Blissful life in promised land looks likely for Leicester
Championship winners Leicester City will have a lot to look forward to this coming season in the promised land, after tying up deals for crucial players as well as strengthening the squad with signings in all areas. They are 13/5 to go down at the first time of asking.
The likes of goalkeeper Ben Hamer, defenders Matthew Upson and Louis Rowley, midfielders Jack Barmby and Marc Albrighton, as well as club record transfer striker Leonardo Ulloa have all come in.
Besides Argentine Ulloa, who cost the Foxes £8m, the other four signings were all snapped up for free. On top of that Leicester, have managed to tie down deals for last season’s key members such as star striker David Nugent, skipper Wes Morgan, highly-rated keeper Kasper Schmeichel and midfield maestros Matty James and Danny Drinkwater.
But, perhaps most important of all, manager Nigel Pearson has also extended his deal at the King Power Stadium for three years.
On top of that, Leicester seem to be trying to gather a winning formula consisting of former Manchester United players. The likes of Ritchie De Laet, Drinkwater, James, Rowley and Barmby all came from Old Trafford, while stopper Schmeichel has the obvious Red Devils connection.
The Foxes finished on a whopping 102 points last season (the joint second highest ever), nine ahead of Burnley, after topping the table since Boxing Day, and were promoted with with six games to spare. They also had the second best record in terms of goals scored, and only the Clarets and Brighton and Hove Albion conceded fewer.
Having a solid spine to a side and large squad will put a club in greater stead for a league campaign, and Leicester certainly lack neither.
On Pearson’s roster, he has Schmeichel, a reported suitor for Arsenal and AC Milan this summer, who kept an impressive 18 clean sheets in 46 appearances last term. The Dane will work with former England international Upson, who was a key figure behind Brighton’s unmatched 20 clean sheets in the 2013/14 campaign, and captain Morgan.
In midfield, the ever improving and reliable duo Drinkwater, who had an 86 per cent passing accuracy last term, and James will provide the stability that connected the Foxes so well the previous season.
They will be laying on the goals once more for Nugent, who netted 20 times in the Championship in 2013/14. Upson’s former teammate Ulloa, meanwhile, who netted 16 times in all competitions that campaign, will give the England cap able support in Pearson’s favoured 4-4-2 formation.
Leicester’s squad has even grown to better equip them with the demands of the Premier League, their first top-flight appearance since 2003/04, losing only one player of note. That player was winger Lloyd Dyer, who was a big part of Leicester’s success, getting 10 goals and nine assists in all competitions.
But the addition of former Aston Villa wideman Albrighton, who has far more Premier League experience, should fill the gap.
Pearson couldn’t have asked for a more difficult start to a season, though, as their first five fixtures are Everton (home), Chelsea (away), Arsenal (home), Stoke (away) and Manchester United (home). But, if they manage to get though them without too much damage to confidence and a few points, it will certainly give them a boost for the following games, where it will begin to get easier.
But Pearson is level-headed, and has said: “Our first goal is to establish ourselves in the Premier League. We are not going to dominate like we did last season, that goes without saying.”
While Leicester played with a flowing and attacking style last season, they may have to slightly alter their approach, especially for most of those opening matches. Boss Pearson highlights the need to improve defending set pieces in particular.
Following his side’s pre-season games this summer, he said: “We were appalling from set-plays [against Preston] with players not knowing where they were meant to be.”
“Set-plays are always a very important part of the game and, last season, if you looked at the stats about how many goals we conceded from set-plays, you could argue it was quite high but we didn’t really concede too many goals.
“They are going to be a big part and one of the things you need to do is give away less set-plays. That speaks for itself.
“Certainly when you get into the Premier League you are up against players who may look to buy a foul more often than in the Football League.”
Leicester are fancied by Coral to stay up, odds-on at 3/10, and you can back them at 7/2 to break into the top 10.