Leicester City Season Preview: time of transition?

With the 2018-19 Premier League season coming up, The Football Lab caught up with Leicester City fan Andreas Constantinou.

It feels like Leicester City are coming into a transitional period, with much of the 2015-16 title-winning side either departed or past their peak and new ideas coming through. Is Claude Puel the right man to lead the re-building process?

I think it is fair to say that a considerable cross section of Leicester fans are not convinced by Puel. I’m not entirely sold on Puel either but I think it’s only fair to give him a full season with a full summer transfer window to build the squad he wants. Puel is clearly trying to turn us into a more possession-based side and he didn’t really have the squad to implement that style of play last season. I’m looking forward to seeing how we progress over the opening months of the season

You’ve lost Riyad Mahrez to Man City this summer. Firstly, how will he be remembered in the East Midlands? And secondly, can Fousseni Diabate or Demarai Gray replace him?

I think the vast majority of fans will remember Riyad very fondly. And so they should. As far as I’m concerned he’s the best player Leicester have had in my time following the club (and I’ve been watching them since 1994!). There is no doubt that some fans were upset by his antics in the last few transfer windows and the disruption just before the January deadline day sent our season into a tailspin that we never recovered from. But I don’t blame him for wanting that big move. He deserves Champions League football every season.

I think the majority of Leicester fans would agree with me. In terms of replacing Riyad, that is almost an impossible job. We won’t be able to attract a player of that calibre so we’ll have to nurture someone with that kind potential. Diabate and Gray fall into that category. I think Gray will get a run in the side now and I really hope he takes the chance. This is a huge season for him.

Kasper Schmeichel and Harry Maguire had excellent World Cups. Were you pleased to see them both continue their domestic form?

Kasper and Harry are huge players for us. They form the spine of the team along with Ndidi and Vardy. I was delighted to see them have successful World Cups but it certainly did them in the shop window.

The Thai owners are no pushovers and they were adamant that neither would be sold which is great. I think Kasper is here to stay (although the signing of Ward from Liverpool is interesting) but I do think we’ll struggle to keep hold of Maguire long term.

There’s suggestions that Puel might flirt with a wing-back system this year. Would you fancy new signing Ricardo Pereira and Ben Chilwell in those roles?

Wingback is probably Pereira and Chilwell’s strongest position but in every pre-season game Puel has played with a flat-back four with the full backs pushing on. I think we’re unlikely to play with three centre backs, Puel would appear to prefer 4-2-3-1, but it looks like we’ve signed two promising young centre backs on deadline day –  Çağlar Söyüncü and Filip Benkovic – so three centre backs becomes an option. I hope Puel tries it as it would play to Chilwell and Pereira strengths and it would allows us to play Iheanacho up front with Vardy.

You were at one stage a tad short on centre-backs; and surely Wes Morgan can’t go on forever. Was Jonny Evans an important addition?

Jonny Evans was a crucial signing but unfortunately he has picked up an injury in preseason. Morgan has been a magnificent servant but age is catching up with him. Until deadline day I thought we looked short at centre-back but it looks like we’ve brought in Söyüncü and Benkovic  as understudies to Maguire and Evans.

Vicente Iborra and Wilfried Ndidi formed a nice central midfield pairing last term. Are you hoping they’ll play together more often?

Ndidi is the first choice in central midfield. He is a terrific talent and I expect we will be fighting off bigger clubs next summer. Iborra is a classy player and our strongest midfield showings last season came when he was paired with Ndidi. Iborra was inexplicably dropped during last season but I fully expect him to partner Ndidi at the start of the season. But keep an eye on Adrien Silva. I think he’ll push for a starting role alongside Ndidi.

James Maddison arrives with great reviews from Norwich. Do you see him getting in ahead of Shinji Okazaki?

Maddison is the key summer signing and the most exciting. He will certainly start the season in the number 10 role behind Vardy. Okazaki is another fine servant with age catching up with him. He still has a role to play but it’ll be as a squad player.

Jamie Vardy doesn’t quite seem to have the same level of raw pace that he had a couple of seasons ago. Are you looking for Kelechi Iheanacho to move up a level to perhaps reduce the burden on Vardy?

Vardy needs some support but he is still unquestionably our premier striker. Given the lack of service he received last season it was remarkable he scored 20 goals. With Mahrez gone it is even more important that Vardy has more support. I think it is likely that support will come from Maddison but Iheanacho has had a very good pre-season and we’ll be looking for more him this year.

Leonardo Ulloa and Islam Slimani don’t look like the most mobile of strikers. What are your thoughts on their deadline day departures?

Ulloa played a crucial role in his first two years at the club but age has also caught up with him. I think Slimani would have been a good plan B but in truth his move here just hasn’t worked. Neither player suit Puel’s style of play, I think the moves are good for both the players and the club.

Foxes aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the Premier League season as a whole? How do you rate your competitors?

I think the mid-table sides will be stronger this season. Everton, West Ham and Burnley have strengthened during the summer and I expect they will be our main rivals for 7th to 9th place. I think Man City will win it again but I quite fancy Liverpool, especially if Salah finds the same kind of form from last season.

Where will you finish?

I see no reason why we shouldn’t be the ‘best of the rest’ so I am going for 7th! But it will be crucial for Puel that we have a strong start. If we don’t he could be sacked in November! But I’m quietly confident we’ll have a strong season.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

After signing six senior players, including competent ball-player Jonny Evans, mobile right-back Ricardo Pereira and exciting attacking midfielder James Maddison, Leicester City now have a squad more Claude Puel’s possession-based methods. To supporters fond of counter-attacking though, that is not exclusively a good thing. While The Foxes have players capable of leading a challenge for Europa League qualification, there is potential for disunity when sticky patches occur. 9th