If anybody had offered Claudio Ranieri that he would only lose one crucial player in last season’s first-team squad following the Foxes’ sensational maiden Premier League title victory, the Italian manager would almost certainly have bitten their hand off.
As it has proven, only N’Golo Kanté’s big money move to Chelsea for roughly £30 million proved a blow this summer, particularly after the Frenchman’s exceptional work rate in midfield which was vital to Leicester’s exploits and saw him win both his first international cap and break into the France squad for Euro 2016 under Didier Deschamps.
This was however, more than accounted for, with the signing of OGC Nice skipper Nampalys Mendy, whose side finished fourth in Ligue 1 under now Southampton manager Claude Puel this season, a player very much in the same vein as Kanté who arrived at the King Power Stadium for an undisclosed fee, believed to be in the region of £13 million.
Other lower key departures included forward Andrej Kramaric, who never really came alive in the Premier League, leaving for Hoffenheim where he spent a spell on loan last season. Furthermore, defenders Ritchie De Laet and Paul Konchesky left for Aston Villa and Gillingham respectively, with the former commanding a fee of £1.96 million. Finally, experienced goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer departed as a free agent and Swiss international midfielder Gokhan Inler headed to Besiktas.
So, not only have the Foxes managed to maintain the core of the squad that was so successful last season, warding off interest from Arsenal in both Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez; who have both signed new deals at the King Power, but they have had a strong window regarding strengthening their side as they gear up for an assault on the Champions League for the very first-time. Domestically, they will be attempting to follow up their surprise title triumph with a top ten finish or higher.
Ranieri moved to strengthen his defence with the signing of Sporting Gijon defender Luis Hernández on a free transfer, to provide competition and back-up to the first-choice pairing of Wes Morgan and Robert Huth, a necessary commodity given the extra games Leicester will be playing this season.
In addition to this, they moved for a new back-up goalkeeper in the form of Ron-Robert Zieler, who arrived from Hannover for £2.98 million and may be seeing a piece of the action this season after Kasper Schmeichel left the pitch injured in Leicester’s 2-1 win over Swansea last week. He replaces Mark Schwarzer, the experienced former Middlesbrough and Chelsea goalkeeper, who was of course released this summer.
The arrival of Nice’s Mendy; another Frenchman with a exceptional work rate and eye for a pass, should be a worthy stand-in for the departed N’Golo Kanté, whilst Ranieri has had a fantastic transfer window adding width to his side. The acquisition of wide men Bartosz Kapustka from Polish Ekstraklasa side Cracovia Krakow; who had a strong showing at Euro 2016, and £16.58million signing Ahmed Musa; a well-known Nigerian international, who joins from Russian club CSKA Moscow.
The signing of the two wingers not only shows Ranieri’s intent at continuing Leicester’s exciting and dynamic football style this season, but also provides balance to the flanks and a threat down the left to go forward with the threat of Riyad Mahrez on the opposite flank.
Strength in numbers will be vital with a European campaign to contend with besides their domestic fixtures, and the signing of two players with age on thei side as well as European experience – 23-year-old Musa with CSKA in the Champions League itself, and 19-year-old Kapustka on the international stage with Poland – is exactly the way in which Ranieri should be going about it.
Besides the experience the two have, Musa is a skilful talent on the left-side, whilst Kapustka fills the role of the exciting, unpredictable young winger who is still learning his trade somewhat, and if Leicester can give him the platform of first-team football he needs, then there is every chance that with every game he performs in he will become more and more of an exceptional player for Ranieri’s side, after showcasing his talent in France this summer.
The highlight of Leicester’s transfer window however came on Deadline Day, with the club smashing its transfer record to bring in the Algerian international striker Islam Slimani from Portuguese side Sporting Lisbon, for a fee of £25.5 million.
Slimani as a physical forward, with a strong work-rate, a relisher of aerial duels and a keen eye for goal. The Algerian is very much a player in a similar vein to Jamie Vardy, and will help relieve the pressure on the 28-goal top scorer last season, who also famously broke Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s record of hitting the back of the net in ten consecutive Premier League matches with a strike against Manchester United.
Slimani’s arrival also offers a different option to Japanese forward Shinji Okazaki, whose work rate is also exceptional and freed Jamie Vardy up for a lot of last season, but didn’t always repay his performances with the goals they deserved, and of course a far more exciting prospect than the disappointing Kramaric.
In many ways his qualities are similar to those of Leonardo Ulloa, only he comes with more experience of top European and international football, and has much more proficiency in timing his runs and getting in behind. He plundered 27 goals last season for Sporting, netting against all the other of the Portuguese Primeira Liga Nos’ top four sides – Lisbon rivals Benfica, FC Porto (who Leicester will face in this season’s Champions League), and Braga.
Despite accounting for the loss of a big player, a marquee signing was necessary to keep the buzz building at the King Power and firmly signal Leicester’s intent to build on last season’s shock title win and become an established top ten side or even European contenders. Musa somewhat fit the initial bill, but the signing of Slimani proves that these big players in European football are no longer coups for the club.
His experience as well as his attributes will provide vital European experience as the Foxes do battle in the Champions League for the first time, and he has vast potential to thrive next to Jamie Vardy, who is beginning to prove himself at international level also and now has his chance to shine in Europe at club level.
Overall, Ranieri has accounted for loss where it has been suffered, but also has been able to add extra quality. The most critical aspect of his window however was tying his stars down to longer-term deals. Retaining Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez in the East Midlands was pivotal, with the two contributing 40 goals in all competitions between them for the Foxes last season. Both players put pen to paper on new four-year deals at the King Power, and will not noly prove valuable assets in helping Leicester excel once again this season, but also in maintaining the high morale at the club which was so important in the Foxes camp last season as they saw out 2015/16 to win the title.
Maintaining the vast majority of a successful squad is often just as important as the additions a manager can make, and the Italian can be proud of the fact that he has warded off the circling vultures of the bigger sides to keep the nucleus of his title-winning team together.
On paper, the additions all look exciting prospects too, and the right types of players who can not only bring the experience that Leicester will need, but can please the fans, play the right type of football and expand their careers at the King Power.
With the quality that they bring, and a team which already has the essence of champions in abundance, Ranieri and Leicester City have enjoyed a rather successful transfer window and they look to be all kitted out to mount an assault on the top ten and on Europe this season. How far they can go this campaign, only time will tell.
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