Leicester City’s start to the season has left them in a promising position heading towards Christmas. There is a sense of frustration at a lack of ability to pick up wins at home against the likes of West Ham, Everton and Burnley. Despite this, the Foxes find themselves in tenth, only three points from sixth. Among disappointing displays have been better performances, particularly in close defeats against Arsenal and Manchester United.
There is no reason to suggest Claude Puel’s side can’t kick on after the international break and push for European football. An injection of fresh blood in January be the catalyst for a strong second half of the season.
Leicester City’s January Transfer Needs
Fox in the Box
No Premier League side has crossed the ball more times than Leicester this season. However, only thirteen goals have been scored inside the box, from 275 crosses. This is not for want of good delivery; Ben Chilwell, in particular, provides high-quality balls in on a consistent basis.
Much of Leicester’s struggles have been the lack of a focal point to lead the attack. Jamie Vardy has not hit the same high standards he usually does, scoring only three times this season. Claude Puel’s system is largely responsible for this. Under Puel, there is a strong emphasis on making the pitch wide and delivering crosses. Unfortunately, Leicester lack a physical striker who can compete for balls coming in. Alongside Vardy, Leicester’s attacking options are Kelechi Iheanacho and Shinji Okazaki. Like Vardy, neither are aerial threats who thrive on balls into the box.
This makes the decision to allow both Leonardo Ulloa and Islam Slimani to leave the club over the summer a strange one. There is a gaping hole in the squad crying out for a physical, aerially dominant striker.
One such player could be Emiliano Sala. The Nantes striker is enjoying the season of his life, already scoring eleven Ligue 1 goals. A lanky, skilful player, Sala has been at Nantes since 2015. Despite playing in poor sides, he managed twelve Ligue 1 goals in each of the last two seasons. New manager Vahid Halilhodzic has re-energised the 28-year-old. With limited pace or creativity, Sala would offer a significant contrast to the current options. His fine early season form has seen him linked with a move to Everton and West Ham. Having spent his entire professional career in France, whether Sala would be open to a move is unknown. However, his contrasting style could be what Leicester need to continue their revolution under Claude Puel.
Leicester have unsurprisingly struggled to fill the void left by Riyad Mahrez. Summer signing Rachid Ghezzal has shown glimpses of potential, albeit on an infrequent basis. Marc Albrighton remains a consistent performer and has a superb delivery, particularly from set pieces. Meanwhile, Demarai Gray, approaching the three year anniversary of his signing, continues to frustrate. Gray has shown his high potential on numerous occasions, but struggles for consistency and continues to make poor decisions in the final third.
The result of this has been experimentation from Claude Puel. This season, Puel has often started right-back Ricardo Pereira and attacking midfielder James Maddison out wide. Maddison has been notably less impressive when playing here.
In the last few days, Leicester have been linked with Celta Vigo’s Brais Mendez. The winger came off the bench to score the winner for Spain at the weekend on his international debut. Most comfortable on the left wing, the 21-year-old has burst onto the scene this season. With a £22 million release clause in his contract, Mendez would be an affordable buy. Given Puel’s success working with Ben Chilwell, another young talent could be attractive to a club trying to put together a youthful squad.
An alternative option could be Southampton’s Nathan Redmond. Despite failing to register an assist yet this season, Redmond is playing excellent football. Still only 24, Redmond’s pace and direct approach could fit in well with Leicester’s combination of wingers. Southampton, struggling towards the bottom of the table, have shown in recent years a willingness to sell players who want to leave. This could be particularly true if Mark Hughes loses his job as manager and his replacement be keen to overhaul the squad.
Claude Puel demands energy and high-quality delivery from his full-backs. For these reasons, Danny Simpson has been phased out of the team. Ricardo Pereira was supposed to be the answer at the position, joining from Porto in May. However, for all of his attacking skills, Pereira has been exposed defensively frequently this season. Most notably, Ryan Fraser terrorised in him during the defeat against Bournemouth. This had seen him move to midfield, with Daniel Amartey stepping in at right-back. However, following Amartey’s horror injury against West Ham, the role now needs filling again. So far, Pereira has looked more comfortable, albeit against Cardiff and Burnley.
Should reinforcements be sought, one option could be Nathaniel Clyne. Due to injuries and the emergence of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Clyne has made only three league appearances in the last two seasons. Liverpool are expected to let Clyne leave in January. The main questions regarding his signing would be his injury status and lack of attacking ability. Like Simpson, Clyne is a solid defender but offers little offensively.
A different move could be for Luton’s highly-rated James Justin. The 20-year-old has already made 62 league appearances for his home town side and has represented the England U20’s. Over the summer, Justin drew interest from Leeds and Nottingham Forest. Whilst any move would be unlikely to see Justin move straight into the first-team squad, Leicester have a history of scouring the lower leagues for talent. With Justin impressing in League One and still developing, a move would be low risk and could be high reward.