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Leicester City

Would this be the ideal transfer window for Leicester City?

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Photo: Reuters

Since taking the helm from Craig Shakespeare, Claude Puel has masterminded something of a quiet revolution at Leicester City.

Having taken over a side that had won just five games in all competitions in 2017/18, a mere two of those coming in the league (D3, L4), the Frenchman has successfully steadied the ship at the King Power Stadium, winning six and drawing four of his fifteen matches in charge across all competitions.

Notable results include a 4-1 drubbing of Puel’s former club Southampton at St. Mary’s, a 2-2 home draw with Manchester United, and a valiant EFL Cup exit via penalty kicks after holding Manchester City to a 1-1 draw.

Such form has lifted the Foxes from the bottom three to the heady heights of the top ten, but Puel will be under no illusions that he must get this transfer window right to continue his revival in the East Midlands.

His predecessor, Craig Shakespeare, will know this only too well, the summer transfer window proving particularly costly to his short tenure.

Having lost Danny Drinkwater to Chelsea at the eleventh hour of Deadline Day, Leicester had his ready-made replacement Adrien Silva ready and waiting to arrive from Sporting Lisbon, only for FIFA to declare the Portugal international ineligible until January since his transfer paperwork arrived fourteen seconds beyond the deadline.

Such a scenario is unlikely to repeat itself, but even with Adrien Silva now joining his teammates in Premier League action and lessening the need for any reinforcements in centre-midfield, the Foxes have their work cut-out this month, particularly with question marks hanging over Riyad Mahrez’s future at the club in the midst of interest from Arsenal and Liverpool.

Yet Claude Puel is unlikely to make wholesale changes to a squad that all things considered, is performing well under his tutelage.

Interestingly, Puel is understood to wish to hold onto Algerian winger Mahrez and his compatriot, £29.7 million man Islam Slimani, despite the latter’s lack of action this season, according to Sky Sports journalist Michael Kelleher.

The report does hint that the Foxes boss may be prepared to part company with Ahmed Musa, though, but a replacement may not be an urgent requirement given the form of Mahrez and Demarai Gray on the opposite flank.

Slimani’s cool finish in Leicester’s recent Premier League win over Huddersfield showcased what the former Sporting Lisbon man still has to offer, and retaining him would sustain much of Leicester’s strength in depth going forward.

Strengthening out wide may depend entirely on where Mahrez finds himself come the closure of the window, but in any case what the Foxes do lack is a creative player capable of filling out the ‘number 10’ role.

One such player who fits the bill for this, and can equally be deployed on either flank is a familiar name to the Premier League and a former colleague of Claude Puel at OGC Nice, PSG misfit Hatem Ben Arfa.

Ben Arfa has proven himself capable of playing in the Premier League, but established a reputation as being a gifted yet inconsistent player during his time with Newcastle and Hull in the top-flight.

Puel was able to coax the best out of Ben Arfa during his season-long spell on the French Riviera. However, his goals helping fire Les Aiglons to a fourth place finish in Ligue 1 in 2015/16 and a place in the Europa League.

Such form earned Ben Arfa his big money move to PSG, where he has since failed to make the grade, and a move to the East Midlands to re-unite with his former boss may be just the transfer required to re-ignite his career.

Puel’s personal relationship with the player may be the deciding factor in swaying the tide in favour of any such move for the player, but there is no doubt that Ben Arfa would not only offer Leicester another exciting attacking and creative option, given the Frenchman’s penchant for running at defenders.

Meanwhile, he has also proven himself a capable source of goals, something which Leicester lack in their frontline, bar the diminutive talent of Jamie Vardy.

The lack of goals elsewhere in attack is something that Puel has already set about remedying, though. The Foxes have a knack for identifying talent in the French Ligue 2, with Riyad Mahrez and Anthony Knockaert (now of Brighton) just two signings plundered from the division over the years that have become big hits at the King Power.

Leicester’s French manager has recently been shopping in the French second tier in search of a striker, with Mali U-23 international Fousseni Diabate having completed a move from Corsican side Gazélec Ajaccio.

Diabate is a natural forward, but much like Ben Arfa can be deployed either in the ‘number 10’ role or on either flank, and he has featured out wide for the majority of the campaign for Gazélec, where he has started all but two of their matches in all competitions this season after making the drop from Ligue 1 outfit Guingamp.

He has netted three goals and assisted once in that time, featuring alongside Grégoire Puel, son of Leicester boss, Claude.

As a wide-man, the signing of Diabate will directly plug the hole vacated by Ahmed Musa should the Nigerian leave, but if Puel opts to use the Malian as a forward, that could spell the end of peripheral figure Leonardo Ulloa’s time at the club.

