Premier League 2017/18 Preview – Leicester City

Leicester

Image: The Sun

Everyone expected Leicester to drop off last season, but not quite to the extent that they did. Craig Shakespeare steadied the ship after the sacking of Claudio Ranieri, dragging the Foxes away from the relegation zone and up to a mid-table finish. Their Champions League run to the Quarter Final last year was one of the highlights of the season for neutrals. Shakespeare has been backed in the transfer market, and Leicester have had one of the most successful windows in the league. Harry Maguire impressed in a poor Hull side last season, and at 24 he offers an alternative to the aging Robert Huth and Wes Morgan. Vincete Iborra has joined from Sevilla for around £12.5m, with the midfielder looking to partner Wilfred Ndidi, who really improved as the season went on last time out. After Ahmed Musa’s struggles to adapt last season, the Foxes have brought in Kelechi Iheanacho from Manchester City for £25m. He scored 7 in 28 appearances last season for City, and has proven in his limited game time that he is a top quality poacher. This should help ease the burden on Jamie Vardy, who still managed 13 goals last season despite his struggles in the first half of the campaign. Eldin Jakupovic has also joined from Hull to replace the outgoing Ron-Robert Zieler as backup to Kasper Schmiechel. A worry for Leicester will be if Riyad Mahrez does depart, as they have not brought in a direct replacement for their want away star, however Demarai Gray could step up to replace the Algerian.

Key Player: Wilfred Ndidi. The 20-year-old had a solid start to his Leicester career last year, and didn’t look out of his depth as he tried to replace N’golo Kante. He averaged 4 tackles a game last season (1.1 more than any other Leicester player), and only Yohan Belalouane made more interceptions per game. At such a young age, and being partnered with the experienced Vincete Iborra, Ndidi can only improve this season.

One to Watch: Darnell Johnson. The young defender was a mainstay of the club’s Under-23 side last season, featuring in 17 of their 22 league games. He featured at centre back for England in their successful Under-19s European Championship campaign, and may be ready to make the step up in to the first team.

Last Season: 12th

Predicted Finish: 9th

Leicester sack Ranieri

It was Leicester winning the title that reminded us why we love football, but it is their sacking of Claudio Ranieri that sums up what we hate about it.

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Image: BBC Sport

When Claudio Ranieri took over at Leicester they were favourites to get relegated. Ranieri had recently failed to win a single game as Greece manager, even losing to the Faroe Islands, whilst Leicester had narrowly avoided the drop under Nigel Pearson. What followed was the most incredible season in Premier League history.

Fast forward nine months, Leicester are again fighting a relegation battle, but crucially sit outside of the drop zone. They reached the last 16 of the FA Cup, and are still very much in their Champions League last 16 tie. By normal standards, Leicester are having a good season. But Ranieri has become the victim of his own success, being judged against an anomaly of a season.

Ranieri was one of the main reasons behind the wealth of goodwill towards Leicester last season. Everyone that wasn’t a Tottenham or an Arsenal fan was willing them to the title, and you would have thought that it had given him at least enough credit with the owners to give him a chance to keep his side in the division. It is a sign of modern football that the man who gave the Foxes their greatest ever success was unceremoniously dispensed of less than a year later.

If you look at Leicester’s season in isolation, then sacking Ranieri was the right decision. The Foxes sit just one point above the drop zone after 25 games, and have not won a Premier League game in 2017. The champions have won just five games all season and seem to be sinking without a trace. The owners may have seen the impact that Marco Silva and Paul Clement have made at Hull and Swansea respectively, and felt that this is what was needed.

