The summer transfer window of 2016 was tipped to be a challenging one for Leicester City, with the prospect of Claudio Ranieri’s title-winning Foxes being fruit-picked for their best talent by bigger clubs circling after their surprise maiden Premier League triumph last season. The reality however has turned out rather differently. Bar N’Golo Kanté’s big money move to Chelsea, Leicester have managed to retain the core of their title winning team, with only a handful of lower key departures in the form of fringe players such as Mark Schwarzer, Richie De Laet, Paul Konchesky, Gokhan Inler and Andrej Kramaric, whilst also managing to tie star players Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez to new four-year contracts.
Although Ranieri was saddened by the departure of N’Golo Kanté, he has managed to replace him for a player in the very same vein in OGC Nice midfielder Nampalys Mendy and plug the holes left in his rear-guard by signing Hannover goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler and Sporting Gijon defender Luis Hernández. His most sterling additions have however been in attack, and the Foxes have excelled in the window as they prepare for their maiden Champions League campaign and the ramifications the extra fixtures will have on their domestic season. In came wingers Ahmed Musa and Bartosz Kapustka, the former well-known for his form in Europe with CSKA Moscow and the latter having burst onto the scene with Poland at Euro 2016. The signature signing of the window came on Deadline Day, with the £25.5million recruitment of Algeria international forward Islam Slimani, who hit 27 goals for Portuguese club Sporting Lisbon last season.
With that in mind, Leicester have managed to not only retain the majority of their title-winning squad, the morale from which will be a vital component in the Foxes camp and served them well last season, but also managed to add the extra experience and quality necessary for the added task of Europe and the depth to attempt to establish themselves as a firm top-ten club, or even European contenders. Ranieri will be thrilled with the way his transfer window has gone despite the early loss of Kanté, and their squad should have enough resources to finish in the top ten or possibly even higher.
Despite Claudio Ranieri signing another goalkeeper in Ron-Robert Zieler during the transfer window, it is likely that the German will fill in for Mark Schwarzer and deputise for current Number One Kasper Schmeichel. Although Zieler has already seen a piece of the action himself after Schmeichel was withdrawn from Leicester’s 2-1 win over Swansea City with injury.
How long Zieler will be forced to stand-in regularly is uncertain, after Schmeichel was forced to undergo a hernia operation following the match, but the Dane who is currently first-choice is aiming to make a speedy recovery. He will undoubtedly be Ranieri’s preferred option, but if Zieler is now presented with the chance to impress, he must grasp it with both hands to try to force his way in.
The Foxes rear-guard is set to remain the same as last season, only with the addition of Luis Hernández in reserve to keep skipper Wes Morgan and Robert Huth on maximum form. The depth in defence may well prove necessary given Leicester’s extra fixtures this season, but the two will more than likely remain in their respective positions, though with both now at the age of 32, the addition of the younger Hernández will add some much needed mobility, whilst the departures of Richie De Laet and Paul Konchesky will almost certainly see Danny Simpson and Christian Fuchs remain the undisputed first choices at full-back.
England U21 international Ben Chilwell remains an option in reserve at full-back after Liverpool failed in a bid to bring him to Anfield, but his inexperience compared to the more seasoned Fuchs and Simpson will count against him. 36-year old Marcin Wasilewski otherwise remains at the club as an experienced option, but his age counts against him in the opposite fashion and will almost certainly find it difficult to displace Simpson unless the former Manchester United man succumbs to injury.
The loss of N’Golo Kanté to Chelsea was a tough blow for Claudio Ranieri and Leicester City over the summer, but Ranieri has looked to the same source for a replacement and has signed an excellent player in OGC Nice skipper Nampalys Mendy, who like Kanté comes with a renown reputation for his work rate, winning back the ball and capability of playing a pass. He is also not afraid of having an effort at goal, something which maybe lacked somewhat in Kanté’s game. He looked positive against Arsenal despite a quiet first-half, but after showing echoes of a Kanté with an excellent tackle, he was withdrawn with an ankle complaint after making a block. The lay-off however should only extend as far as last week’s Swansea side, and he will firmly be back in contention to partner playmaker Danny Drinkwater in centre-midfield.
Andy King and Matty James are also a solid options as back-up, whilst Ghanaian midfielder Daniel Amartey, who came in for the injured Mendy in midfield for the home clash with Swansea, impressed next to Drinkwater, playing a part in some excellent one-touch play before Drinkwater’s through ball played in Jamie Vardy to put the champions ahead. Ranieri will more than likely favour Mendy as his first-choice when he returns from injury, after flashes of his potential against the Gunners, but the form of his back-up options, particularly Amartey, will be of huge encouragement.
The signings of Ahmed Musa and Bartosz Kapustka have provided pace, skill and trickery to Leicester’s wide options, with the former having seemingly staked a claim for a place out on the left-wing. His price-tag and reputation makes it difficult for Ranieri to leave him out of the starting eleven, whilst the 19-year old Kapustka in reserve may prove to be the man to come on and change a game after an excellent run of games in France for his country at Euro 2016.
Leicester have an abundance of wide options at the club now, with Jeffrey Schlupp- who can also provide back up at left-back to Christian Fuchs- exciting young wide-man Demarai Gray, another skilful and somewhat underrated winger in Mark Albrighton and of course the mercurial talent of first-choice right-winger Riyad Mahrez, who will prove very difficult to displace for any of Leicester’s options in reserve after the Algerian hit 19 goals in all competitions for the Foxes last season.
Deadline Day saw 27 goal top scorer for Sporting Lisbon last season Islam Slimani head through the entry door at the King Power, whose £25.5million transfer smashed the Foxes’ record. If he plays he is more than likely to partner last season’s leading marksman Jamie Vardy, who has the attributes to become a top player not only for his club- where he will test himself at European level this season- but also for his country.
This season will be a huge one for Vardy and after hitting 23 in the Premier League last season, he should be looking for a return into the twenties at the very least, if he is to establish himself as a firm first-choice striker not only in the Champions League for Leicester, but for Sam Allardyce’s England.
Given Slimani’s price-tag and goal return, we are likely to see Leonardo Ulloa fall further down the pecking order at Leicester, whilst Shinji Okazaki will likely begin to play more of a reserve role. His work-rate has been exceptional throughout his Leicester career, but it doesn’t always pay dividends in the goals that it deserves, and Ranieri may well make his new man his first-choice as he looks to add more firepower to his side.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by Alex Hannam.