Are Leicester City one-hit wonder?
Leicester City won the Premier League title last season but can the Foxes repeat the magic this term?
Whatever happens this year, Leicester City’s incredible achievements last season have moved the goalposts.
That isn’t just for the East Midlands’ side, but for every fan, chairman and manager up and down the country.
No one, except perhaps the management team and supporters of Arsenal, would deny that not only were last season’s heroics an incredible story, but that this outcome was a good thing for English football in a broader sense and the Premier League in particular.
The fact that that nobody – well, almost nobody – had gotten even close to predicting the ultimate winners in arguably the biggest and most competitive league in the world is nothing short of a miracle.
So what has it changed, what are people’s expectations for Leicester this season, and how have they started what in all probability will be as defining a season for the club as the last one?
One group of people who will not be thanking Leicester will be the managers.
After years of insisting that the only way to achieve success in the top division is by spending, and spending big, the Foxes come and destroy that theory. Suddenly, owners and chairman alike will be pointing to the King Power Stadium and asking ‘if they can do it why can’t you?’.
The big four had already opened its gates – or had them kicked down – and the number of teams with a realistic chance of finishing in the top three is larger than ever.
Last season will have increased that number even more. Suddenly the likes of Everton and Southampton will have a very real belief that a Europa League spot isn’t the most they can aim for.
With regards to Leicester what do people realistically expect from them this year?
Would mid-table be seen as a failure? Probably not, but you can be positive that the fans would be disappointed deep down, even though at the beginning of last year they’d have bitten your hand off if you had offered them that.
The bookies don’t believe they’ll repeat their feat, but they were hardly predicting their success last season.
The most important thing for Leicester is that favourite word among many football fans and managers alike – consolidation.
They need to establish themselves as a top four, or even top six club. That should be the aim, so that in a couple of years the talk isn’t about them being a one hit wonder or will they complete their incredible journey by being relegated, but about them being genuine top four contenders.
The Premier League
Everything that they do this season will be subject to a hell of a lot more scrutiny that last time out, and the opening day defeat against relegation favourites Hull prompted scores of column inches claiming that the “Leicester Story” was nice while it lasted – but was over.
This was followed by a solid goalless draw at home to Arsenal, a game they were unlucky not to win, and then a win against recently promoted Burnley. Since then they have steadily improved and picked up points, and are starting to look like the side they were last season.
The heavy defeat against Liverpool once again had people writing their obituary, but Leicester are not the only decent side Liverpool will turn over this season.
One of the accusations thrown at Leicester as to why they won’t repeat their performance of last year is that people will know all about them, and will be able to set themselves up to counteract their admittedly fairly one-dimensional style.
Is that actually the case though? Leicester’s second half to last season was arguably stronger than their first, so every team knew exactly what they were about.
The truth is, their style of play, direct, utilising pace – and let’s not forget, a lot of skill – is simply very hard to defend against.
Added to that they have a very solid defence, and the team works and defends as one. That is something a lot of teams claim to do, but not many manage as well as Leicester last season.
The Champions League
Although it is the Holy Grail for all football clubs wanting to achieve real greatness, the Champions League is so often also a poisoned chalice.
Not only does the competition put enormous strain on your squad, you are playing massive games almost twice a week.
Celtic’s humiliation at the hands of Barcelona shows that there is no place to hide at the very top table of European football.
Many people were predicting that not only would Leicester struggle in the Champions League, they would also find it a distraction that would hamper their Premier League ambitions.
So far those concerns appear to have been unfounded. They were handed a fortunate draw and have made an impressive start in the competition, which in itself will give the club and players confidence.
Let us not doubt for one second there will be players in the team who will be repeatedly pinching themselves when that stirring anthem strikes up.
Leicester City’s transfer activity over the summer was as much about who they managed to keep as who they brought in.
At one stage it looked like Vardy would be out the door, and you feared it would signal the start of an exodus. But that wasn’t to be.
Vardy decided to pledge his future to the club and undoubtedly that had an influence on Mahrez staying.
The biggest loss was that of N’Gole Kante, who along with Vardy and Mahrez was fundamental to everything that Leicester achieved last season. It is no coincidence that Chelsea look a different side this year, with the Frenchman running things at the base of their midfield.
Ranieri also spent wisely bolstering his forward line with the additions of Ahmed Musa from CSKA and club record signing Islam Slimani from Sporting. These signings – a total in excess of £40m, not to mention more than £20m spent on other areas of the field – show just how far Leicester City have moved on in terms of the scale of their ambitions, and the world they are operating in.
Whatever happens this season, it is sure to be fascinating to watch.
It will be this season as well, that will determine whether what happened last year was merely a blip – albeit a remarkable blip – or a season that would prove to be a turning point in the club’s history. We for one are hoping it’s the latter.