Leicester City 2015/16 Premier League Season Preview
It all seemed too good to be true at the start of summer for The Foxes as they survived the drop with a tremendous run of results. The Midlands club first lost Pearson’s son and other members of the youth team after a racist scandal, then they lost Pearson himself after an ongoing tense period between himself and the powers above. Now with Claudio Ranieri at the helm, they will want to build on survival and attempt to establish themselves in the top flight. However, it may just prove too big a task to complete.
Story of Last Season
The club from the Midlands that took the Championship by storm during the season before last then proceeded to start life in the Premier League superbly. Most notably beating Manchester United in a 5-3 thriller, Leicester also held both Merseyside teams and had several impressive displays from specific individuals. What followed was a morale crushing run of poor results leaving Leicester rock bottom. The heart and desire was there, they were just luckless.
However, Leicester escaped the drop in tremendous fashion with a run of 7 wins in 9 games towards the back end of the fixture list. From such as dismal showing around the turn of the year came a team of 11 men outplaying those well above them in the league tables. Individuals such as Vardy impressed so astutely that he earned an England call up, while Esteban Cambiasso also shone throughout the term, demonstrating his experience with impressive passing displays. Credit must also go to Nigel Pearson who altered the tactics, opting for a three man defence with the application of wing backs. This change allowed Leicester to attack with more security. It will be interesting to see which philosophy is taken forward by Ranieri following this evidence.
Christian Fuchs: The former Schalke left-back has been brought into replace the frail Paul Konchesky in the first team picture. The Austrian holds a wealth of experience in the German top flight whilst also being involved in the Champions League, partaking in Schalke’s famous win over Real Madrid last season. He will face a new challenge this season with Leicester likely to be involved in a scrap in the lower echelons of the league table. His talent at a dead ball situation could come in desperately handy towards the latter of the season with The Foxes set for a struggle.
Shinji Okazaki: The Japanese international has also been brought for a fee believed to be around £8 million and the hefty price-tag strongly suggests that the owners believe Leicester will survive another season. He is a different type of player to the strikers already at the club as he holds a natural poacher’s talent. Whether he can score the goals to keep them in the league remains to be seen but given the chances, he is surely clinical enough to take them.
Yohan Benalouane: Tunisian centre-half has signed for The Foxes on a four year deal that is; at the time of writing, still subject to international clearance. He is 28 years old and has enjoyed spells in both French and Italian football, gaining valuable experience of top quality competitive action. The fee agreed between Atlanta and Leicester is believed to be in the region of £6 million, representing a not too insignificant outlay for the Midlands side. Benalouane will provide some competition and cover in an area of defence where his new side were previously perilously short.
N’Golo Kanté: Frenchman N’Golo Kanté has also been signed on for four years, looking to take a significant step in his career as a 24 year old. Helping Caen to promotion into Ligue 1 in 2013/14, the midfielder enjoyed the role of a mainstay in their side last season and obviously impressed Ranieri enough to splash out this summer.
Kasper Schmeichel: A shot stopper under the shadow of his father’s Champions League heroics, the Dane is a key part of the Leicester team with his sharp reflexes keeping them in games at times last season. He will be required to perform once again this year while also becoming a leader of the team after Cambiasso’s exit. As Leicester’s last line of defence, he will be in action a great deal as many teams pile on the pressure to ensure The Foxes don’t have another lucky escape.
Robert Huth: After coming in on loan in January last term, Huth enabled Pearson to have the confidence to switch to a back three. The hefty German bruiser performed so well that he earned himself a permanent deal at The KP Stadium. This season, his Premier League know-how will be vital in Leicester’s bid for survival. As a tough tackler and a strong header of the ball, he could have a key impact at either end of the field.
Riyad Mahrez: The Algerian international was in and around the first team picture for much of last season before nailing down a starting place during Leicester’s superb run of results. He has the trickery and pace to play as a winger while also holds an incisive passing ability to perform equally as well as a roaming play maker. For Ranieri to utilise him best, Mahrez must be given the confidence of a world beater as when he has such self-esteem, he can beat players at will, scoring goals and creating them too.
Ranieri has a thin and averagely experienced squad with few match winners. With most of the depth at the top of the tactics board, the Tinkerman will be praying on an injury-free season. Ranieri has claimed that he is unlikely to change anything as he stated that the team is ‘very close’ to how he wants them to play. There are permutations however, such as a complete different formation can be used if needed. Leicester have options; a simple 4-4-2 was impressive at the start of last season then it faded as teams figured out how they played. Ranieri could also use a 4-3-3 with Schlupp and Mahrez on the wings however these plans could be foiled with an injury to either man as The Foxes have few quality replacements for the spots out wide. The use of a 5-3-2 is most likely after its success last season and with the wise addition of Christian Fuchs, the already stable defence has been made stronger. The more logical choice of 2 strikers as opposed to one means Leicester have increased fire power to ensure they grab much needed points at vital moments.
