With the 2020/21 Premier League season on the horizon, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at Leicester City and their prospects in the upcoming campaign.
Leicester City will long be remembered for one of the biggest surprises in football when they won the Premier League title against all odds in 2015/16. However, after that unprecedented success, the Foxes haven’t been able to reach similar heights in the top flight, and one can’t really blame them for that.
The immediate season after their historic title triumph saw them slip down to the 12th, with Claudio Ranieri, who was the architect of the success, getting booted out. In came Craig Shakespeare and then Claude Puel, but neither was able to turn Leicester into a team capable of dislodging the top six of the Premier League.
However, things have been on the rise for the club ever since Brendan Rodgers took over from Puel in February last year. Having led them to an eighth place finish in 2018/19, the Northern Irishman guided Leicester to their best ever finish since 2015/16 in the season gone by, as they ended up being fifth in the table.
The upcoming campaign will present new challenges for the manager and the club, as they look to tackle the expectations built after the previous season, while competing in Europe at the same time. And ahead of the new season, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at what awaits them in 2020/21.
Prelude – The Backdrop
Having ended the 2018/19 campaign on a strong note, Brendan Rodgers and Leicester City were in good shape heading into what would be the Northern Irishman’s first full season in charge. However, things did not begin on the best of notes, with back-to-back draws against Wolves and Chelsea.
Wins against Sheffield United and Bournemouth catapulted the Foxes into the top four and in spite of losses against Manchester United and Liverpool, they continued on an upward trajectory from October, as they went on a nine-game unbeaten run, which put them in second place in the table, as talks of an unlikely title challenge began to do the rounds.
The biggest highlight of the season for the Foxes came during this run, at the St. Mary’s when they thrashed Southampton 9-0, to break several records. However, four defeats in six games during the New Year schedule sapped their momentum, as Leicester dropped to third.
The Foxes held onto the third place, but defeats to Manchester City and Norwich City prior to lockdown and a three-game winless run after Project Restart saw teams behind them bearing down. A 1-1 draw to Arsenal on Matchday 34 meant they dropped to the fourth spot and subsequent losses to Bournemouth and Tottenham saw them move down to fifth heading into the final matchday.
A win on the last day of the season against Manchester United would have secured a top four position. But, it was not to be for Rodgers and Leicester as a 2-0 defeat meant they ended the campaign in fifth place, qualifying for the UEFA Europa League.
One of Leicester’s top performers from last season, Ben Chilwell, has left the club, to join Frank Lampard’s revolution at Chelsea. This ought to come as a huge blow for Rodgers & co., considering how key the England international was over the course of the last season.
However, the Foxes have brought in Timothy Castagne as a replacement. While he largely played on the right side for former club Atalanta, the Belgian international is very much capable of slotting in on the left. With Ricardo Pereira and James Justin being the options for the right-back/right wing-back slot, it is all but given that the Belgian will be filling in in Chilwell’s spot.
There have been no other arrivals at the King Power Stadium at the time of writing. As far as departures are concerned Bartosz Kapustka has brought an end to his torrid spell at the club, joining Legia Warsaw on a permanent deal.
— Leicester City (@LCFC) September 8, 2020
Calvin Bassey (Rangers), George Thomas (QPR), Ryan Loft (Scunthorpe United) and Viktor Johansson (Rotherham United) have all moved on on free transfers, while Daniel Iversen has joined Belgian side OH Leuven on loan.
Jamie Vardy enjoyed a dream season last time out, but he is not getting any younger and the Foxes would do well to bring in a new striker this summer. At the same time, another centre-back would represent a good acquisition to cover for the first-choice duo of Jonny Evans and Caglar Soyuncu.
Leicester begin their campaign with an away trip to the Hawthorns where they will face newly-promoted West Bromwich Albion. Their first home game, the subsequent week, sees them take on a wobbling Burnley side. They end the first month with a win against last season’s runners-up Manchester City at the Etihad.
