Last season was a strange one for Leicester fans. On paper, a ninth-place finish and reaching the quarter-finals in both domestic cups is a success, but many were left with a feeling of an opportunity missed. This Leicester City season preview recaps last season, looks at the manager, key players and what the Foxes can expect in 2018/19.
Leicester City Season Preview
Claude Puel replaced sacked Craig Shakespeare as manager in October and saw significant early improvements. Leicester were chasing Burnley for a Europa League spot but fell away disappointingly with a poor end to the season. This, coupled with a penalty shoot-out defeat to Manchester City and an extra time loss to Chelsea in the Carabao and FA Cups respectively, left the season ending with a sense of what could have been.
This summer’s transfer business has been much more impressive than the debacle of last year. Business has been done early, with last season’s leaky defence improved with additions of Jonny Evans and Portugal full-back Ricardo Pereira. Riyad Mahrez’s departure was planned for, with the signing of James Maddison designed to replace some of his creativity.
The Manager – Claude Puel
Puel’s appointment in October 2017 initially led to good football and results. The Foxes won five of his first eight matches, including a 4-1 win over former side Southampton. However, form faded away, as Leicester ended the season taking just four points from seven games. Puel bore the brunt of fan’s anger for this. He struggled to identify his best side, with a consistent starting eleven never emerging.
Puel favours the 4-2-3-1 setup and used this in the majority of games last season. One of the biggest limitations last season was the lack of attacking intent from the full-backs, particularly Danny Simpson. Teams worked this out and Simpson regularly found himself with space in crossing situations, too often producing a poor delivery. The signing of the attack-minded Pereira should help to resolve this issue. Now that Puel has had two transfer windows, he should be able to establish a more consistent side.
Leicester’s owners have sacked their manager in each of the past two seasons. During the summer, Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers was heavily linked with the job, although nothing materialised from this. Having ended the season on rocky ground, it is no surprise that bookmakers have installed Puel as the favourite to be sacked first. A quick start is a necessity for the Frenchman.
Key Player – James Maddison
England U21’s James Maddison was a wanted man at the end of last season. With fifteen goals and eleven assists for Norwich, he earned a nomination for the Championship Young Player of the Season. Leicester managed to fight off interest from Everton for his signing for an undisclosed fee reported to be £20 million.
Maddison will fill a longstanding void for the Foxes, who have spent the last two seasons struggling to find a true number ten to play behind Jamie Vardy. Maddison has the close control and first touch to operate in small pockets of space and should be able to create opportunities for Vardy.
Whilst not a direct replacement for Mahrez, Maddison will contribute to the replacing of his twelve goals and ten assists from 2017/18. Fousseni Diabate, Marc Albrighton and Demarai Gray will also hope to step up to replace Mahrez. Gray has shown flashes of his ability since joining from Birmingham in January 2016. However, he struggles for consistency and still needs to improve his decision making, often shooting from range with teammates well placed.
Leicester’s other key will be holding on to their star players in the final two weeks of the transfer window. Kasper Schmeichel, Harry Maguire and Wilfred Ndidi have all been linked with moves away from the club. Leicester have been firm in their rejections thus far, but transfer requests could force their hand.
Leicester go into the season with a strong squad who should be expecting another top half finish. Defensively improved, the ability to replace Mahrez’s creativity and prevent other star players departing will be essential to success. Claude Puel needs his side to start the season well, else he will likely find himself out of a job.
Season Prediction: 8th
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