But how much of this slump is Ranieri’s fault? Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have simply not turned up this season. Vardy’s goal against Sevilla was his first in 758 minutes of football, and only his seventh of the season. Mahrez has not been the same player since the summer; he looks lethargic and hasn’t shown the same hunger as last year. Wes Morgan and Robert Huth have reverted back to the players that they have been for their entire careers: relegation candidates, not title winners. Obviously the loss of N’Golo Kante has had a major effect, and his work-rate has been the thing that Leicester have been missing. Whether or not it was Kante that inspired this relentlessness is up for debate, but players like Danny Drinkwater have not showed the same levels of application since the Frenchman’s departure.

Have the Leicester owners made the correct decision in sacking Ranieri, or is it a sign that modern football has lost its way? Have your say in the comments, or tweet me @MoodyMan147.

Premier League 2016/17 Preview – Leicester City

leicester champions

Leicester defied all the odds to win the title last season. Image: Daily Mail

Nobody predicted Leicester’s title victory last season, with many pundits tipping them to be relegated. Somehow they have managed to keep hold of most of their key players, with only N’Golo Kante leaving the club. Jamie Vardy turned down a move to Arsenal, whilst Riyad Mahrez also looks likely to stay. It will be tough for the Foxes to retain their title, with their rivals spending vast sums of money to catch up. But the champions have not been idle, bringing in six players. Nampalys Mendy will attempt to fill the gap left by Kante, while Bartosz Kapustka will also bolster the midfield after an impressive EURO 2016 campaign. Ahmed Musa will help ease the burden on Jamie Vardy, having scored 13 in 30 games for CSKA Moscow last season, and also bagging a brace against Barcelona in pre-season. Ron-Robert Zieler has come in to provide competition for Kasper Schmeichel and Luis Hernandez will join one of the league’s strongest defences. The Foxes’ ability to keep clean sheets was at the heart of their title win, and keeping the Morgan-Huth centre back partnership together will be vital if they are to challenge once again.

Key Man: Riyad Mahrez. Mahrez’s performances for the Foxes last season saw him named PFA Player of the Year and have seen him linked with a number of high profile clubs. The Algerian contributed with 17 goals and 11 assists last time out, and he will be a key component of Leicester’s attack again this year. Keeping hold of Mahrez will probably be Leicester’s best piece of business this season.

One to Watch: Bartosz Kapustka. The centre midfielder has joined the Foxes for £7.5m, and could prove value for money based upon his performances for Poland. Although he may initially struggle to break in to the team, at 19 years old Kapustka has plenty of time to develop. He could settle well in to the Premier League, having impressed against British opposition when Poland beat Northern Ireland at the Euros.

Last Season: 1st

Prediction: 6th

Premier League Season Review: Part 1

This year’s Premier League is undoubtedly going to go down as one of the most shocking events in world football. Nobody, even the most ardent Leicester fans, predicted their incredible rise to the title, but with the traditional big teams faltering, they seized their opportunity. In the next few posts I will briefly review each team’s season and compare them to my preseason predictions. The first part of the review will focus on Leicester, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City.

Leicester City – Final Position: 1st – Prediction: 20th

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Image: si.com

Even when it mathematically confirmed, it was still unthinkable that Leicester City would be crowned Premier League champions. Their consistency saw them lose just 3 games all season, Arsenal home and away, and away to Liverpool. This incredible record was certainly built on an incredible defensive record, especially in the second half of the season, having kept 15 clean sheets on the way to the title. Obviously they had the attacking flair to capitalise upon this, with Jamie Vardy netting 24 goals, including his record-breaking run of scoring in 11 consecutive games, whilst Riyad Mahrez weighed in with 17 goals and 11 assists. N’Golo Kante has to go down as one of the signings of the season, whilst the likes of Danny Drinkwater, Danny Simpson and Marc Albrighton have all stepped up from last season, so much so that Drinkwater was included alongside Vardy in Roy Hodgson’s provisional 26 man Euro 2016 squad.

Obviously I got this prediction just about as wrong as you can get. Claudio Raneri did not have a good recent managerial record and I questioned whether he was what was needed to keep this squad up, let alone lift them to a Premier League title.

