If you were to have offered Leicester City a place in the Europa League at the start of the season then both the club and fans would’ve snapped your hand off.
But when you take into consideration that the Foxes were 14 points clear inside the top four at the start of the year, it is hard not to feel immense disappointment with a fifth-placed finish.
After a superb start to the season, Brendan Rodgers’ side looked destined to claim a Champions League spot. However, Leicester capitulated and only picked up 17 points from their last 17 games, leading to Manchester United and Chelsea leapfrogging them into the top four.
Here are four things that Leicester need if they are to successfully break into the Premier League’s top four:
A stronger mentality
Earlier in the season, the Foxes were rampant. During a run of eight wins in a row, which included the 9-0 thumping of Southampton, they looked unstoppable with their high pressing style of play paying dividends and Jamie Vardy scoring freely. But after a draw against struggling Norwich in December, the momentum was lost and the squad looked a shadow of their former selves for the remainder of the season.
This significant change of performance level after a poor result despite an extremely impressive start to the season is what rose concerns of the team’s mentality. When needing to bounce back and regain some form, Leicester seemed to crumble and failed to step up when it mattered.
A possible reason for this could be the young squad that the Foxes have built over the past year. A lot of key players such as James Maddison, Ben Chilwell, Caglar Soyuncu and Youri Tielemans are below the age of 25 and the average age of the squad is 26 showing that it lacks some important experience that can massively help when needing to grind out a result.
Better results against teams at either end of the table
Another reason that Leicester missed out on a place in the top four was their results against the other sides vying for Champions League football and against the teams hoping to avoid a relegation battle.
The team’s mentality could have tied into this as they failed to perform well against opponents who are fighting for something. This is a key aspect that they need to improve on if they are consistently wanting to challenge for a top four place.
The Foxes only picked up two points against fellow top five teams this season, which is the lowest number out of that group. Both Manchester United and Liverpool picked up 19 points, Manchester City picked up 12 and Chelsea picked up five. This poor tally loosened Leicester’s grip on a top four place with valuable points going to their rivals allowing them to close the gap.
When it comes to games against teams involved in the relegation battle, Rodgers’ side managed to create a very unwanted trend. After the restart of Premier League football, the Foxes returned in poor form with draws against Watford and Brighton which failed to fill fans with confidence heading into the business end of the season.
Leicester then went on to collapse on the South Coast and blew a 1-0 half time lead against now relegated Bournemouth to lose 4-1 in a game that threw hopes of a Champions League place into huge doubt.
Earlier in the season, the Foxes only managed to pick up a single point in their two games against bottom club Norwich. These dropped points against a team that only won five games this league campaign played a huge part in Leicester’s season, as two wins against the Canaries would have been enough to secure a top four spot.
More creativity out wide
A key reason to why so many points were dropped against lower teams was the opponents' play style. Due to the known threat of the Foxes' attack after a scintillating start to the season, opponents began to sit back and defend deep, leaving Leicester short of ideas of how to break them down. This is where quality was needed to create goals and open up space despite their seemingly being none at all.
A master of this art was Riyad Mahrez. Since the Algerian left for Manchester City, the Foxes have failed to bring in another winger that can glide past defenders and create something out of nothing. This season, the lack of a world class wide player played a huge part in preventing Leicester from excelling even further.
Ayoze Perez, who is more comfortable playing centrally, was forced to play out wide and he scored eight goals (with three coming in the 9-0 win over Southampton) and assisted four. Harvey Barnes impressed in his first full season in the Premier League with 14 goal involvements overall but he still isn’t the full package with his end product needing some work. Regular substitute Demarai Gray only managed two goals and three assists and Marc Albrighton also assisted three times but failed to score this season.
When comparing this to top four challengers Manchester United and Chelsea, they seem to get a lot more out of their width.
Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood both excelled this campaign with the former collecting 24 goals involvements and the latter picking up 11. This impressive form combined with Bruno Fernandes’ 15 involvements since January led to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side shooting up the table and beating the Foxes to a Champions League spot.
Chelsea also had a better return from their wide players. Willian scored nine goals and provided seven assists with Christian Pulisic on the other side picking up nine goals and four assists. Mason Mount was also used as a wide player at points and impressed for Frank Lampard’s side with 12 goals involvements this season.
Better squad depth
The depth of Leicester’s squad failed them towards the end of the season and became an important reason as to why they slipped out of the top four. A mixture of key injuries and much-needed rotation due to Project Restart left Rodgers with no choice but to field inexperienced players in new formations.
Season ending injuries to Maddison, Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira left the Foxes without three of their best players and their absence led to poor performances with Leicester forced to call upon inexperienced and bit-part players to try and get them over the line. As well as this, the impressive Soyuncu received a straight red card against Bournemouth which ruled him out of the final three games of the season.
James Justin, who was playing in League One last campaign, was handed the impossible task of replacing last year’s player of the season Ricardo. At left-back, academy prospect Luke Thomas was given his opening few games of first team football after Christian Fuchs also picked up an injury, with the 18-year-old thrown in at the deep end into must-win fixtures, leaving Leicester with a very inexperienced full-back pairing.
The absence of the Foxes’ most creative player Maddison meant that Rodgers had to experiment with new formations. Leicester didn’t have a like-for-like replacement and were forced to play a more narrow system with Kelechi Iheanacho partnering Jamie Vardy up front with Perez slotting in behind.
To allow this to happen they switched to a three-at-the-back formation meaning club captain Wes Morgan and Wolves loanee Ryan Bennett were called upon. With only one start between them before this point, the Foxes were playing in a new system with players who lacked match sharpness during the final and most important fixtures of the season, causing them to drop down into fifth position.
With Europa League football ahead, Leicester will have to rely on their squad depth even more, so Rodgers could be in for a busy summer to help build up a stronger group of players.