After a twelfth-placed finish for Leicester City during their title defence season in 2016/17, the Foxes look to build on what they accomplished last year by earning more consistent results this upcoming season.
The 2016/17 campaign was full of up’s and down’s for Leicester City and saw them sack Claudio Ranieri, the man that led their magical 2015/16 Premier League title success, in February and then make the Champions League quarter-finals as the only English team still alive in Europe’s top cup competition.
In spite of all the tumult of Leicester’s current Premier League history (a fantastic relegation escape in ‘14/15, a historic title triumph in ‘15/16, and a deep Champions League run in ‘16/17), the Foxes are hoping to establish a more consistent run of success in the Premier League. Speaking with fans at the end of the season last year, the sentiment held by many was that if you had told them after the title in 2016 that Leicester would be mid-table in the Premier League and Quarter-Finalists in the Champions League the following season, the fans would be more than happy.
Therefore, Leicester are looking to become a mainstay in the Premier League by producing consistent mid-table or higher finishes and by avoiding relegation scares. With this goal in mind, we look at what changes the Foxes have made going into the next season and what they can expect for the upcoming year.
Sam Hughes, CB (from Chester, undisclosed, U23 Squad)
Vicente Iborra, CDM (from Sevilla, £12.5 million)
Kelechi Iheanacho, ST (from Manchester City, £25 million)
Eldin Jakupovic, GK (from Hull City, undisclosed)
Harry Maguire, CB (from Hull City, £17 million)
Michael Cain, CM (Released)
David Domej, CB (Released)
Brandon Fox, LM (Released)
Bartosz Kapustka, CAM (loaned to Freiburg)
Cédric Kipré, CB (to Motherwell, free)
Matthew Miles, (Released)
Kairo Mitchell, CF (Released)
Marcin Wasilewski, CB (Released)
Ron-Robert Zieler, GK (to Stuttgart, undisclose
Leicester City have done well to continue to build on the squad that brought them success in the past two years and in the Champions League last season. Once again, they have limited the departure of major players, with the biggest name to depart being back-up goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler. Though Zieler is a strong keeper in his own right, his departure does not hurt the team as Kasper Schmeichel has more than held his own as the main man between the sticks for the Foxes.
In addition to keeping key players like Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez and others, Leicester have added more depth, and more talent to build their squad. Leicester’s starters were worked heavily last year, so additions of hungry, high-energy and Premier League experienced young players like Kelechi Iheanacho and Harry Maguire should help ease the workload without an enormous drop-off in quality.
Maguire shows good ability in the air and reads the game well from the back. It will be interesting to see how Iheanacho is utilized this season, whether as a late-game substitute, a rotational striker, or as a striker pairing with star man Jamie Vardy. Vicente Iborra is a shrewd buy to help shore up the midfield that still carries an N’Golo Kanté shaped hole. Iborra’s size and physicality should make him a good fit for the Premier League. Jakupovic adds Premier League experience to the back-up goalkeeper spot after the departure of Ron-Robert Zieler.
One of the most understated accomplishments of Leicester City’s off-season is their continued success in retaining their star players like Mahrez, Vardy and Schmeichel. However, Mahrez has stated his intent of leaving the club, following two rejected bids from Italian Serie A side AS Roma. For now, the core of the 2015/16 title-winning team remains intact going into yet another season. Hopefully this will allow the Foxes to get off to a good start this season.
A Clean Slate
Leicester enter the upcoming season with a clean slate. With no Champions League and no title defence, the Leicester City that we see this season will be the best indication of what the next few years hold in store for the team. Can they have a successful domestic-focused campaign and establish themselves as a stalwart mid-table Premier League team? Or will they once again show inconsistency that keeps them fluttering around the relegation zone for much of the season? This season will be the best answer to these long-term questions.
What should help domestic league success is the lack of Champions League matches to have to worry about. Leicester should be able to focus primarily on league success. Therefore, I expect that the team will finish higher up the table than last year.
The Foxes have addressed several needs for this upcoming season, particularly in the midfield with the signing of Vicente Iborra. They have also shown a willingness to spend and bring in promising young talent like Kelechi Iheanacho and Harry Maguire. Many of these signings have gone under the radar with the madness that big European clubs and English clubs have cast over this summer transfer window.
A Telling Stretch of Games
As with any season, the tone is set at the beginning of the campaign. In Leicester’s first 6 Premier League matches, they face 4 teams in the top 6 of last year’s table, starting with their opening game away at Arsenal. The Foxes face Brighton at home and then Manchester United away in their third game. They then face defending champions Chelsea at King Power Stadium and then other Premier League newcomers Huddersfield away before wrapping up their sixth match against Liverpool at Home.
This stretch will highlight several keys to Leicester’s season. The first being how the team will match up against the top teams in the league. Leicester City struggled against top competition last season, but did pull out one or two impressive results such as their 4-2 victory over Manchester City in December 2016. If Leicester can get an occasional result against a top side, they are in good shape this season. Leicester City conceded a lot of goals to top teams last season, so if their defence shows signs of improvement against these top sides, it is a good sign.
Another key to the new campaign will be the team’s ability to get results against clearly weaker competition. With two Premier League newcomers matching up against the Foxes in the first month of competition, Leicester’s ability to lock up points against this type of opponent will be a clear indication of their prospects this season. Last season, Leicester secured only 8 out of a possible 18 points against the bottom 3 teams, with losses to Sunderland and Hull included in those results. They will have to improve on that this season if they hope to challenge for a spot in the top half of the ta
I predict Leicester to finish in the top half of the table, probably ending up in about 8th or 9th position. They have done well enough this pre-season to not have regressed and their ability to focus exclusively on the Premier League this year (as they were able in 2015/16’s title season) will allow them to be more consistent and productive in the league campaign.