With Puel wanting to keep Slimani at the club, as well as handing regular game-time to Shinjo Okazaki, getting the Argentinian off the club’s books whether permanently or on loan, would be a sensible option, with Aston Villa reportedly interested in acquiring his services, as well as those of midfielder Daniel Amartey.

Puel has already declared his intent to keep summer signing Kelechi Iheanacho at the club despite his lack of minutes, thus with Diabate’s arrival the Frenchman has more than enough options in the forward position  should Ulloa leave.

The departure of Amartey may be less likely, but Matt James’ return to fitness would cushion the blow in the event of any move.

One other area which Puel may look to add cover in during the transfer window is central defence. The Frenchman has options in Aleksandar Dragovic and Yohan Benalouane as back-up to Wes Morgan and Harry Maguire, but with Robert Huth still no closer to a return following surgery on an ankle problem, Puel could look to add another option to the ranks.

His need for reinforcements would certainly increase should there be any substance to reports from The Sun linking Maguire to a £50 million approach from Manchester City.

Although Sky Sports report that Puel is unfazed by such speculation, suggesting it is unlikely that capped England international Maguire, who only joined the Foxes in the summer, will be heading anywhere, there are still realistic options for Puel to turn to for cover to his back-four and to bolster the back-line should Maguire leave.

Two of these options are players the Foxes were linked to during the summer, West Brom’s Jonny Evans and Middlesbrough defender Ben Gibson.

Gibson may be the likelier of the two options given Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger’s known admiration of Jonny Evans, but either defender would be a reliable option to partner Wes Morgan should Maguire depart, or even challenge the regular centre-half pairing for a starting spot.

Evans would be the more experienced option to turn to, but the signing of Gibson would constitute a positive investment in the future of the Leicester defence, with Morgan and the injured Robert Huth both nearing the twilight of their careers at the age of 33.

Yohan Benalouane himself is 30, thus age is most certainly a factor for the Foxes to consider, and Puel may look to youth if he wishes to revitalise his defence.

He certainly seems to be doing so elsewhere in the team with his desire to develop Kelechi Iheanacho further as well as signing the youthful Diabate, and it wouldn’t be surprising if building for the future proves the way of things on the whole this January at the King Power. It certainly appears to be shaping up that way.

Scott is a Port Vale fan who writes regularly for The Boot Room as a freelancer. He is a fan of several sports but most of his experience in journalism comes from football and volleyball. He has produced several works on major Championships for both the FIVB and CEV in the volleyball world out in Switzerland, and is currently studying for a BA Hons in Modern Languages at the University of Oxford.

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Leicester City

Manchester City 5-1 Leicester City: Sergio Aguero issues timely reminder to Pep Guardiola

Rob Meech brings us three talking points from the Etihad as Manchester City dismantled challengers Leicester City, 5-1, to continue their pursuit of the Premier League title.

Rob Meech

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Manchester City
Photo: Reuters

Sergio Aguero scored four second-half goals as Manchester City blitzed Leicester City to take another step towards the Premier League title.

Raheem Sterling’s third-minute opener was cancelled out by Jamie Vardy, as both teams went into half-time level-pegging.

Then came the fireworks.

Aguero netted his first on 48 minutes before putting another three past Kasper Schmeichel, with his fourth and final goal coming on the 90-minute mark.

City’s victory, coupled with Manchester United’s surprising 1-0 defeat to Newcastle United, extended their advantage at the top to the table to 16 points.

Leicester, meanwhile, remain in eighth spot despite enduring a torrid evening at the hands of Aguero and co.

Here are three talking points…

Aguero issues a timely reminder to Pep Guardiola

There is only one place to start.

At times, this has been a difficult season for the Argentinian sharpshooter, who has often played second fiddle to Gabriel Jesus in the crunch fixtures and cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines.

However, the Brazilian’s injury opened the door for Aguero and he has barged through, reminding Pep Guardiola why he can still play a major role as City fight on three fronts; in the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League.

Aguero was at his predatory best against a Leicester side that were far too accommodating in the second period and, with Kevin de Bruyne pulling the strings in behind, the Argentine has the perfect foil.

All the talk right now is about Harry Kane, but Aguero is only two goals behind the Tottenham man in the goalscoring charts, after netting in his seventh straight game at the Etihad.

This tally has also seen the 29-year-old surpass 20 goals for the fourth successive season.

Off-field issues undermine Leicester

With such a major distraction off the pitch this week, a visit to the runaway leaders was not the ideal fixture for Leicester manager Claude Puel.

Riyad Mahrez had dominated the headlines in light of his failure to report for training.

A U-turn saw him make himself available for the City clash, but at such short notice he was only afforded a place in the substitutes bench, coming on just after the hour mark.

Mahrez has acted unprofessionally after a deadline-day move to City was blocked by the club and he will have bridges to build with the club’s supporters.

