Nickname: The Foxes
Home Ground: King Power Stadium
- 1 English Premier League Title
- 3 League Cup Titles
Manager: Claude Puel
Leicester City have finished 9th in the English Premier League last season and once again confirmed that they are one of the best-run and well-established clubs outside of the Big 6 of English soccer. As the new English Premier League season nears, they will once again be tested.
With Riyad Mahrez leaving the King Power Stadium, the Foxes need to fill a huge void left behind and create team chemistry with a variety of new additions. After all, this has always been the trademark of this club and key to their success.
I have prepared an overview of main Leicester City storylines and a short preview for the upcoming English Premier League season.
Previous Season Summary
Leicester City have finished the last season of English Premier League in the 9th place even though they had a challenging start to the season. The memories of the Cinderella season of 2015/16 are still fresh in the minds of many fans across the continent, so the expectations for the Foxes might be a bit skewed.
In reality, Leicester City have managed to establish themselves among the most stable and well run English Premier League clubs but are still significantly at a disadvantage in comparison to the Big 6 clubs of English soccer. The lack of finances, infrastructure, tradition and a global fan base is something that is holding Leicester City back.
Nevertheless, when it comes to scouting, developing players and fielding competitive teams, the Foxes are one of the best to do it. The previous season in the English Premier League is just a further proof of that.
The season definitely did not start well for Leicester City. The Foxes managed to win only 1 out of their first 8 games and were sitting low in the relegation zone, holding 18th place in the English Premier League. Thankfully, this is the lowest that Leicester City would get that season. The Foxes fired their manager Craig Shakespeare and hired Claude Puel as his replacement.
Leicester City finally came alive and won 6 out of their last 9 games, with 2 draws and a single loss to the eventual champions Manchester City. The Foxes’ offense came alive during that period scoring 14 goals in those 6 wins in the English Premier League.
With the club now safely placed 8th in the Premier League, Leicester City entered a period of stability where they played well enough to secure their league position but not well enough for a step-up and challenge for a spot in European club competitions.
In January, Leicester City put together a mini-run of 3 undefeated games, with 2 wins, which was good enough to propel them to the 7th place in the English Premier League. 7th place holds the qualification to the UEFA Europa League.
I could point out several reasons why Leicester City failed to place higher but what really catches the eye is the Foxes defense. Leicester City have allowed 60 goals in 38 games in the English Premier League. To make the matters even transparent, the Foxes’ away defense has been one of the major contributing factors.
Still, the Foxes’ fans have a lot to be positive about. 8th place, after such a poor start, is an excellent finish. A new season is a great chance to start over.
Key Additions and Departures
Leicester City were one of the most active teams in the transfer market during the offseason. With several Foxes’ players being hot commodities in the transfer market, Leicester City have gone out on a mission to bolster their roster and prepare themselves for some of the expected departures.
The departure of Riyad Mahrez has been the ongoing saga for several offseasons at Leicester City. Mahrez joined the Premier League Champions Manchester City in a blockbuster GBP 68 million deal. So far, he is the only key player from the Foxes last year’s roster to leave the club.
The speculation regarding the future of three more Leicester City players has also run rampant. Kasper Schmeichel had a fantastic World Cup in Russia and since then he has been one of the most sought goalkeepers in Europe. Same can be said about the English center back Harry Maguire, who was an absolute monster for England at the World Cup.
Leicester City are fairly confident that they will be able to keep both players at the King Power Stadium. They consider them invaluable to their team and are not willing to sell. That can not be said about the striker Islam Slimani, who seems to have worn out his welcome and should find a new home soon.
In terms of additions, Leicester City wasted no time to put the money from Mahrez transfer to Manchester City to good use. They have made 3 major and 2 minor additions to their squad.
Leicester City have snatched away James Maddison from Norwich City for a GBP 25 million fee. The attacking midfielder should be one of the keys to replacing the production of Riyad Mahrez.
The second major addition was the signing of Ricardo Pereira from Porto for a GBP 22.5 million fee. Pereira is one of the most talented young fullbacks in the game, winning the Best Ligue 1 Fullback Award while playing for Nice.
In addition to these two signing, Leicester City had to find an insurance in case of Kasper Schmeichel leaving the club. They have signed Danny Ward from Liverpool for a GBP 12.5 million fee. Ward is a young goalkeeper with tremendous potential. Even if Schmeichel remains at Leicester City this season, he might be a goner the next, making this move an excellent investment for the future.
