After a rollercoaster of an unpredictable season, it is fair to say things will slowly die down for Leicester City. That is not to say they will not win another league title or have a respectable Champions League run, but with teams becoming more aware of Leicester’s tactics and style, it will be a tough year. While Claudio Raineri has admitted there is a better chance of E.T landing than Leicester winning another title, the Italian has signed new faces to freshen up a strong unit of players and enjoyed high profile friendlies against Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona. The optimism and never-ending party celebrating Leicester’s title win never really seem to end until the final whistle at the KCOM Stadium. It was a case of utter disbelief as the once overachieving champions fell to a 2-1 defeat against Hull City: reality was suddenly sinking in for Leicester.
A Grim Reality Check For Leicester
From the outset, Hull opted to sit back in the vague hope of pinching an unlikely result. No wonder caretaker manager Mike Phelan deployed this tactic given the gloom surrounding Hull’s preseason with their lack of transfer activity (triggering Steve Bruce‘s departure), numerous injures and ownership chaos. The presence of Tom Huddlestone as part of a makeshift defence summed up the dire straights of Hull’s situation, inviting the champions to break down Hull’s fragile defence and continue as if last season never ended.
But the unlikely champions struggled to do so. Riyad Mahrez never seemed to influence the game, Jamie Vardy failed to convert any of his chances, N’Golo Kante‘s presence as a calm intercepting leader in midfield was missed and Kasper Schmeichel looked average behind a chaotic backline. Perhaps it was the distractions of other clubs eyeing up their players, a lack of focus or preparation for the new season but suddenly fairytale protagonists Leicester seemed more like Leicester in reality, the Leicester that does not have much-fancied cultured players but rather low-key average players who once played out of their skin for a season.
Their performance against Hull seemed like an early indicator of this season. A once-formidable unit with stunning counter-attacking play and lethal finishing will now be found out, broken down and swept aside. With teams treating Leicester City as a big team alike a Manchester City or Chelsea, they will naturally sit back and defend for 90 minutes.
Herein lies the problem for Leicester this season – their main source of goals last season came from inviting their opponent to attack, wait for the right moment to intercept before countering with pace and Vardy or Shinji Okazaki finishing off the move with a goal. Leicester are not a team who can break a team down with a finely threaded ball like Arsenal or Manchester City so they will have to adapt. Unfortunately, with their set-up and lack of creative players, they will likely struggle to break down teams.
With early signs showing Leicester may endure a frustrating season, Raineri needs to immediately address his squad’s problems. His first job would be filling the void left by Kante with another similar player; Andy King‘s display against Hull suggests he lacks the energy required for the role but new signing Nampalys Mendy and Daniel Armartey could be better candidates. Ahmed Musa was a prominent threat against Hull with his pace, passing and attacking threat, showing how important he regularly features for Leicester as an alternative threat and a provider for Vardy. With the Foxes’ lacklustre defending and organisation against Hull, Raineri needs to ensure he can retain the steel partnership of Robert Huth and Wes Morgan to avoid a post title-winning slump. If Leicester can remind themselves what made themselves untouchable last season, they will not falter as much as many fear.
Of course, not all games will be alike their loss against Hull but with the added pressure of winning the title, Raineri’s Leicester will inevitably struggle. If Leicester adapt to different styles of play, thrive as a feared side and regain their form, they can have a respectable season both domestically and in Europe. Regardless if form dies down, Foxes fans might be in for another intriguing season.