When Vardy scored for the fourth game in succession to equalise, those fans would have hoped that they could return to the Midlands with a point.

Alas, City flexed their muscles after the interval and extinguished such aspirations.

But Leicester, in the comfort of eighth spot, can hopefully look forward with their best player back in the right frame of mind.

De Bruyne sparkles like a real diamond

This week, Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard was honoured with Belgium’s player of the year award.

Perhaps that was the spur for de Bruyne to produce another virtuoso performance.

He was always at the heart of City’s attacking play, the conductor of the orchestra who is at the peak of his powers.

De Bruyne assisted City’s first three goals to take his tally for the season to 14 – four more than his nearest challenger.

The cross that teed up Sterling was perfectly weighted, so was the delivery that enabled Aguero to open his account.

Another sumptuous ball from de Bruyne for the Argentinian left him with the opportunity to double his tally, which he duly took.

Football is subjective, but it is hard to believe at present there is a better midfielder in Europe than de Bruyne – that includes Hazard.

Belgium are fortunate to have them both in their ranks.

Wrapping them up in cotton wool will be crucial to their World Cup bid.

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Leicester City

How do Leicester City solve a problem like Riyad Mahrez?

January interest from Manchester City has turned the head of Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez. Now it is down to the Foxes hierarchy to dictate the Algerian’s short term future, writes Rob Meech.

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

As bargains go, few can beat Leicester City’s capture of Riyad Mahrez.

Signed from French outfit Le Havre for the nominal fee of £320,000 in January 2014, the Algerian has exceeded all expectations to become one of the world’s best footballers.

Mahrez played a starring role in arguably the biggest shock in British sporting history, as the Foxes defied odds of 5,000-1 to lift the Premier League trophy in 2016.

The 26-year-old dazzled spectators with his mazy runs and goals, scoring 17 times in total.

Cutting in from the right wing and curling the ball past the goalkeeper’s outstretched right glove was his trademark.

The nucleus of that title-winning side has since disbanded, with Danny Drinkwater and N’Golo Kante having both swapped the King Power Stadium for Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge.

Mahrez had pledged his future to the Foxes in the months following their sensational triumph, putting pen-to-paper on a bumper four-year-contract.

However, speculation linking the 2016 PFA Player of the Year with a transfer grew and after a disappointing campaign both personally and collectively, he announced his wish to leave the Midlands outfit, saying he felt it was the time to ‘move on.

A number of clubs were linked with him, but a move failed to materialise.

After initially being omitted from the starting line-up in the early stages of this season, the appointment of Claude Puel revitalised Mahrez, who reminded everyone why he had been so highly coveted.

Since then, his relationship with Leicester has turned sour.

He submitted a written transfer request in January and tried to force through a move to Manchester City, whose £60 million offer was rejected by the Foxes.

Sanctioning his departure on deadline day would have given Leicester very little time to sign a replacement.

Moreover, any potential deal would have been greatly inflated, with clubs wise to Leicester’s sudden windfall. Mahrez though, has effectively gone on strike.

He has not appeared at training this week and skipped the club’s past two fixtures.

Mahrez believes he has been denied his dream move.

He has given the club another 18 months of his career after they won the Premier League and in that time has seen the club sell the likes of Drinkwater and Kante.

Now, he feels the club should repay his loyalty. Instead, he feels betrayed.

It leaves Leicester in a predicament.

Even if Mahrez reported for training, it is likely he would incur a heavy fine and/or suspension.

It is hard to believe his team-mates feel anything other than let down by their star player.

By refusing to work at the club that pays his handsome wages, he is also damaging his reputation among the fans, who worshipped him as a hero.

One course of action for Leicester is to banish Mahrez to the reserves, much like Southampton did with Virgil van Dijk.

In reality, the hierarchy will understand it makes no sense in the long-term.

Selling their prized asset for an amount that meets their valuation, at a time that enables them to identify a replacement, would be best for both parties.

On top of the financial aspect is the effect this saga is having on the squad.

In an environment as highly charged as the Premier League, unwanted distractions can have major impacts.

Ultimately, there are rules that must be obeyed and respected.

No player can be allowed to breach his contract and go AWOL just because he doesn’t get what he wants.

Mahrez is tied to Leicester until 2020, a contract he was more than happy to sign.

He is in a privileged position and his childish behaviour only enhances the disconnect between footballers and the man on the street.

Reopening dialogue with the club and apologising for his actions would be a first step towards reconciliation.

Mahrez’s future may lie away from the King Power Stadium, but there are ways and means of going about it. Remaining professional is top of the list.

The supporters deserve better from a man who achieved more than he could possibly have dreamt of at Leicester City.

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Leicester City 2-0 Watford: Three talking points from the King Power

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Leicester City
Photo: Reuters

Leicester City moved up to seventh in the Premier League table as goals in either half from Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez earnt a comfortable win over struggling Watford on Saturday afternoon.

