Leicester City once again kick off the new Premier League season as they do battle with José Mourinho’s Manchester United at Old Trafford on Friday evening.
Claude Puel’s Foxes will hope that they have successfully brushed off the cobwebs of a disappointing second-half of 2017/18 and can enjoy a relatively successful campaign this time around.
How did they do last time out?
On paper, ninth in the table and reaching the quarter-finals in both the FA Cup and Carabao Cup does not seem all too disastrous. Nevertheless, most Leicester supporters will argue that Puel was fortunate to keep his job in the East Midlands after a poor second half of last season.
Despite only losing one out of his first eight games, including claiming wins in five of those, after replacing Craig Shakespeare, the Foxes then went on a wretched run of form. The former champions only won five out of their next 21 league games, leading to speculation that the Frenchman could be sacked.
He has managed to hold on to his job though and will surely be hoping to get the supporters back onside within the next few months.
What could we expect from them this season?
Throughout the closing months of last season, it was clear Puel was attempting to introduce a new, possession-based style of play. Leicester’s previous counter-attacking style had previously been blunted by opponents willing to sit back and bide their time.
Therefore, with Puel having far more time to implement his philosophy upon the squad, the East-Midlanders could potentially have a far greater share of the ball.
Also, with the departure of Riyad Mahrez to Manchester City, the Foxes cannot afford to be so reliable on one player so greater time on the ball could yet be useful to unlock a stubborn defence.
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What transfers have been completed?
The Foxes have completed the signing of winger Rachid Ghezzal from AS Monaco for an undisclosed fee. The Algerian international plays primarily out wide on the right, but has been used as a right attacking midfielder in a 4-2-2-2 system. A technical player who can beat his man in order to find space to get a cross in or an effort on goal, his dynamic role could serve Leicester well as they prepare for life without Riyad Mahrez.
James Maddison also joined from Norwich City. A winger who possesses bags of flair and dribbling ability with the end product to match, he may well be a solid replacement for Mahrez as he is also deadly from set-pieces and finishing chances when they come his way.
Ricardo Pereira also completed a move from Portuguese giants FC Porto for an undisclosed fee in a deal that will no doubt excite the Foxes' fanbase. The 24-year-old offers a strong, constant defensive contribution to any backline – his distribution is also a strength and will no doubt serve him well as he bombs forward to whip in a cross in search of an assist. A strong tackler and a player who holds high levels of concentration throughout games will no doubt be a welcome addition into the starting 11.
The backline was given further strengthening through the signing of centre-back Jonny Evans from West Brom. A seasoned international and having played in European competitions with Manchester United, Evans will bring a unique level of experience to the club. With the likes of Evans, Harry Maguire and Wes Morgan, there is the possibility of Puel playing a system with three at the back with the likes of Ricardo Pereira and Ben Chilwell more than capable of fulfilling wing-back roles.
Lastly, goalkeeper Danny Ward was brought in from Liverpool for £12.5m as Ben Hamer departed to Huddersfield Town after his contract with the Foxes expired. Ward will most likely play Hamer's back-up role to Kasper Schmeichel.
Despite the incomings, there has also been a few key departures, none more so than Mahrez who departed for pastures new in a club-record £60million deal. Centre-back Robert Huth also left the King Power Stadium upon the expiry of his contract, as well as goalkeeper Hamer.
However, the Foxes' have done well in recouping the majority of the fee they paid for Ahmed Musa. The Nigerian failed to find form at the King Power Stadium and only two years after joining the club, has left for the Saudi Arabian league, signing a four-year deal with Al-Nassr.
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Who should we keep an eye on?
All eyes will yet again fall upon the Foxes’ main man, Jamie Vardy. The prolific England international finished the 17/18 campaign with 20 goals in 37 league appearances. Riyad Mahrez was the only other player to register double digits in terms of goals so without the influence of the Algerian, Vardy’s goal-scoring exploits will be even more crucial to Leicester’s success this season.
From one seasoned professional in the East Midlands, to a new arrival. James Maddison arrived with large fanfare and an equally as large price tag from Norwich City. However, the reported £22m fee looks a snip so far.
The current England U-21 international was a revelation in the Championship last season with 14 goals and eight assists. He also created 120 chances, the most in the division. With an eye for an early pass beyond the defence, he could potentially be the perfect foil for Jamie Vardy.
Another youngster, Wilfred N’didi, will also be another key player for the Foxes yet again. One of the first names on the teamsheet, the Nigerian was the top tackler in the Premier League last season with 138 – even usurping former Foxes hero, N’Golo Kante. However, one aspect that the former KRC Genk man does need to rectify is his discipline. He was sent off twice last season, the joint most in the league.
Finally, an honourable mention has to be paid to Kelechi Iheanacho. Following a disappointing first season in the royal blue of Leicester, the Nigerian concluded the season in great form with consecutive strikes against Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. He has also been in great form in pre-season with four goals in three starts.
How did the team do during pre-season?
The Foxes had a somewhat mixed pre-season this year. They begun emphatically with a 4-1 victory over League Two outfit Notts County at Meadow Lane after conceding the opening goal.
They then flew over to Austria for a training camp and a clash each against Akhisarspor and Udinese. A 0-0 draw was notched against the former, before a 2-1 defeat to the Italian side.
Another tough test was awaiting them upon their return as they squared up to Spanish giants Valencia at home. Iheanacho opened the scoring before Dani Parejo equalised with a smart finish to secure a 1-1 draw.
Pre-season was rounded off with a comeback 2-1 win over Lille OSC in which Iheanacho scored twice.
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What are Leicester’s strengths going into the new season?
Their most obvious area of strength is in the centre of midfield. N’didi, Vicente Iborra and Adrien Silva complete a talented trio, whilst there is also Hamza Choudhury, Nampalys Mendy, Andy King and Matty James all waiting in the wings should they get their opportunity.
Puel has also managed to assemble an admirable blend of youth and experience. Jamie Vardy, Kasper Schmeichel, Wes Morgan, Jonny Evans and Marc Albrighton, amongst others, all have plenty of experience in the Premier League. However, there is also the unpredictability and fearlessness of Maddison, Demarai Gray, Ben Chilwell and Fousseni Diabate, which could prove to be crucial.
Do they have any weaknesses?
Whilst experience is vitally important in the top-flight of English football, there could well be an argument for too much being detrimental. Specifically, there is not all too much youth in the centre-back position.
Morgan, Evans and Yohan Benalouane are all on the wrong side of 30 and will not be getting any younger. Harry Maguire still has many years left to go at the top being only 25 years of age, but he is unlikely to be ready for the opening game against Manchester United due to his commitments with England at the World Cup. It could well be useful to sign a younger centre-half for support.
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What are their opening fixtures like?
The Foxes have a mixed start to their fifth consecutive season in the Premier League. They first do battle with Manchester United, before a tough assignment against newly-promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers in their first home game.
Puel then travels to his former club Southampton for what will surely be an intriguing tie. Liverpool are then their next opponents at Anfield in yet another testing fixture. The Foxes’ opening six fixtures are then rounded off with an away clash with Bournemouth and then a home game with Huddersfield Town.
Where will they finish this season?
It goes without saying that Leicester have spent some money this season. They have had some more time to implement their new style of play so the profits of that could be evident.
Nevertheless, it is crucial that they get off to a good start unless Puel could be under severe pressure. The loss of Mahrez could also really affect the former Premier League winners. Having said that, they do still have plenty of quality and should have enough for a top-ten finish. 9th.