Born in the south east of Ireland, Simon put his life-long love of football to good use when he started a successful independent blog in 2010. That opened up an alternative route to a career in journalism, and having had work published across a number of sites and publications, Simon joined the staff at Spotlight Sports Group in 2018.
2017/18 was a something of a metamorphic season for Leicester City, with changes in management leading to a shift in dynamics on the pitch.
The Foxes started their campaign with Craig Shakespeare in the hot-seat, but the club’s former assistant manager was removed from office after Leicester won just 1 of their first 8 Premier League fixtures of the season.
Former Southampton manager Claude Puel was drafted in to replace Shakespeare and the softly-spoken Frenchman made an instant, positive impact. In a complete reversal of their early-season fortunes, Leicester lost just once in 8 games between October and December.
With Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez working in tandem, the Foxes maintained an even keel throughout the 2018/19 Premier League season, hovering in the division’s neutral zone, while periodically threatening to mount a challenge for a Europa League spot.
That challenge dissolved completely in the final throes of the season however with the Foxes taking just 3 points from their final 7 matches.
Leicester made it to the quarter final of both domestic cup competitions, though those runs did nothing to strip back the feelings of discontent beginning to build in the stands and in the dressing room.
Claude Puel’s attempts to mutate Leicester from a counter attacking side into a more of a possession-based team didn’t sit well with fans of the flying, fast transitioning Foxes.
The depreciation in the quality of Leicester’s overall play as the season progressed did little to help Puel’s popularity either.
Nevertheless, a 9th placed finish was a decent representation of where Leicester City sit in the Premier League’s pecking order.
The most pressing concern for Leicester ahead of the new season is filling the enormous void left in the side by the departing Riyad Mahrez. How will the Foxes fare without their talismanic winger?
Position last season: 9th
Top scorer: Jamie Vardy – 20 goals.
Ricardo Pereira – Porto (£19.8m)
Jonny Evans – West Brom (£3.6m)
James Maddison – Norwich (£22.5m)
Danny Ward – Liverpool (£12.6m)
Robert Huth (Released)
Ben Hamer – Huddersfield (Free)
Elliott Moore – OH Leuven (On Loan)
Connor Wood – Bradford (Undisclosed)
Riyad Mahrez – Man City (£61.02m)
Harvey Barnes – West Brom (On Loan)
Daniel Iverson – Oldham (On Loan)
Player to Watch
Right back had been a problem area for Leicester City last season with their title winning stalwart Danny Simpson struggling to maintain his performances levels during an underwhelming campaign for the 31-year old.
Ricardo Pereira should prove an upgrade on Simpson in just about every department. Every inch the modern fullback, Pereira arrives at the King Power Stadium as a full Portuguese international. Pereira has a well-rounded defensive skill-set and the 25-year can explode forward effectively from deep positions.
The Season Ahead
Having angled for a move for a little over a year, Riyad Mahrez finally got the transfer he was pushing for this summer. Leicester received approximately £61.02m from Premier League champions Manchester City, though the substantial fee will do little to compensate for the loss of the player in footballing terms.
Alongside Jamie Vardy, Mahrez added a sprinkle of stardust to the Leicester team, and it can’t be overstated just how much the Foxes will miss the Algerian’s magical jinking runs down the right-hand side.
Mahrez was Leicester’s second highest goalscorer last season with 12 goals and he was the club’s highest assist maker, laying on 10 goals for his teammates. His relationship with Jamie Vardy was the driving force behind the Foxes’ fairy-tale Premier League success two years ago.
As things stand, Leicester haven’t signed a direct replacement for Mahrez, though they still have time to do so. Demarai Gray could conceivably move across to fill the spot on the right vacated by Mahrez, but it’s unrealistic to expect him to have anywhere near the same impact.
High hopes for Maddison
Replacing Mahrez with a like-for-like player feels like an impossible task for Leicester, but shifting the shape of the team to heighten attacking threats from elsewhere should be more achievable.
Leicester City’s biggest signing of the summer could help oil the gears in that regard. 21-year old James Maddison enjoyed a breakout season for Norwich City in the Championship last season, scoring 14 times and racking up 7 assists playing as a number 10 for the Canaries.
Traditionally, most of Leicester City’s creative threat has come from wide positions, but there is hope at the King Power Stadium that Maddison’s arrival can rechannel some of the creativity through the centre.
Maddison is far from the finished article but having cost Leicester £22.5m, big things will be expected of the England U21 international straight away. If Maddison can find his rhythm and passing range early, Jamie Vardy should thrive on the service he provides.
From an individual perspective, several members of Leicester City’s rearguard enjoyed fine seasons in 2017/18. Center back Harry Maguire was an ever-present figure for the Foxes in the Premier League and his superb performances in defence won him the club’s Player of the Year award.
Maguire went on to star for England at the 2018 World Cup, further enhancing is ever growing reputation as one of the finest players in the country in his position. Maguire has since been courted by Manchester United, who are rumoured to be ready to pay up to £65m to secure the former Hull defender’s services.
Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel’s displays between the sticks for Leicester saw him linked with moves to Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal this summer, while defensive midfielder Wilfired Ndidi earned praise from all quarters for his expert patrolling of the space in front of the Foxes’ back four.
Yet, for all their individual brilliance, collectively the Leicester City defence was one of the division’s worst last year. Only 4 clubs conceded more goals than the Foxes in 2017/18. Leicester allowed their opponents in score 60 times in all, a total eclipsed by only Stoke, West Ham, Watford and Bournemouth.
It remains to be seen just how well Leicester manage to cope without Riyad Mahrez this season. Without his match-winning dynamism, goals and points could be much harder to come by. A poor start to the season could see the increasingly unpopular Claude Puel sacked. The Foxes shouldn’t fear being sucked into a relegation battle however – there is still enough quality in their squad to ensure they remain in mid-table limbo for at least another year. A finish between 8th and 12th looks likely.
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