October and November will see Leicester face fellow top six contenders Arsenal and Wolves, along with champions Liverpool. At the same time, they also have a set of winnable fixtures against Aston Villa, Leeds United and Fulham.
The full #PLFixtures list for the Foxes ?
Thoughts, Blue Army? pic.twitter.com/4Kh5IsQ3EN
— Leicester City (@LCFC) August 20, 2020
December, though, brings a lot of challenges, with games lined up against Sheffield United, Everton, Tottenham and Manchester United. Over the next couple of months, Leicester have a run of winnable games interspersed with fixtures against top six hopefuls. Maximum points during this period will be critical as a difficult run-in awaits.
Leicester begin May with a trip to Southampton, before Newcastle United visit the King Power. The Foxes’ last three games see them face off against Manchester United away, Chelsea away and Tottenham at home. The final games could very well decided whether Rodgers & co. finish in the top six or not.
Let’s get the most obvious one out first. He may be a 33-year-old, but Jamie Vardy continues to be the driving force for Leicester City. Supported by a reliable ensemble in the likes of James Maddison, Harvey Barnes, et al, the former England international led the Foxes’ charge for a top four finish last season, eventually winning the Golden Boot.
Having plundered 23 goals in 35 league outings, Vardy will have to carry on from where he left off if Leicester are to build upon their impressive campaign last time out. At the same time, Rodgers will need to be careful how he uses the Englishman, given the fixture pile-up in the coming season, with their situation not being helped by Europa League football.
For Leicester to play the way they do, it would be nearly impossible without the presence of a certain Wilfred Ndidi in the middle of the park. To put things into perspective, Leicester won just two of their eight games in which Ndidi did not play last season or featured for less than thirty minutes (D2 L4).
Since 2018/19, Wilfred Ndidi has made more tackles + interceptions combined than any other player in Europe's top five leagues:
❍ 62 games
❍ 237 tackles made
❍ 146 interceptions made
An elite ball-winning midfielder. pic.twitter.com/esfO0XWJGq
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 23, 2020
The Nigerian provides the assurance for the likes of Maddison and Youri Tielemans to go about their jobs in the final third, without worrying about the defensive side of things. He is the kind of footballer who makes the game easy for the people around him. Not always given his due, the 23-year-old will once again be critical for the Foxes’ fortunes.
Widely regarded as one of the most talented English midfielders in the Premier League, the 23-year-old finished the 2019/20 term with nine goals and three assists from 38 games in all competitions. Maddison also created 79 goalscoring chances in the Premier League last season – a tally only bettered by four players.
However, a major issue for Rodgers and Leicester is the lack of consistency in the Englishman’s game. Indeed, Maddison was directly involved in a goal just once since December last year, although he did miss the last few games with an injury. Steadiness and consistency is what the 23-year-old needs to achieve in the coming campaign, to take his game to the next level.
James Maddison has created more chances in the Premier League than any other player since the start of last season:
❍ 178 chances created
❍ 166 fouls won
❍ 157 shots attempted
❍ 101 take-ons completed
❍ 13 goals
❍ 10 assists
Strong output. ? pic.twitter.com/vAMmLtR7Qw
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) July 27, 2020
Leicester are coming on the back of a solid season, although it must be said that they could have finished higher if they had not tailed off in the run-in. But repeating the same exploits for the upcoming campaign will be hard for Brensan Rodgers & co. considering that the traditional ‘Big Six’ have all strengthened their squads.
At the same time, there has been little business at the King Power so far. And while Timothy Castagne’s signing is a shrewd one, the jury is still out on whether he can adequately replace Ben Chilwell. The over-reliance on Jamie Vardy is also something that needs addressing as keeping the 33-year-old fresh will be a challenge in the cramped schedule owing to European commitments.
Leicester will also have to watch their backs as Everton, who are showing improvements under Carlo Ancelotti, and Southampton will be pushing hard from behind. Taking all this into consideration, The Hard Tackle is predicting that the Foxes finish eighth in the table. The author concurs with the prediction that they will drop out of the top six this season.
THT Prediction: 8th
Author’s Prediction: 8th