Arsenal – Final Position: 2nd – Prediction: 2nd

 

arsenal

Image: BBC Sport

Arsenal will consider this season a missed opportunity to lift the Premier League for the first time since 2004. The season started optimistically with the acquisition of Petr Cech, but the lack of other signings cost them dearly. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez both suffered horrendous mid-season drops in form after being relied upon in the opening games. Question marks still sit squarely over the position of Olivier Giroud, whose 16 goals this season is not nearly enough for a striker with the service that he gets provided with. A late push saw them finish above rivals Spurs, but many people were left wondering why they could not capitalise on the momentum generated by their defeat of Leicester in LATE February.

Unfortunately for Arsenal fans their season has to be described as predictable. They are a good side, capable of beating anyone in the league, but lack the star quality to actually win any silverware. This season they were 2 or 3 players short, but whether the late snatching of second place will paper over the rather obvious cracks remains to be seen.

Tottenham – Final Position: 3rd – Prediction: 5th

harry-kane

Image: The Telegraph

If you only looked at the final Premier League table, Tottenham had an excellent season. Third place at the beginning of the season would have been brilliant, but their end of season collapse saw them collect less points than relegated Norwich in the final four games. Harry Kane and Deli Alli stood out this season, Kane topping the scoring charts with 25 goals and Alli chipping in with 10. A young English core has seen Spurs become more tolerable to neutrals, but the lack of squad depth combined with Maurico Pochettino’s high pressing style saw them fall from potential title winners.

Tottenham exceeded all expectations this season, comfortably finishing in the Champions League places. Deli Alli was afforded the playing time that he needed to develop, and they will look to go one step further next year with an additional season of experience.

Manchester City – Final Position: 4th – Prediction: 4th

city

Image: The Independent

Manchester City’s season was summed up perfectly after the appointment of Pep Guardiola. It was really just indifferent. The owners did not back Pellegrini in the summer, and it showed on the pitch. The emergence of Kalechi Iheanacho was clearly one of the highlights of the season, alongside their Champions League run. Their form against the other top four sides was abysmal, with just one draw from those six games. Guardiola will need to overhaul this squad if they are to challenge for the title next season rather than limp in to the Champions League again.

Like Arsenal, City’s season was rather predictable. They failed to improve the side, instead wasting money on the likes of Delph and Sterling. Only the manner of their fourth place was surprising, as I thought that they would be a lot more consistent than they turned out to be.

Hodgson names Euros squad

Roy Hodgson has named his provisional 26 man squad for Euro 2016, with the inclusion of Marcus Rashford proving the biggest talking point. Jack Wilshere has also made the squad after making just one Premier League start this season.

rashford

Rashford was supposed to be on Under 21 duty this summer. Image: Manchester Evening News.

Rashford has scored 7 goals in 16 since breaking in to the Manchester United first team, but his inclusion has surprised many due to his lack of experience. Fabian Delph is another surprise call up, alongside Newcastle’s Andros Townsend.

Leicester have two representatives in the squad, Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater, whilst there are five players from both Spurs and Liverpool.

Theo Walcott is perhaps the biggest name to miss out, with Hodgson citing lack of first team football for his omission, whilst Jermain Defoe also misses out despite his 15 league goals for Sunderland. West Ham’s Mark Noble and Aaron Cresswell have also missed out after good seasons.

The final 23 man squad has to be named by 31st May, meaning that 3 players will face an agonising cut.

Vardy right to be sent off, but those penalties were shockers

Leicester’s 2-2 draw with West Ham was certainly packed with controversy, mostly surrounding the performance of referee Jon Moss. Moss gave Jamie Vardy a second yellow card for diving, whilst also awarding both teams soft penalties.

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Jamie Vardy is shown a red card after diving. Image: Mirror Sport

Jamie Vardy’s sending off has proved controversial, but the replays suggest that the referee made the right call. After getting the wrong side of West Ham’s Angelo Ogbonna, Vardy looked to move his legs to initiate the contact.

