After impressively accruing over 100 points in the Championship last season, there is a palpable sense of optimism that Leicester City can once again reaffirm their Premier League status over the coming months.
As with any promoted team, transfers and experience are two fundamentals in ensuring Premier League survival. Leicester has signed Matthew Upson and Marc Albrighton during the close season, while the key transfer thus far remains Leandro Ulloa for an undisclosed club record fee. In one sense, they have bought experience, but realistically speaking signing Premier League cast-offs like Albrighton and Upson will simply not suffice. While their gamble on Ulloa looks just that, a gamble, it’s one that could prove decisive come May.
Leicester’s opening five fixtures don’t offer much in the way of hope; Everton (home), Chelsea (away), Arsenal (home), Stoke (away) and Manchester United (home). Whilst the fixture list is kinder thereafter, it is conceivable that they may be pointless after five games and already facing an uphill struggle. Nonetheless, Leicester has many things in their favor, namely their solid spine which was the third best defense in the Championship last season. The exuberance and panache of Kasper Schmeichel is an added bonus and he has matured into a keeper of some substance over the last couple of seasons. Meanwhile, the organizational aspect of the Leicester defense is something that Wes Morgan delivers on with calculated and impressive performances.
Further forward, so impressive in the Championship last season, the onus will again be on Danny Drinkwater, formerly of Manchester United, to control the tempo and maintain possession for Leicester. Alongside Matty James, he must impose his game immediately for Leicester to stand any chance of surviving this season. The forward line is a source of major concern for fans of the Foxes. David Nugent, while a consistent Championship player, is not at the required standard for Premier League football, while it is anyone’s guess how Ulloa will adapt to the rigors of the Premier League. However, with the window still open, I would expect Leicester to be active over the coming weeks. Leicester has also succeeded in shifting a lot of players off their books that would have struggled in the Premier League. Lloyd Dyer and Sean St Ledger to name two. The retirement of Kevin Phillips represents the loss of an experienced voice in the changing room. Players like Upson must take on this leadership role over in the coming months.
In assessing Leicester’s prospects, one must factor in the influence of manager Nigel Pearson as the coach. He has entrusted his players with a free flowing, pass rich philosophy that could succeed in a similar manner to Swansea two seasons back. A staunch advocate of the 442 system during the successful campaign last season, it would represent a major surprise for Pearson to change tactics prior to the commencement of the season. Yet, the possibility remains that Leicester may opt for a shift to the 3-5-2 formation as the players at their disposal fit this system perfectly. Nevertheless, I fully expect Leicester to attack Everton through their conventional formation on the opening day.
Leicester’s pre-season form has been impressive, particularly their victory over Bremen. Confidence can go a long way to impacting on how a season begins. Manchester United under Moyes being the most pertinent example. Assuming Leicester manage to pick up some points during their first five games, I believe it is within their capabilities to mount a successful campaign on their first season back in the big time. With a clever motivator and tactician in their ranks and with a sense of unity and purpose from last season’s impressive triumph, I can foresee a successful return to the top flight for the Foxes.
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