The unexpected is now expected in the Premier League and Leicester City are the biggest example following their fairy tale 2015-16 Premier League campaign where they became champions against all odds. They somehow managed to save relegation in 2014-15 and their manager Nigel Pearson was sacked thereafter due to some disciplinary issues. Claudio Ranieri was appointed the new boss following facing a sack from Greece national football team and the Foxes did very little business in the transfer market. They were tipped off to be relegated at the end of the previous campaign; but there lies the beauty of Premier League – As expected: unexpected.
The situation has become more tricky for the defending champions this year. No doubt, 2015-16 was an over-achievement for them and such event doesn’t occur regularly in football. Although they have made a few decent signings in this transfer window, Leicester are not expected to retain the title in the upcoming campaign. They have failed to keep N’Golo Kante (joined Chelsea) who played a pivotal role in their league victory alongside Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy.
Transfers in and out ( So Far):
Nampalys Mendy – Nice, £13m
Ron-Robert Zieler – Hannover 96, £2.6m
Luis Hernandez – Sporting Gijon, free
Raul Uche Rubio – Rayo Vallecano, undisclosed
Ahmed Musa – CSKA Moscow, £16.6m
Bartosz Kapustka – Cracovia, £7.5m
N’Golo Kante – Chelsea, £32m
Andrej Kramaric – Hoffenheim, £7.6m
Joe Dodoo – Rangers, undisclosed
Jonny Maddison – Yeovil, free
Paul Konchesky – released
Mark Schwarzer – released
Jacob Blyth – Motherwell, free
Ryan Watson – Barnet, free
Dean Hammond – Sheffield United, free
Jonny Maddison – released
Harry Panayiotou – released
Callum Elder – Brentford, loan
Strengths: As I mentioned earlier, Leicester have strengthened their squad for the upcoming campaign as they have to participate in the prestigious UEFA Champions League competition. Earlier, Ranieri used to play almost the same squad for all of their league matches and the players gelled perfectly as well. They have signed Nigerian forward Ahmed Musa for a club record £16.6 mil fee who scored a brace last night in their 4-2 defeat to Barcelona.
Also, they have brought in Nampalys Mendy from Nice who is expected to fill the void left by Kante in the heart of their midfield. Bartosz Kapustka, the exciting Polish winger has joined the Foxes along with goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler from Hannover 96 and defender Luis Hernandez from Sporting Gijon. They are also playing hardball in transfer market as Arsenal and Liverpool have failed to land Jamie Vardy and Ben Chilwell respectively. Leicester have more options now in every department and with one or two further additions, they will become well equipped to threaten the big guns of Premier League.
Weakness: It will be interesting to follow how they cope up with two games in a week, how Ranieri rotate his squad and deals with the injury concerns. The players they have bought in are exciting and promising, but are they well enough to compete in Champions League? Probably not. They participated in International Champions Cup where they got hammered by two top Champions League sides: 4-0 to PSG and 4-2 to Barcelona.
Moreover, former assistant manager Steve Walsh, the man behind the signings of Vardy, Mahrez and Kante, has left the club and joined as director of football with Everton. Players like Mahrez, Vardy can make difference, but considering the strength of Premier League opponents like Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Liverpool and West Ham, it will be an uphill task for them to repeat the miracle. Though it will be too early to write them off.
Where they can finish
They are not expected to enjoy a long run in Champions League. A group stage exit is quite possible. But a round of 16 qualification will be a huge achievement considering their European history.
In Premier League, its impossible to predict their future. The competition will be tougher, and they will find it difficult to find a spot in top 4. Hopefully, they will finish in top 6 and secure a place in Europa League so that they can gradually build a squad which will be competent enough in top competitions on a regular basis. One thing for sure, they are definitely not going back to relegation battle.
Leicester will face FA Cup champions Manchester United in Community Shield this Sunday. A tournament of little importance might be, but it will give us some early insight how they are going to blossom in the upcoming season and if any more surprises are yet to furnish.