With only a week left until the beginning of another Premier League season, most of the focus has been on Manchester United and the rest of the top teams, but what about the teams that came up through the automatic places in last season’s Championship? First, I preview the champions of England’s second tier Leicester City.
Last season: After a couple years of failed promotion challenges Nigel Pearson was given one final crack at getting the Midlands side back into the Premier League. Pearson’s side soared to the title though as an impressive run of results saw off the challenges of Burnley and Derby, with the Foxes ending the season on 102 points – their highest ever total.
Transfer Window so far:
As of writing, Leicester have recruited 6 more players so far this summer and despite only paying a fee for one, it was a record breaking fee for Leonardo Ulloa from Brighton. Scoring 16 goals last season, Ulloa is a good addition to a team who, despite their great scoring record last season, only have Nugent and an ageing Gary Taylor-Fletcher with Premier League experience in the squad. The other signings – all on free transfers – are Matthew Upson, goalkeeper Ben Hamer, Marc Albrighton, Jack Barmby (son of Nicky), and another Manchester United youngster Louis Rowely.
Relatively unknown to those who pay little attention to the Championship, Danny Drinkwater – a product of the Manchester United academy – won the Fans’ Player of the Season award after an impressive display in the centre of midfield. Drinkwater was a dominant figure for Leicester playing 45 matches last season and playing a major part in the way they played.
Acting as the deeper playmaker for the Foxes, Drinkwater made 66.4 passes per match and an impressive total of 2989 passes over the course of the season. He was also a dangerous player around the 18 yard box with the midfielder liking long range shots, so it was not a surprise he managed to score some eye-catching goals. Finishing the season with 7 goals and 3 assists, Drinkwater will hope replicate this form in the Premier League.
Leicester were awarded 14 penalties throughout the whole of last season – more than any other club in the Premier League and Football League.
The Foxes scored in 31 consecutive league matches from November to May.
Leicester face an extremely difficult start with Everton (h), Chelsea (a), Arsenal (h) and Manchester United (h) in 4 of their first 5 fixtures in the league (Stoke away is also in there which won’t be an easy fixture). This could kill the momentum that most promoted teams have and pick up crucial points at this stage. On the flip side they do have a favourable run-in at the end of the season with Tottenham being their last match against the top bunch on 21st March with 8 matches following this.
Given the inexperience that runs throughout the team at this level it is hard to predict whether they will excel – and who would have predicted Jordan Mutch impressing as he did last season for example – or not, so don’t be surprised to see some more signings come in before September. Come the last stretch of matches of the season, I expect Leicester to still be in a relegation dogfight and still with a chance of staying up; whether they do or not will come down to how they adapt and develop throughout the season to the tougher opponents and tactics in the Premier League.