gain a start in England’s first two group games he showed what Aidy Boothroyd’s men were missing out on scoring six minutes into the 3-0 victory against Poland. This gained him a start in the semi-final against the classy Germans and although adding another goal to his tally for his national side he came off with 17 minutes to play with the game ending in recognisable fashion with England crashing out to the Germans on penalties.
With the uncertainty of Leicester superstar Riyad Mahrez; who looks likely to join Arsenal, it may be time for Shakespeare to look towards Gray and offer him a deserved place in the Foxes starting XI. At times, last season he showed he is certainly on par with the talented Mahrez with sensational goals against Manchester United in the Premier League and Derby Country in the FA Cup and this season may just be his time to shine.
Recent transfer speculation has linked Leicester City with the dazzling talent of Swansea’s Gylfi Sigurdsson, yet the Icelandic’s signature is believed to cost at least £40m and with rumours of Manchester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho looking for a move out of Manchester, his flare could be required in the Midlands as a partner to reliable goal scorer, Jamie Vardy.
It could be difficult to lure Sigurdsson away from the Swans and a goal scoring partner is possibly more of a necessity for Leicester as finding an ally to Vardy has been a struggle for City over the past few years. Algerian striker, Islam Slimani was bought in by Ranieri in August 2016 for a club record fee of £29million and with seven goals in 23 games he has struggled to gain consistency in the starting XI as injuries and competition has hampered his time at the King Power.
With Leonardo Ulloa promising to never play again for the club after the January 2017 transfer window, his time with Leicester looks to be coming to an end. Ulloa’s services will definitely be useful for a top Championship side or Premier League new boys Huddersfield or Brighton, a return to his old side Brighton presenting a wonderful option for Ulloa to have. Vardy’s usual partner – Shinji Okazaki – has struggled for goals in the blue shirt and with Iheanacho 4/7 favourite to join Leicester, he would be a superb addition to the Leicester squad.
With three academy players signing professional contracts with the Foxes, Kaba Sherif, Alex Pascanu and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall alongside the appointment of former Oxford United Manager, Michael Appleton to work alongside Shakespeare as assistant, Leicester are certainly heading in the right direction under Thai owners, the Srivaddhanaprabha family.
It is important Leicester look towards their youngsters and find the right mix between experience and hunger and after a turbulent season it’s important to gain stability within the club and find a place in the Premier League top half and strive towards European football which the owners so fiercely desire.
Written by Eamon Kitching.
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