It wasn’t really supposed to go like this for Leicester City. Having lost a manager with an enormous personality and a key experienced midfield player, Claudio Ranieri didn’t seem like a coach capable of carrying on the good work done by this team as of late. But it’s definitely so far so good for the amicable Italian.
The Foxes won their first two games of the season comfortably at home to Sunderland and away to West Ham United, before respectable draws against Tottenham Hotspur at the King Power Stadium and Bournemouth at Dean Court ensured they headed to the international break unbeaten. It’s been hugely encouraging and the players and manager deserve major credit for this start.
There’s been some big summer acquisitions, but the core of last season’s team have facilitated this sharp start out the blocks. Here’s a closer look at how they’ve done it.
Best Performer – Riyad Mahrez:
It’s refreshing to see a wide player who is capable of taking full-backs on inside and out; that’s exactly the kind of quality which has made Riyad Mahrez one of the standout players to watch in the Premier League this season and one of the toughest to cope with.
The Algerian has been bedeviling opposition defenses in the early weeks. Mahrez is a box of tricks out on the right flank, getting down to the byline and fizzing in crosses, or dangerously darting infield and hammering left-footed shots at goal. His four goals already this season are testament to a big improvement in his end product.
Mahrez sums up what this Leicester team are about; industry, incision and underrated quality. If he keeps these levels up, the Algerian could fire the Foxes to a very impressive finish come the end of the 2015-16 term.
Most Improved Player – Jamie Vardy:
Although Jamie Vardy impressed for the Foxes towards the back end of last season, at the start of 2014-15 the England international has relished the added responsibility handed to him by manager Claudio Ranieri. Like Mahrez, he helps set the tone for the rest of this team and looks well at home at the point of the attack.
Vardy is a brilliant outlet for Leicester and can quickly drag his team up the pitch by chasing lost causes into the channel or putting opposition defenders under pressure. In addition, the forward has started to improve his decision making in dangerous areas. If he can complement his dynamic qualities with an assured final ball, the Foxes will have some player on their hands.
Riyad Mahrez (Sept. 13), Matty James (Feb. 2016)
In: Shinji Okazaki, N’Golo Kante, Gokhan Inler, Yohan Benalouane, Robert Huth, Christian Fuchs, Nathan Dyer
Out: David Nugent, Chris Wood, Ben Hamer, Anthony Knockaert, Esteban Cambiasso, Conrad Logan, Paul Gallagher, Tom Hopper, Zoumana Bakayogo, Matthew Upson
Manager Analysis – Claudio Ranieri:
The man known more making wholesale changes to his team week after week has resisted the urge to do so up to this point, with 10 players starting all four of Leicester’s games to this point. Ranieri has reaped the rewards too, with the players striking up early relationships which have been hugely beneficial in both attack and defense.
The Italian has also preserved the steel which was a hallmark of Leicester’s late survival effort last term. In their last two matches they’ve fell behind, but come back late on to secure a point. If Ranieri can preserve this fortitude and integrate classy new signings like Inler and Kante alongside the excellent Okazaki, the Foxes will surprise plenty.
Despite some initial forecasts of a farcical campaign at the King Power Stadium, from this writer included, there seems to be no issues in sight for Leicester. They’ve preserved a spirit, have recruited well and have put together a very accomplished start to their season.
The Foxes have yet to be tested against any of the league’s more illustrious names and it’ll be intriguing to see how they fare when those fixtures come along. But if that’s the only factor the club’s supporters have to worry about this season, the Leicester should be absolutely delighted.
Overall Rating – 5/5
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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