The King Power stadium seems to be brimming with a feeling of optimism as we approach the new Premier League season – and not without good reason. Brendan Rodgers’ first summer at the club has renewed fans and players alike in their belief that the club is on the rise, and despite some costly losses, it seems that little can dissuade supporters that this year will be a very good, if not great, season for Leicester City.
New signings, an electric style and fans united behind owner, manager and players. Will they rise and claim a trophy or European football, or will that same doubt and disappointment that has eaten a manager each season since their Premier League glory return once again?
Looking back on last year
The previous season can hardly be contained into a single word, yet one that might come to mind for most foxes fans is frustrating.
After something of a good start, things began to slide as other teams got themselves steady and organised. Claude Puel’s brand of football, which involved lots of possession but little in the form of direct attacking football, meant they struggled to break down defences that had a solid level of organisation. At times, the football was negative and the defence leaky. Many fans had already had enough of Puel before their dire 1-4 loss away to Palace, but it was then that he was sacked.
Another word that many may suggest is emotional. In late October, after their Premier League fixture against West Ham, a tragic helicopter crash outside the King Power stadium killed club owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and a number of his entourage. It was a horrific loss. Vichai had given so much to the club and the city and was the mastermind of their 15/16 success. But they pulled together like never before and Vichai’s son, known as ‘Top’, has quietly taken over reigns with intentions to achieve the aspirations of his much-loved Father.
Were there to be another word, it would certainly be optimistic. Despite Puel’s style, he had a great insistence on buying, bringing through and playing young talent such as James Maddison, Hamza Choudhury and Ben Chilwell to name but a few. This was continued by Rodgers, whose more direct style was extremely promising to watch, and has given fans something to look forward to despite their 9th place finish.
Summer signings and sales
There is one transfer all Foxes fans were begging for when the summer started, but not all expected it to happen. To the surprise of many, and joy of all, Leicester smashed their transfer record and secured the services of the incredibly promising Youri Tielemans.
Commanding a fee of around £40 million, it was a price the club was all too happy to pay after some dazzling performances from the young creative midfielder. If he can replicate and grow upon his potential next year, it will be a fruitful one indeed for his (somewhat) new team.
One signing that was not expected was that of Ayoze Perez. The 25-year-old Spanish striker joined for a reported £30 million but seems to have integrated well into the team with his link-up play and goal-scoring ability. Only time will tell if the price was a little too high, or perhaps, as is quite often the case with Leicester, a little too low.
James Justin was also brought in, for an undisclosed fee, from Luton Town to provide cover for the full-back positions.
The biggest piece of news, or at least the biggest price, was that of Harry Maguire. Only this week was his move finalised, but it was big news when it was. Leaving Leicester, Maguire was signed by Manchester United for a record-breaking £80 million pounds – making him the most expensive defender in world football. While his slab-like head may be missed in defence, the money gained from his departure (a profit of at least £50 million) will surely not go amiss.
While not taking part in any form of competition or tournament, Leicester have had a very productive preseason. Winning all but one of their games, with victories over Stoke and, more impressively, Atalanta, they have repeatedly showcased flourishes of potent attacking play against teams usually set up to defend for 90 minutes.
Their new players have had good showings, with Ayoze Perez and Youri Tielemans both getting game time and goals, and Brendan Rodgers will now only hope that it has been enough to prepare them for a fiery Premier League season.
Leicester have a squad bursting with young, promising players all over the pitch and where there aren’t any, there are already quality, established players filling the role. While many of the big names are sure to provide for Leicester, it is often the names that are not so big that prove to be key.
Right-back Ricardo Pereira is one of these ‘smaller’ names, although for his contributions he shouldn’t be. Ricardo had a fantastic previous season, winning Player of the Season and Player’s Player of the season, and played as a forward, winger, midfielder and full-back on the right side of the pitch while racking up two goals and six assists; and he hasn’t slowed down in preseason. Leicester will need him this year, bombing up and down the right side and linking up with the strikers and midfield if they want to achieve their much-desired aspirations.
A slightly bigger name, James Maddison was key for Leicester last year and will be key again. Coming straight from the Championship, the young English midfielder proved his worth by instantly earning his starting spot and never losing it. Providing a constant stream of creative passes, goal-scoring ability, through balls, and set pieces, Leicester will only be at their best if Maddison is too.
Kelechi Iheanacho’s addition here may be surprising. His previous season was, if we are being frank, somewhat shocking. He provided very little, if nothing at all, when he was on the pitch and seemed to be struggling with confidence issues. But Leicester need him to step up. With the prolific Jamie Vardy now reaching the grand age of 32, Iheanacho needs to begin to fill the gap if the club is to be successful.
Strengths and weaknesses
Leicester’s biggest weakness may now lie in their defence. With the sturdy Harry Maguire now gone, the Foxes are unlikely to fill the gap with another signing with only a day until the transfer window closes. They will have to rely on one of the two replacements brought last summer – Filip Benkovic, or Caglar Soyuncu. Although they are both promising centre-backs, and Benkovic has already played under Rodgers at Celtic, neither have had significant Premier League game time and are unlikely to fill the slab-shaped hole in the backline.
But it could be their mentality that lets them down. Leicester have had a number of tumultuous seasons after their league win, and each one has seen a different manager sacked and another appointed (Claudio Ranieri, Craig Shakespeare, and Claude Puel). It is not an attractive trend and may suggest that there is a problem with attitude and mentality at the King Power when everything isn’t going their way. Many will hope that Rodgers, with his quality and charisma, will buck this trend.
Fortunately, they are not limited in their strengths. They have proven goal scorers, talented players across the park, a satisfying mix of youth and experience and players that may be world-class in only a few years’ time. Leicester’s midfield trio is certainly one of the greatest of these strengths. The combination of Maddison, Ndidi and Tielemans is already a frightening sight for oppositions, made only scarier by the knowledge that these players are all only 22 years old. In a few years, we may be wondering how it is Leicester got their hands on such a fantastic midfield trident.
Where will they end up?
Expectations are high at the King Power, yet they were last season too. Rodgers has brought with him an intense style and boundless optimism, and the aspiration of European football now seems within reach for the Foxes. But the strength of other teams should not be forgotten, especially those who have also spent vast money this summer, such as West Ham and especially Everton, and it would not be hard to imagine either of these outfits pipping Leicester to that European spot.
In the end, that is what may happen, finishing just off the mark in 8th. Either way, excitement lies in store for the Foxes, and whatever the result, it will surely be accompanied by the passionate cries of ‘Vichai, Vichai’.