Whether Vardy should have been in that position has also been debated, with replays showing that his first yellow card should not have been given. The striker slid in on Cheikhou Kouyate but did not make contact, with the West Ham midfielder tripping over Vardy after the tackle had been made.

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Replays show that Vardy initiated the contact with Angelo Ogbonna. Image: Mirror Sport

The referee then preceded to give two of the softest penalties that you will see this season. With 6 minutes remaining, West Ham were awarded a penalty for an adjudged foul on Winston Reid from a corner. Despite the referee warning the Leicester defenders before the corner, if you are going to give penalties for holding from corners, you have to be consistent with it. Not only are these decisions not given by the majority of referees, they have not been given this season. That’s not to mention the fact that there were a further two instances in this match alone where a penalty was not given for even more blatant obstruction in the box. Furthermore, there was minimal contact on Reid, who threw himself to the floor.

Leicester’s stoppage time penalty also should not have been given. Andy Carroll was adjudged to have brought down Jeffrey Schlupp as he burst in to the box, but, as with the West Ham penalty, there was very little contact. This came just minutes after the referee missed an appeal for a Leicester penalty for a blatant foul on Huth, and with the crowd on his back, it looks like he was trying to even it out.

What’s your opinion on these incidents? Did the referee get them wrong? Have your say in the comments.

Super Sunday leaves title race wide open

Sunday’s Premier League results have left this season’s Premier League title race open for all of the top four teams. Arsenal’s win at home to Leicester sees them move two points behind the leaders, whilst Spurs’ triumph at Manchester City sees them ahead of their North London rivals on goal difference, with City a further four points back.

With the situation as tight as it is, it’s time to look ahead to the final 12 games to see who has what it takes to survive the run-in and be crowned champions of England.

Leicester, 1st, 53 points

mahrez v city

Riyad Mahrez netting in the 3-1 win over Manchester City. Image: dailymail.co.uk

Leicester have defied belief by staying top of the table for this amount of time. Many expected the underdogs to simply fall away as we reached the new year, however their recent 3-1 demolition of Manchester City showed that they are genuine title contenders. The Foxes have arguably the easiest run-in of the four contenders, only having to face 3 of the current top 8, plus a trip to Chelsea. Being knocked out of the FA Cup means that Leicester’s 12 remaining league games are the only ones that they have to play, meaning more rest in the hectic Easter period and during the run-in.

Added to this, 7 out of their remaining 12 games are at home, more than any of the other contenders. However this may not be beneficial for their counter-attacking style, and it could see them struggle against teams that sit deep and let them have possession.

Much has been made of Leicester’s final three games, trips to Manchester United and Chelsea either side of hosting Everton. Despite claiming 7 points from the reverse fixtures, this tough end to the season could see them give up their lead.

Tottenham, 2nd, 51 points

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Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen have 21 goals and 12 assists between them this season. Image: dailymail.co.uk

Due to Leicester’s success, Tottenham’s progression has gone largely under the radar this season. Maurico Pochettino has cleared out a lot of the deadwood and replaced it with a hard-working core of young players. The key to Spurs’ success this year is that their squad contains no real superstars, no player that could walk in to a Champions League team, but instead they work hard for each other.

Spurs have five of the top 8 still to play, whilst also visiting Chelsea, so have the toughest run-in of the title contenders. They will also be facing Newcastle on the final day, which should be a guaranteed win, despite the Tynesiders potentially needing the points to avoid relegation. Tottenham have conceded the least goals this season, and their goal difference of +27 betters Manchester City’s +20, Leicester’s +19 and Arsenal’s +18. However, they will be sweating on the return of Jan Vertonghen after his recent injury. Although Kevin Wimmer has performed well in his absense, Vertonghen is one of the few Spurs players to have won a domestic title before, so his experience could prove vital.

