Premier League profile 2015/16: Leicester City
Still basking in the glow of their great escape, relegation scrap survivors Leicester City now face the sobering prospect of avoiding Premier League second season syndrome, as teams around them plus buoyant new boys such as Bournemouth, Norwich City and Watford attempt to strengthen.
The Foxes, 7/2 relegation shouts with Coral, will head into this term eyeing more than just trap door avoidance, yet the off-season has provided a significant shake-up for the King Power Stadium side, with the loss of two key protagonists.
Coach Nigel Pearson allegedly paid the price for off-pitch problems, while midfield leader and cult hero Esteban Cambiasso has reportedly refused multiple approaches to re-sign with the Midlands men.
With well-traveled ex-Chelsea tactician Claudio Ranieri now at the helm, it looks to be a season of change for the club on all fronts, yet it remains to be seen where ‘the Tinkerman’ will take them from here.
His experience should, in theory, see Leicester safe, yet the Italian, perhaps their most significant signing so far this summer, has a mixed managerial record at best.
Last campaign, the Foxes hierarchy put their faith squarely behind Pearson, digging deep into their Asian investors’ pockets to twice break the club’s transfer record for strikers Leonardo Ulloa and Andrej Kramaric, and their Thai owners will need to bring similar backing for Ranieri.
Pre-Pearson sacking capture Robert Huth is a sensible and solid addition, after the former Stoke City rearguard marshal, who also worked under Ranieri at Stamford Bridge, previously impressed on loan.
Bosman bargain Christian Fuchs should also help shore up the rearguard, and could be a success in the vein of former Aston Villa utility man Marc Albrighton, who arrived as a free agent last summer before his versatility became vital in the run-in.
Should squeaky bum time see Leicester’s top tier safety hanging by a thread once more, they will need more characters of the Cambiasso and Albrighton ilk, with Ranieri confirming he was searching for a “champion” to step in to the former’s shoes.
The Foxes, 10/3 for a top 10 finish, have been left thin in midfield and cannot risk placing all their chips on Manchester United academy graduates Danny Drinkwater and Matty James, plus Andy King to hold down the fort, though adaptable Jeffrey Schlupp and sparkling Riyad Mahrez will be ones to watch after showing glimpses of guile.
Much depends on whether Ranieri continues with the 3-5-2 and variations which saw such a superb end to the season, though he has also been experimenting with a midfield diamond, which should still appease the club’s seeming fixation with adding forwards.
Having spent an eyebrow-raising combined outlay of around £24m on Kramaric, Ulloa and recent recruit Shinji Okazaki to bring goals galore, the Foxes board will be expecting fireworks.
While the former two have received mixed reviews, Japan international Okazaki should prove a willing partner with pedigree, yet Leicester still seem to be searching for another sharpshooter.
Heavily-linked QPR hitman Charlie Austin and out-of-favour Liverpool marksman Rickie Lambert are both Premier League-proven yet forking out more for forwards when other areas require upgrades seem unnecessary and, with Jamie Vardy and David Nugent also jostling for spots, it could be a case of too many cooks at the King Power.
Still, the Foxes won’t want to take any chances with their top flight status, having finished just six points clear of the drop zone, despite scoring two more than 12th placed West Ham United. The players clearly have the potential, but can their new coach instill the stability and confidence? Foxes fans will hold their breath.