Defeats for QPR and Derby County on Saturday meant that Leicester City were promoted to the Premier League, a level they have not competed at in ten years. It was no less than the Foxes deserved as they have clearly been the dominant team in the Championship this season. Here’s the lowdown on the first team to ensure they will be rubbing shoulders with England’s elite come August:
Whether it was with Leicester or not, Schmeichel was destined to be playing at a higher level than the Championship next season. Arguably the best keeper in the division, Schmeichel’s form has been nothing short of miraculous this season and has even had a goal questionably chalked off. Having a ‘keeper to rely on makes a defenders job a whole lot easier and Schmeichel has certainly been that – keeping 14 clean sheets so far this season. Son of Peter, he is beginning to live up to the lofty expectations that come with his surname – pulling off spectacular reaction saves and commanding his area with unwavering authority. After experiencing Premier League football with Manchester City before, Schmeichel will surely have a huge part to play as the Foxes look to fight off relegation.
At 30 years-old, you could be forgiven for thinking Morgan’s career could be on the decline, the truth is you couldn’t be more wrong. Signed from Nottingham Forest – where he had spent his whole career – last January for £1 million and made club captain at the start of the 2013/14, the monstrous centre back has earned himself many plaudits for his awesome displays at the heart of City’s defence. A beast of a man, you could also be forgiven for thinking Morgan’s size could result in him being exposed by strikers with better mobility, again, this is not the case. The years of Championship football have served the big man well, he reads the game better than any defender in the league, and his positional sense is impeccable, more than making up for any lack of pace. This intelligence allows him to use his size to great effect – a monster in the air and impossible to dribble round – the defender will certainly never be more ready to test himself at Premier League level.
Signed from Guingamp in 2012, it has not taken the 22 year-old long to get up to pace in English football and he is now one of the most exciting prospects to come out of the second tier in recent years. The French winger is simply irrepressible, starting on the right he jinks and tricks his way past defenders, not only setting up goals but scoring himself. The unpredictability of Knockaert is what makes him so hard to handle, like many young wingers he has a few bad games but Pearson has persisted with him and is now reaping the rewards. The step up in level may be hard for him, coming up against strong, fast defenders every week will be a test. But from what we have seen so far, it is fair to believe that Knockaert will work at his game and adapt to life in the Premier League and we may see him become a real star in the future.
How They Did It
I would love to be able to pinpoint an area in which the Foxes particularly excelled in order to get themselves promoted, but the fact of the matter is that there is not one tactic they perfected, or one player that has made the difference, they have been the best team in the league all over the park. Nigel Pearson has come back to the club he left in 2010, and since his reappointment, he has been smart in the transfer market and slowly built a powerful team that blow opponents away. Combining flair players from abroad such as Knockaert and Riyad Mahrez with experienced home-grown talent like Morgan and Danny Drinkwater have been the secret to success. The Foxes have been dominant at the back this season, and when you add defensive solidity to 18 goals from David Nugent and 16 from Jamie Vardy, plus contributions from Gary Taylor-Fletcher, Chris Wood and Kevin Phillips all the ingredients for a successful side are there.
How They Will Fare
It’s hard to be anything but optimistic about Leicester’s chances in the Premier League. They have a manager that commands respect from the players and who has developed a successful playing style, being used to winning is a great advantage to a promoted side and often contributes to the “honeymoon period” at the start of a season. However, if City have a tricky start to the season and don’t have as good a start as they would have liked I think it is important the board don’t “do a Cardiff” and dump Nigel Pearson, he is the man who has built this team and surely the man who knows how to get the best out of them.
In terms of new recruits, Leicester have a pretty solid base in which to build upon. They have a strong spine to the team and a number of reliable players that can be counted on. Obviously there are areas City need to target, I don’t think the squad has enough top level experience, especially in midfield, so this is an area Pearson should look to bring in a veteran to calm the youngsters City have. It is also unrealistic to expect Nugent and Vardy to score 15+ goals again next season so some help for them is vital.
After the promotion party hangover wears off the Foxes clearly have a tough job to focus on if they want to remain in the Premier League, this is a job that can certainly be done though. Clever investment, faith in the young team they have and patience will give City the best chance of staying up next year and possibly many seasons after that.