A potential dent in Spurs’ title hopes is that they could potentially still have 27 games to play this season, according to Sky Sports. Whether the added Europa League and FA Cup fixtures will tire a relatively thin squad or boost the team’s morale by picking up win after win remains to be seen. Pochettino may attempt to solve this by rotating in the cup competitions, but he should be prepared to justify himself should that not lead to Spurs winning the league.

Arsenal, 3rd, 51 points

welbeck v leicester

Danny Welbeck’s winner against Leicester was his first league goal since December 2014. Image: dailymail.co.uk

Arsenal’s win against Leicester has brought the Gunners within two points of the Foxes, and arguably in to the strongest position to win the title. The squad is more experienced than either Leicester’s or Tottenham’s, with World Cup winners Mertesacker and Ozil, as well as title winners Sanchez, Welbeck, Cech and Giroud. Arsenal seem to have shaken the stigma of being ‘bottlers’, winning consecutive FA Cups, so it is really time for them to win their first title since 2004.

Arsenal only have to face four of the current top 8 sides, however all four of those are away from home. Having taken only two wins from those reverse fixtures will be a concern for Arsenal fans, however they have taken the most points from games against the other top four teams with 10. The Gunners’ strikers will have plenty of ammunition, with Mesut Ozil having created the most chances (106), the most clear-cut chances (23), and the most assists (17) in the league so far this season.

Arsenal’s last five games seem especially favourable, as they face Palace, Sunderland and Norwich, before a trip to the Etihad and hosting Aston Villa on the final day. With this in mind, should the title not be sewn up by the middle of April, Arsenal should be the favourites. It is also unlikely that they will have to worry about European games, as they face the seemingly unstoppable Barcelona in the Round of 16. A hammering in the Champions League could damage morale, however it didn’t seem too evident in the draw at home to Tottenham after the 5-1 loss to Bayern earlier this season.

Manchester City, 4th, 47 points

Iheanacho

Kelechi Iheanacho scored his third goal of the season as a substitute against Spurs, the joint highest from coming off the bench. Image: dailymail.co.uk

Manchester City’s late loss at home to Tottenham sees them sit in fourth, six points behind Leicester. City are no strangers to trailing in the league, with their previous title wins coming from a 7 and a 8 point deficit. However, this year’s side looks different. Manuel Pellegrini’s departure seems to have some players already on their holidays, with only a win at Sunderland to show for in the three games since the announcement that Pep Guardiola will take charge in the summer.

City haven’t been bad at either end of the pitch, but the midfield seems the problem as it comes to the business end of the season. Joe Hart has kept 11 clean sheets, one behind league leader Cech whilst Vincent Kompany is returning to full fitness, with City having kept 7 clean sheets in the 9 games that he has played. At the other end, Sergio Aguero’s 14 goals see him joint fifth in the scoring charts, despite only playing in 19 games. But Kevin De Bruyne’s absence in midfield has been felt, especially with Yaya Toure playing as if he knows that he will not be at the club next season. David Silva has 8 assists, but neither he, nor Toure, or even Raheem Sterling have chipped in with enough goals. The centre midfield duo that started the game against Tottenham, Fernando and Fernandinho, shows the lack of genuine quality in midfield that stops City from becoming a powerhouse.

With Dynamo Kiev in the next round of the Champions League, it can be expected that City will have to negotiate at least four extra games on top of the League, the FA Cup and the Captial One Cup Final. In the league they face four top 8 opponents, as well as a trip to Chelsea. Fortunately, they only have 5 home games left this season, as four of their 7 defeats have come at the Etihad this season, more than in Pellegrini’s previous two seasons combined (3). They face trips to Manchester United and Southampton in their final five matches, as well as hosting Arsenal, so if Manchester City are to recreate the highs of 2011 and 2014, they will have to do it the hard way. It is worth noting that City have the poorest record against the other top four sides, amassing only one point so far.