If it’s personnel that Ranieri wants to alter, he may struggle. Leicester are relatively threadbare in numbers and have very little defensive class on the bench. De Laet can be used as a utility man however Paul Konchesky can’t, so much so that Ranieri has declared him not to be in his plans. In midfield, the Italian has a few more options with James and Hammond both capable of filling the role but neither light up fans’ eyes when their name is on the team sheet. Up front is surely where they are best equipped. Ulloa, Vardy, Nugent, Okazaki and Kramaric are all in contention for a starting berth and all have a genuine belief that they have done enough t deserve it. Jamie Vardy is perhaps most likely to be picked as he is a fan favourite and energetic. Ulloa could operate in a stereotypically ‘little and large’ partnership with Okazaki while Andrej Kramaric will be eager to improve on his rather poor displays last term.
The strengths of the team are clear to see; defenders that will do the basics and strikers are of Premier League standard. With Huth and Morgan having played in together last season, they have developed a strong connection at the heart of the defence while Liam Moore may come in to Ranieiri’s lineup to replace Wasilewski. A fresh face in Moore could prove pivotal in their scrap for survival as he offers a youthful approach to the game. Happy to do the basics, Moore can also bring the ball forward comfortably. The aim for him this season is to affirm his Premier League quality to ensure he stays in the top division if Leicester themselves fail to do so.
The lack of depth is the main weakness as there is an alarming absence of youth products coming through at The King Power Stadium while the loss of Esteban Cambiasso is a damaging one. His class was one of the reasons Leicester are still in the league and without it, the survival challenge has been made harder. The Foxes have been linked with N’Golo Kante who is young and hungry however he isn’t of Cambiasso’s mould. An addition of experience is needed for the Foxes to metaphorically keep their heads above water.
Another area of weakness people may point to is the lack of talent in the wide areas. Work-horse Mark Albrighton performed admirably in a wing back role last season but doesn’t have the Premier League quality or assist production that’s required. On the left side, Konchesky, Schlupp and Fuchs are there to battle it out with the latter likely to claim the starting spot. He to has performed well in the Bundesliga but Fuchs has a defensive mentality which may hinder The Foxes. Schlupp would provide an attacking outlet but then the security at the back is lost. With problems on both sides, it’s a no-win decision for new boss Claudio Ranieri.
Claudio Ranieri has arrived to a mixed reception at the KP Stadium as his previous role as Greece’s coach ended in disaster without a win. However, the man named the ‘Tinkerman’ for his constant alteration at Chelsea has stated his Europa League intentions. He’s certainly not here to add another team name to his CV, he is here to do a job. The Italian has had a somewhat remarkable managerial career with some successful stints and a few not so. His job at Inter Milan was dismal while he led Monaco from Ligue 2 to second in Ligue 1 in two years, although he was backed to the hilt by wealthy owners. Fans of The Foxes can only wait and see how Ranieri’s Leicester career pans out. The appointment was met with unsure skepticism however in a poll by The Mirror, 53% of voters tipped Ranieri to last the whole season.
First Six Fixtures
Leicester face three of their fellow strugglers in the opening 6 fixtures and they will need to pick up points early if they are to avoid the drop.
Opening with Sunderland at home will present Leicester’s first key test with it almost being a six-pointer so early on. With the crowd behind them, the boys in blue should secure all three points with a narrow win. West Ham away looks set to end in defeat but a lucky draw could see Leicester face Tottenham with four points already in the bag. Spurs look set to give Leicester their first taste of defeat while Bournemouth away could also end negatively. The Foxes then welcome Villa to The King Power and with the lack of reliable fire power Villa currently have at their disposal, Leicester could snatch it. For their final fixture in this series, Ranieri’s men travel to The Britannia where a trio of Bojan, Afellay and Biram-Diouf could cause havoc and leave Leicester on the end of a morale crushing defeat. A potential tally of seven points in six games is not disastrous but with harder fixtures to come, this could leave The Foxes struggling towards the end of the season.
Final Standing Prediction – 18th
With the lack of squad depth Leicester have, it is undoubtedly going to be a long and draining season for Ranieri’s men. The thin group of playing staff could run out of gas before the sharp end of the campaign, meaning they have no fuel in the tank to repeat last season’s miraculous escape. Their time in the Premier League looks set to come to an end as Ranieri isn’t the man to lead progress without money. The change in manager seems to have sent shivers down their fans’ spines while the team has not been improved enough in the required areas. A two year stay in the Premier League will end as I predict that they will narrowly miss the points total to stay in the league.
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