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.
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.