It was a far from fluid encounter between two sides looking to turn around some below par recent form, but it was the hosts who went closest early on when Vardy’s low drive was parried away by incoming goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis.

Troy Deeney found the net for Watford only to see it chalked off for offside before Vardy did open the scoring, being hauled down by Molla Wague’s late challenge before coolly sending Karnezis the wrong way with the spot-kick.

Watford made some attacking substitutions after the break as they went in search of an equaliser and Andre Gray went closest when his effort was pushed aside, but by committing men into the attack they were always vulnerable to the counter and Mahrez tucked home to secure all the points.

The result sees the Foxes earn just their second win in seven league matches, lifting them above Burnley into seventh, whilst Watford remain in 10th with just the solitary win in their past 11 games.

Defeat proves the final straw as Silva sacked

What a difference a few months can make.

At the end of September, Watford were within touching distance of the Champions League spots after a blistering start to the season, losing just one out of eight matches.

There were genuine talks that the Hornets could be the team to try and muscle their way into the top six such was the way they ground out results and it was testament to some expansive football.

But a wretched run of form since a 3-0 away win at Newcastle in late November has ended those lofty ambitions and sent Watford – and boss Marco Silva – crashing back down to earth with an unwanted reality check, and defeat at Leicester means it’s now just the solitary win in 11 league outings.

It also signalled the end of Silva’s time in charge after just a matter of months, with the Club releasing a statement on Sunday morning announcing that they have parted company with the Portuguese tactician.

It may not come as a surprise considering their recent run of form but it’s a decision that has a feeling of haste about it, as Silva’s rejuvenation of Watford at the start of the season was unlike anything seen at Vicarage Road for a number of years.

Yet ultimately football is a results driven business and this – allied with an underlying message about Everton’s approach before Christmas – has resulted in his swift dismissal.

As for Watford’s demise, it’s hard to pinpoint an area as to why this has happened.

Over the course of these games they’ve conceded 23 times and only scored 11 – the same amount they managed in their opening seven games of the year – and there’s evidently glaring problems at both ends of the pitch.

Constant injuries to first-team players has hampered any hopes of progress but there’s still more than enough quality in the Watford squad, and whoever the new man in is they will need to find a way to get them firing again.

Record-signing Gray draws blank again

It’s perhaps not a coincidence that Watford’s decline in form has come at the same time as a dry patch from young Brazilian Richarlison, who had proven to be a revelation in the Premier League since his summer move.

The 20-year-old has failed to find the net since the 2-0 win over West Ham in mid-November – 12 matches ago – and in the same period of time he’s only managed to create nine chances for his side.

For a point of comparison, he managed to score five goals and craft 14 opportunities in his opening 12 games when Watford were firing on all fronts. This will no doubt worry whoever Silva’s successor is as, whenever Richarlison isn’t impacting matches, it seems that there’s no-one else who will pick up the goal-scoring burden.

And one of the biggest disappointments of the season to date for the Hornets has been the patchy form of club-record signing Andre Gray.

At £18.5million there was a lot of hope and expectation on the shoulders of the former Burnley man but, with just four goals from 23 outings, he hasn’t quite had the desired impact since arriving at Vicarage Road.

It was a match where clear chances were few and far between but Watford’s best chance of an equaliser fell to Gray in the second-half, where his shot from inside the area was pushed away by Kasper Schmeichel. It was a smart stop but, on another day and with an in-form striker, it should have been buried and Gray will be kicking himself over it.

The players will know that they need to just grind out a result and their form could turn around again, and they will hope to get a second wind under a new manager and return to winning ways when they visit relegation-threatened Stoke City in a fortnight’s time.

Vardy and Mahrez run Watford ragged

Leicester City supporters can be forgiven for thinking that it’s the 2015-16 Premier League season once again as Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez ran the show to earn a convincing win over Watford.

The duo have both endured some testing spells since the euphoric title-winning year but under Claude Puel they seem to be thriving, and the way they ran the show on Saturday was merely indicative of the confidence that is flowing through their veins again.

Watford will no doubt be sick of the sight of Mahrez after he notched his fifth goal in his last five appearances against the Hornets, rounding things off in injury-time with a composed finish.

There seems to be far less speculation over the Algerian’s future in this January transfer window compared to last year and it’s arguably this that allows him to focus on his football and nothing else.

And he was well accompanied by Vardy on the day, who caused constant problems for an under-strength Watford back-line. Their centre-back pairing of Molla Wague – who brought him down for the penalty – and Christian Kabasele just couldn’t contain his pace nor keep track of his late runs.

If both Vardy and Mahrez can sustain this sort of form long into the season then it’s anyone’s guess as to where Leicester may finish – and who knows, seventh might be a more than realistic target.

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