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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Willian could hold key to Tottenham landing Anthony Martial
If Manchester United land the Brazilian it would undoubtedly improve Tottenham’s chances.
Manchester United are reportedly preparing a £60 million bid to bring Chelsea winger Willian to Old Trafford this summer, according to reports from the Daily Mail, with manager Jose Mourinho having been linked with an approach for his former star for some time.
Chelsea were unwilling to sell at that time, but it is possible that Willian could be interested in a new challenge after apparently growing frustrated with life at Stamford Bridge, according to recent reports from Sky Sports. He managed a combined 25 goals and assists in 55 appearances in 2017/18, but only 20 of his 37 Premier League outings actually came as a starter.
Tottenham meanwhile, have become frustrated at United’s assertion that Anthony Martial will not be sold this summer (Sky Sports), after Mauricio Pochettino made the Frenchman his priority target last month (the Sun), as he looks to bolster the supply line to Harry Kane next term.
However, Martial’s revelation that he wants to leave the club could be vital for Spurs, as Mourinho has previously stated that he would never stop a player from moving if they really want the move and the money is right. And he’s backed up his words, selling two-time Chelsea Player of the Year Juan Mata to his current club in 2014.
The Red Devils are currently stacked in terms of depth for the left wing, with Marcus Rashford struggling to start games over January signing Alexis Sanchez, but wide-right is somewhat scarce and Willian would undoubtedly improve United’s balance for the better.
Although the manager would prefer the Frenchman went abroad, if he asked for the move to north London, Willian’s transfer to United would undoubtedly improve Pochettino’s chances of securing his key man. United will also be buoyed by their recent business with the west Londoners, having surprisingly secured the signing of Nemanja Matic from Stamford Bridge last summer.
Gylfi Sigurdsson shows why Everton splashed £45m on his services
Everton fans will hope they see Sigurdsson in fine form next season.
Iceland pulled off another shock at a major tournament, as they managed to hold out for a draw against Argentina. Alfred Finnbogason scored the equaliser after Sergio Aguero had given the Albiceleste the lead. Lionel Messi then saw a penalty saved as Iceland fully deserved a share of the spoils.
One man who was in sensational form throughout the game was Everton midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson. Only recently returned from a knee injury he was the beacon of quality that Iceland needed. When they needed a player to keep possession he was there and he was a constant thorn in the side of Argentina’s defensive generals.
It was a performance that will remind Everton fans just why they spent £45 million to bring him from Swansea City last summer. It also highlighted that, used correctly. The ‘Iceman’ could be Everton’s talisman.
When Sigurdsson arrived last season he did so at the same time as two identical players. Davy Klaassen and Wayne Rooney also joined Everton last summer leaving them overbooked in that area of the field.
With Everton failing to bring in sufficient wide options, Sigurdsson also found himself playing wide left for much of his time at Goodison Park.
What is clear from the Iceland game is that Sigurdsson is best in the number 10 role, playing off of the front-man and hopefully next season that is where Everton will see him. With Cenk Tosun ahead of him, pace out wide and reliable generals behind him in midfield the Icelander will be free to roam and play his best football.
If Everton do that, then they will see more and more of the real Sigurdsson next season.
Chicharito shows he’s capable of replacing Marko Arnautovic at West Ham in brilliant Mexico performance
The striker was unrecognisable from last season at West Ham.
West Ham United striker Marko Arnautovic is still heavily linked with a move to Manchester United, although the club have attempted to deter interest by slapping a whopping £60 million price tag on the Austrian, according to the Daily Star.
Although the price is considerable, it’s conceivable United could match the fee, or something close and Manuel Pellegrini may have to begin lining up replacements, in case a switch to Old Trafford materialises. But the Chilean coach may very well have his man already on yesterday’s evidence, ironically, in the form of former United fan favourite, Chicharito.
Chicharito made a name for himself throughout his career for his impressive ability to improvise a finish in the penalty area, and his movement, which has led to countless poacher goals. However, his performance for Mexico yesterday could indicate a change of responsibilities for the striker in the future. And West Ham will be thrilled.
Against Germany, he did everything but put the ball away. Non-initiated viewers may have been shocked to find out that the striker went into the match one goal off a career tally of 50 for his country, as he plied for the 90 minutes as a forward linch-pin, connecting play in the final third for almost every counter-attack. His general touch, awareness of approaching defenders, vision to see runners and execution of passes were all sensational on the night.
It could be argued that his national pride conjured this new style. but now there can be no doubting he has the ability to play the Arnautovic-type role, and in emphatic fashion. And if Pellegrini can tap-into this style, he could already have the Austrian’s ready made replacement at the London Stadium.
Last term the 30-year-old struggled to break into the team on a regular basis under David Moyes, making 33 appearances in all competitions, bagging eight goals and an assist, but his contribution next year could be far more valuable.
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