Premier League

Shallow Leicester Squad Needs Summer Overhaul

 • by Adam Digby
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Thanks to their stunning Premier League title win under Claudio Ranieri in 2016, Leicester City have become one of world football’s most beloved sides.

Their unlikely triumph struck a chord with fans of the sport across the globe, bringing hope to many supporters that their side could one day pull off the impossible and upset the established order.

Yet while that adulation has brought the Foxes to the attention of a far wider audience than ever before, the club will be acutely aware they need to capitalise on their newfound popularity before it wanes for good.

Stars of their glorious 2015/16 campaign were snapped. N’Golo Kanté moved on to Chelsea, joined a year later by midfield partner Danny Drinkwater. The two moves earned Leicester in excess of £65million.

However, despite that influx of cash – not to mention their lucrative run to the Champions League quarter finals last season – the club has failed to add depth to the squad at Claude Puel’s disposal.

A number of players have been brought in over the past two years but while Leicester’s starting XI remains strong, the fringe players are not of the required standard to challenge for a place in the top four.

Indeed, while respected publication The Economist declared their success would be “poured over for management lessons” – and many believed Leicester should be held up as an example of what smaller clubs can achieve – they are guilty of merely treading water since the title success.

Leicester City, Premier League title win

Stagnating is almost as bad as regressing but, when the current season comes to a close, those in charge at the King Power Stadium have an opportunity to redress the balance.

Their plans are likely to be largely tied in Riyad Mahrez’s future – the Algeria international would almost certainly command a fee that would dwarf what they would receive for any other player. He has pushed to move on a number of occasions since the title win, with Roma, Arsenal and Manchester City all making strong overtures.

Leicester could demand in excess of £60million for the 27-year-old and the summer transfer window is almost certain to be the one where he moves on.

Mahrez aside, the club appears to have retained the faith and trust of their other key players, with veterans Jamie Vardy, Danny Simpson, Kasper Schmeichel and Christian Fuchs seemingly happy to stay.

Beyond that ageing core is where their problems begin, with the futures of several players hanging in the balance.

The defence, a major factor in their title triumph, remains strong and it is arguably the only department of the squad to boast sufficient depth. Arriving from Hull City, Harry Maguire has worked his way into the starting XI and has impressed. The same cannot be said of Yohan Benalouane.

The French-born central defender has made just 15 Premier League appearances since an €8million move from Atalanta and has never once looking like the kind of assured presence one might expect of a player moving from Serie A.

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A loan switch to Fiorentina backfired spectacularly when the Viola sent him packing after just a few months, never once allowing him to pull on their shirt in competitive action.

Where he goes remains to be seen but Leicester are unlikely to recoup any of their initial investment. At the other end of the field, the same is true of their club-record £28million signing Islam Slimani, who has scored just eight Premier League goals since arriving at the King Power in the summer of 2016.

Unlike his compatriot Mahrez, there has been very little production from the 29-year-old who, due to injury, has yet to play for Newcastle United since joining the club on loan in January.

“He has confidence in himself, which is positive,” Magpies boss Rafa Benitez told The Chronicle this week. “But he has to show us this in the training sessions and with his country, then we will see what happens against Huddersfield.”

Unless he suddenly bursts back into life, it is hard to see a long-term future with Leicester for Slimani which, combined with similar issues for Leonardo Ulloa and Ahmed Musa, leaves the club desperately short of attacking depth.

The former has returned to Brighton on loan and that move could be made permanent in the summer. The latter has also gone back to a former club, CSKA Moscow, and rediscovered his scoring touch.

If all three players and Mahrez are moved on in the summer, Leicester would need to invest in young attacking talent to support Vardy and Shinji Okazaki.

Jamie Vardy, Leicester

That duo are both 31 years old, and – ten years their junior – Kelechi Iheanacho is the Foxes only other current option – although he has done well in recent weeks with the brief opportunities he has been afforded.

That also applies in midfield where Andy King and Nampalys Mendy are likely to move on, while the future of Bartosz Kaputska remains very much undecided. Freiburg have an option to make the 21-year-old Poland international’s loan move permanent, and should they take that up then there will be even more additions required.

Just as they did in the summer before their unlikely run to the title, an influx of talent is needed at the King Power.

The club has 40 points this term and is safely ensconced in mid-table, but they have the quality and the resources to be more ambitious and require some more transfer moves to pay off than they have managed in either of the last two summers.

Should they fail to do so, with the clubs below them pushing constantly to improve, Leicester might find themselves closer to relegation than the Champions League in 2018/19.

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