The two minor additions by the Foxes were the signing of defender Jonny Evans from West Bromwich Albion for a GBP 3.5 million fee and forward Ryan Loft on a free transfer from Tottenham Hotspurs. The goal of both transfers is to provide depth for a long and tiring English Premier League season.
Finally, not to be forgotten, Leicester City are stronger for the Nigerian forward Ahmed Musa, whose loan contract at CSKA Moscow has expired and he has rejoined the club. Musa had a fantastic World Cup campaign in Russia and he is expected to fight for minutes at the King Power Stadium.
Style of Play
Claude Puel has made a name for himself by coaching some of the best Lyon and Nice teams in modern French soccer. Puel’s teams were always regarded as attractive to watch and playing with tempo and creativity.
Puel has joined Leicester City in October, in the middle of the English Premier League season after Craig Shakespeare was fired due to an abysmal start. Even though he didn’t have any say in the roster selection, he immediately infused the team with energy and flair and they quickly found form.
The Foxes at moments resembled the team that won the English Premier League just a few years ago under Claudio Ranieri. Puel is a long-time proponent of a system that has recently become the staple of sides like Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp and Manchester City under Pep Guardiola.
Under Puel, Leicester City mainly lineup in either the 4-2-3-1 or the 4-3-3 formation, depending on the type of the opponent they were facing. The two formations are quite complimentary and can easily be alternated even several times during a single game.
At Leicester City, Puel found a roster which was really adept at playing with tempo and getting quickly forward. With Jamie Vardy as a lone central forward/striker, Puel has surrounded him with players that play with pace and flair and are able to win 1-on-1 duels against defenders. With Mahrez operating on the right wing and Albrighton on the left, while Demarai Gray works right behind him, Vardy has a lot of space to win duels and apply his clinical finishing.
Puel enjoys playing wide and overlapping the flanks when going forward. Wingers like Mahrez and Albrighton are encouraged to cut inside and attack the goal, leaving the flanks open for fullbacks to push into open space. This creates a lot of difficulties for the opposing defense who have to deal with Leicester City overloading one side or the other.
Of course, at the same time, this leaves the Foxes vulnerable to counter-attacks.
Puel employs a form of gegenpressing that can be seen at Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp. Leicester City play with a high defensive line and like to press with multiple players as soon as possession is lost, in an effort to create quick counter-attacking opportunities.
It remains to be seen how Puel will adjust to life without Riyad Mahrez, who was invaluable last season for the Foxes. Yet, there is a lot of optimism about Leicester City’s current roster and Puel’s ability to extract the most out of it.
2018/19 Season Expectations and Predictions
Leicester City are entering 2018/19 English Premier League season with high expectations. The fans and the board would love the club to finish inside Top 7 and secure a spot in European club competition next season. Also, if Leicester City are able to demonstrate a style of play that has narrowed the gap between them and the Big 6 clubs, that would be an added bonus.
One thing is sure, Leicester City will play attractive soccer under Claude Puel. The Frenchman has built a reputation for playing fast and attractive soccer, utilizing the pace and flair of their offensive players. The Foxes have a talented roster, which should provide enough firepower to Puel to utilize in his schemes.
I personally believe that the main concern for Leicester City will be the state of their defense. Last season, The Foxes allowed 60 goals in 36 games in the English Premier League, good enough for the 5th worst defense in the league. Leicester City have to improve in this area if they are to become more consistent.
It would go a long way if they could take care of the two main issues that have plagued their defense, defending set pieces and counter-attacks. Leicester City have done a lot by signing right back Ricardo Pereira, which should help with the transition defense. Pereira’s range and physicality should provide a huge boost to the club.
Solving the issue of defending set pieces is something different altogether. It takes time, practice and communication to implement. Something that Puel didn’t have last year, as he joined the squad in the middle of the season. I believe this will be one of the priorities at King Power Stadium this offseason. After all, the Foxes have Harry Maguire and Wes Morgan who are both dominant in the air and should be at the center of that defense.
That would still leave Leicester City fighting for a 7th spot and qualification for UEFA Europa League. I believe that Everton have a bit stronger squad and have done better during the offseason, so I pick the Foxes to finish behind them at 8th place.