How will Leicester spend their summer?
Background image: CR Gutman. CC BY 4.0.
New Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers isn't the sort to relax. While players and supporters enjoy some seaside time, the latter can rest assured the former Celtic, Swansea and Liverpool boss will be meticulously planning for his first full season at the King Power. The question is what does he have in mind?
There has been a lot of noise surrounding Leicester as far as the summer transfer window is concerned. The problem is, it has been about losing key players rather than acquiring them. While Rodgers was able to turn around the Foxes’ season after taking over last February, albeit this side ended up finishing ninth, the goal in the next campaign will be to climb up the table. Keeping the core team intact will be important to achieve that.
James Maddison and Youri Tielemans, who was brought in on loan from AS Monaco, were both instrumental to the Leicester's turnaround. The Belgian’s performance, in particular, was impressive and drew admirers from far and near. Manchester United and Tottenham were among some of the clubs reported to be keenly interested in securing his services some time back. The Foxes' priority now will be to make his loan deal permanent. Doing so may set them back in excess of £40 million.
Young midfielder Hamza Choudhury had a breakout year from the youth teams and is expected to be a key part of the squad in 2019/20. The same applies to Maddison - who is attracting interest from top Premier League sides. The 22-year-old scored seven times while providing the same number of assists in his first top-flight season. A bumper pay rise could be on his way to ward off interest from elsewhere.
After shocking the world to lift the Premier League title in 2016, Leicester are not expected to challenge for the title anytime soon. The competition has gotten a lot tougher with Manchester City and Liverpool now in a world of their own. Mauricio Pochettino has also kept Tottenham competitive, while powerhouses Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal are gearing up for a much better outing over the next twelve months.
But as already indicated, the Rodgers did not leave the comfort of Scottish football for a holiday in England. Leicester’s taste for success has fueled new ambition. If it could be done once, why not try again? The club will be hoping to take things one step at a time. First, that will mean competing with the likes of Wolves and Everton for the 'best of the rest' position, before challenging for a top six place. Then the road will be clear to make another unlikely title push.
Based on that, losing top players isn't ideal. N’Golo Kante may have left for Chelsea after helping secure the league title, but don't forget Pep Guardiola’s Man City had to cough out a club-record fee for Riyad Mahrez. They were also made to wait a whole year to seal the deal. Leicester's unwillingness is coming to the fore once again where Harry Maguire is concerned. I wouldn't bet against him staying.
However, if there’s a sudden twist in the transfer market and the centre back leaves, signing a replacement will become mandatory. At the moment, captain and club legend Wes Morgan, who signed a one-year contract extension in March, and former Man United defender Johny Evans are the other key men at centre-back. Aged 35 and 31 respectively, it’s clear their best years are behind them. Their pairing would not yield much success, particularly in the long-term.
Other defenders like Christian Fuchs and Danny Simpson are in their thirties too. So is top striker Jamie Vardy. Speaking of the forward position, Kelechi Iheanacho was brought in from City to sit in behind and learn from Vardy. Unfortunately, the 22-year-old has failed to live up to expectations - scoring just a single goal in 30 league games this term. Whether Rodgers chooses to keep faith with the Nigerian or seeks new options to boost his attack remains to be seen. Young Englishman Demarai Gray can play there if needs be. Shinji Okazaki, meanwhile, has been let go.
Leicester City is yet to make any major move in the transfer market. But that could change any time if the club loses one of two key players. The money raised will be reinvested on new acquisitions to shore up those all-important key positions.