2016/17 Leicester City Season Preview
Last year’s Position: 1st
Current Manager: Claudio Ranieri
When in June 2015, Leicester City sent home and fired three players from a pre-season tour of Thailand things did not seem well. One of the players was Nigel Pearson’s son – the then manager, and this contributed in some way to his own departure from the club. After an astonishing turnaround in form at the end of the 2014/15 season saw Leicester avoid relegation, this was an unwelcome way to prepare for the 2015/16 season.
The rest as they say is history.
Positives from Last Season
The appointment of Claudio Ranieri as manager had raised a few eyebrows. Some called it “uninspiring” as he had been sacked by Greece following a defeat to the Faroe Islands. It actually turned out to be a masterstroke, as Ranieri built a team that was greater than the sum of its parts. Defensive efficiency and blistering counter attacking intent left opposing teams wondering what hit them.
In addition to this was the emergence of four players in key positions for Leicester. Jamie Vardy has been with Leicester since 2012. Having scored only 5 goals in 36 appearances in 2014/15, under Ranieri he looked rejuvenated and scored 24 goals in 38 games. He even broke the record for scoring in consecutive Premier League games.
N’Golo Kante joined Leicester in the summer of 2015 from Caen for a fee of less than £6m and he was instrumental in controlling every aspect of Leicester’s play. He was a defensive thorn in the side of opponents and was at the heart of the team’s possession play. Alongside him Danny Drinkwater has added balance and solidity to the midfield and he is now on the fringes of the national team.
Finally, Riyad Mahrez like Vardy, also came to life under Ranieri. The Algerian international who joined Leicester in 2013 managed just four goals in 32 appearances in 2014/15. He scored 18 in 39 appearances last season and moreover had a hand in assisting 11 further goals for his team.
Weaknesses from Last Season
A team that rises from the depths of the Premier League at the end of the season before to win it outright the following season cannot be said to have many weaknesses. Given that only Arsenal managed to beat them home and away then perhaps Arsene Wenger will be best place to let people know what Leicester’s weaknesses are.
If there had to be one weakness it may lie in squad depth. Leicester navigated the season largely injury free. It is unlikely that any team will always be so lucky with injury. In addition Leicester will be faced with European football next season. The increased number of games may put a strain on their resources.
Two key losses occurred at Leicester this offseason. First they lost their linchpin N’Golo Kante to Chelsea for £32 million giving Leicester a tidy profit after just one season of £26 million. Secondly they lost Steve Walsh to Everton. Walsh is a former player for The Foxes who was working as Chief Scout for the club. He was largely credited with having identified the talents of players like Mahrez, Kante and Vardy and bringing them to the club. He may prove a significant loss to the club.
A positive for Leicester was that Vardy signed a new contract with them despite interest from Arsenal. Mahrez appears to be the next reported target of the London team however Leicester are at this point refusing to sell.
They have so far added four new signings. Nampalys Mendy from Nice for £13.8m who is seen as direct replacement for the departing Kante. They have also added additional firepower with the signing of Ahmed Musa from CSKA Moscow for £16.5 million. Polish international player Bartosz Kapustka has been acquired from Cracovia Krakow for £7.6 million as has a goalkeeper, Ron-Robert Zieler from Hamburg in Germany for £3 million.
Players to Watch
Ahmed Musa – Despite being only 23 years of age, Musa is a Nigerian international and has represented his country 58 times already, scoring 11 goals. He has already scored twice for Leicester in their 4-2 friendly defeat against Barcelona. It will be interesting to see if he partners or eventually surpasses Vardy in attack for Leicester. The likelihood is though that Ranieri will be rotating his strikers to best effect.
Riyad Mahrez – Assuming that Mahrez is indeed not for sale and remains at Leicester; he will be looking to build on the impact he made last season. Voted as PFA Player’s Player of the Year for 2015-16 he will now be a known quantity for opponents who will be looking to challenge his skill and creativity. Should Mahrez meet that challenge then he will once again be an important component of this Leicester team.
Leicester’s first big test comes on Saturday August 20th when they welcome Arsenal to The King Power Stadium. In September they have two difficult away fixtures away at Liverpool on the 10th and at Manchester United on the 24th. Whilst in October they are away to both Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur. It will be a tough start for The Foxes. The plus side is that they will have the reverse home fixtures in the latter part of the season.
Leicester will be looking to prove that 2015/16 was not the flash in the pan that most considered it to be. With wealthy owners and new signings there is no reason to suspect that they cannot build on what they achieved last season. The nucleus of the team is still there for now. Ranieri will be as wily as ever in his management of his squad.
Champions League football will be a welcome addition to the club’s footballing calendar but it will also be a new challenge as they have not had to account for this type of schedule before.
.Whilst most Leicester fans can no doubt feel content about what happened last season without much care for what happens next, Ranieri will be looking at things very differently. Of course just because Leicester won the title last season doesn’t mean they can’t win it again. One should never say never. However, if Leicester can maintain their top four status in 2016/17 as well as qualify from the group stages of the Champions league; that will no doubt be deemed another successful season.