The 2016/17 season is upon us and Champions, Leicester City, now face their hardest ever task in the top flight. After a freak season, where they shocked the footballing world and lifted the Barclays Premier League Trophy, this is the season where the real mettle of the squad would be tested. The Foxes saved relegation in the 2014/15 season by winning eight of their last 10 fixtures. The team carried the momentum into the next season as new manager Claudio Ranieri, who is known as the ‘Tinkerman’ adopted a hands-off approach on his squad letting it be so that the rhythm is not disrupted. The momentum which initiated under Nigel Pearson thus allowed the team to march forward to ultimately accomplishing ‘The Impossible Dream’.
There are a lot of factors which contributes to the cause of any title-winning squad, Leicester was no different. Apart from the uncanny coincidence of four players having their best ever season in top flight football, the shock value which the team provided was based upon the fact that The Foxes were largely underestimated by the teams in the first half of the campaign.
Teams afforded them huge amounts of spaces which Ranieri’s team exploited with remarkable efficiency. The basic structure of the squad was based on the principles of counterattack, sacrificing possession, inviting pressure from their opponents drawing them into their own half then countering on breakneck speed after a Kanté interception with Jamie Vardy getting at the end of a long ball from Riyadh Mahrez. This was largely the tactic employed by the side.
This year, Leicester would have to deal with the notable void left by N’Golo Kanté in the middle of their pitch while it would be a huge challenge for the likes of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez to replicate their performances of last season under much tougher conditions. Teams by now would have woken up to the tactic used by the Champions and would offer them much less space to exploit deploying low defensive lines and sitting back with a structured organization to nullify their counters.
Leicester’s defence did a remarkable job last season after a shaky start providing the solid base on which team gained results. They need to do it even better this season. The Foxes have spent decent amounts of money in the summer also just like last summer, which many people tend to forget. Leicester spent a total of €50.16m on transfers last season. This time round, they spent €47.50 m in recruiting the likes of Ahmed Musa, Nampalys Mendy, Bartosz Kapustka and Ron-Robert Zieler. The sales of Kanté and Kramaric yielded a total of €45.80m which put the team in a very strong position financially to invest some more in the squad. The new recruits have caught the eye in the preseason, which is a very good sign. It looks like they would fit into the squad without any difficulties.
Most importantly, Claudio Ranieri has signed a contract extension recently committing his future to the club. The level headed manager spoke significantly about how he focuses on rebuilding the squad. Last year’s performances cannot be repeated and a much more realistic approach is to be taken which the manager has made clear. This time around, The Foxes would need to compete in the Champions League where the quality of opposition will rise significantly. Having a big squad with decent strength is a priority thus.
The Italian manager will need to be his old self and make a lot of changes to his squads for different competitions from time to time to keep it fresh. With the added competitive edge in the league for next season, it would be a remarkable job if Ranieri can keep his team in the top 10 of the Premier League. It would be tough, but Leicester have what they need in their squad to get things done.
There will be ups and downs next season, the fairytale is over, things can turn uncomfortable very quickly for the club but the fans would hope that their beloved team will once again be able to dig deep to come up with the answers irrespective of how tough is the questions asked, I certainly would like to see so as we all know by now that ‘Foxes Never Quit’.