In the 2015-16 season, something astonishing happened. Leicester City won the Premier League. The club had never been in a better place, receiving global fame and lots of prize money for what they had achieved. Nearly three years on, things at the club have changed drastically. On 27 October 2018, club owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha’s helicopter crashed outside the King Power Stadium, killing Srivaddhanaprabha and the four other people on board. The footballing world rallied around City, who mourned the loss of the victims, including Vichai, who made their dreams of becoming Premier League champions, possible and in the end, a reality.
On the pitch, the Foxes remarkably sacked the man who led them to the title, Claudio Ranieri, in February 2017, with his assistant, Craig Shakespeare, taking over and leading the team to a 12th placed finish. He however, only lasted until October of the same year, before being replaced by Claude Puel. Leicester finished 9th last term under Puel, but after a run of four successive home defeats, earlier this season, he too was sacked. Brendan Rodgers, a man whose Celtic side won every single competition that they competed in during his tenure, was named as his successor. Rodgers, also, nearly won the Premier League with Liverpool back in 2013-14, so just how far can he take Leicester?
In Brendan’s first match in charge, his men lost narrowly, 2-1, away to Watford. Even though they lost, City looked an improved outfit and would have felt like they should have got something out of the game after looking the more likely when the match was tied at 1-1. Since then, Rodgers has guided his charges to two impressive victories; firstly beating Fulham 3-1 at home, then getting the better of Burnley at Turf Moor, winning the match 2-1, despite playing almost all of it with ten men, following Harry Maguire’s early dismissal. However, the club are tenth in the league table, on 41 points, a full 16 behind Chelsea, in sixth and are out of both domestic cup competitions. Therefore, it will likely be too early to judge Leicester under Rodgers, come the end of the season in May. But, in the next campaign, if the Northern Irishman is backed financially by the board in the summer and the supporters can regularly reproduce a similar sort of electric atmosphere to the one they had in every home game at the King Power, back in 15-16, the Foxes could well be a dark horse when it comes to the fight for European football.
In the last two matches, the former Swansea City manager, has had his team line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation; with Kasper Schmeichel in between the sticks, Ricardo Pereira, Jonny Evans, Harry Maguire and Ben Chilwell in defence, Youri Tielemans and Wilfred Ndidi in midfield and Demarai Gray, James Maddison and Harvey Barnes as the attacking three behind Jamie Vardy, upfront. That team, on paper, is very promising, with a nice mix of experience and youthfulness. Their overall squad is good too, I just think that if Leicester want to take that next step, they will have to strengthen. Schmeichel, 32, has made a couple of mistakes this season, so perhaps the signing of a younger goalkeeper who has the potential to start, would push the Dane and help him to be more consistent. With good coaching, the back four could be fantastic, especially Ricardo, but, I feel that given, captain, Wes Morgan, 35, doesn’t start anymore and surely, sadly, won’t be at City too much longer, a younger back-up centre-back could be brought in to challenge Evans and Maguire and do a solid job if needed to be called upon. In midfield, Tielemans, is on loan from Monaco until the end of the season and has been outstanding for the club so far. If he doesn’t sign for the club, permanently, in the summer, he will have to be replaced with a player of real quality. If the Belgian international does commit to Leicester, Rodgers should build the team around him and make sure as best he can, that him and N’didi build a good partnership in the middle of the park together. The wingers, Gray and Barnes both have undoubted potential and it’s great that they’re getting plenty of game time. Although, I think that the loss of influential forward, Riyad Mahrez to Manchester City last summer was a big one. Thus, I feel that the signing of a marquee wide-man with Premier League experience would be a smart one as it would give the attack an extra dimension and make it more potent.
It is widely thought that one of the fundamental reasons as to why Puel was relieved of his duties was because of Leicester’s disappointing results in the cup competitions. In his first season, his men lost to Chelsea in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and Man City in the quarters of the EFL Cup, while, in his second, they shockingly, lost to League Two outfit Newport County, in the third round of the FA Cup and Man City, again, at the same stage as the prior season. The Chelsea defeat wasn’t too bad but the Newport loss was embarrassing. The Foxes went there with a second string side and were deservedly knocked out. Meanwhile, the two matches against Man City were almost carbon copies of one another. Both finished 1-1 after extra-time, only for the Citizens to win each on penalties, both were played at the King Power and for some reason, in both, even though Leicester weren’t fighting for anything in the league in either season, Puel didn’t play his strongest team. That final point probably impacted on both results and possibly cost the former Lyon manager his job. Brendan Rodgers will almost certainly not make the same mistake and I’d be surprised if the club’s hierarchy didn’t make it clear to him that he should target silverware in one of, if not both of the cups. I’m sure Rodgers will be aiming to do this as well as trying to secure a place in Europe and there’s no reason why his team can’t achieve this, providing they add some more quality to their squad. As the excellent English trio of Ben Chilwell, James Maddison and Jamie Vardy consistently show, they already have some brilliant players who can all still get better. So, it will be fascinating to see how well Leicester will do, under a top-class manager. One thing is for sure, Brendan Rodgers will without doubt, be looking to make a notable impact and statement of intent in his first full season as manager.
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