With the season wrapping up I thought I’d take an early look at the three best ways to improve the current 20 teams in England’s premier football decision. I will break it down into 20 separate articles as a series of sorts in order to keep it shorter and more manageable to read so keep an eye out!
Play Demari Gray – Since joining from Birmingham in January last season, Demari Gray has made only 38 league appearances for the current champions of England with most being from the substitutes bench.
I understand there is an element of loyalty to the players responsible from last years heroics but Riyad Mahrez has been a shadow of his PFA Player of the Year form. With Marc Albrighton still producing at both ends of the pitch it would be the Algerian who suffered in terms of playing time [unless he was moved inside] because I think Gray is the most talented player at the East Midland club.
I watched United run rampant to a 4-1 lead against Leicester near the start of the season with it being clear there’d be no repeat of the Foxes miracle campaign. Leicester looked abysmal with their only shining beacon of hope in the form of Demari Gray who also capped his appearance with the goal of the game if not the month! He was the only player that caused United any problems defensively which considering Mahrez lined up opposite the painfully slow Daley Blind speaks volumes!
Gray’s incredibly quick, much more so than Mahrez, with a lot of upside due to his age. With the side being a year removed from their title winning campaign and no Champions League to think about I think next year they should start to deploy him now they face lower expectations because I’d expect him to repay their faith.
Sign centre backs – If anyone still questions the abilities of Kante; he made Wes Morgan and Robert Huth look like Premier League centre halves.
With Kante in the side covering all of the space infront they were made to merely pick up the scraps and lump long balls over the top for Vardy to scramble onto; a successful formula that only allowed 36 league goals in the full campaign. Fast forward a year, with a few games remaining, the Frenchman is on course to win a consecutive title whilst Leicester have conceded 54 goals.
Danny Simpson remains serviceable and I really like the look of Ben Chilwell who could push for that England spot of the future with so many injury concerns/uncertainty over Aaron Cresswell and Luke Shaw. The fault lies with the core of the back four.
Most teams of that ilk can get away with a single defender who is slow, immobile and poor on the ball but puts their life on the line and is physical in the air. Both of Leicester’s defenders are guilty of this. They are also both going to be 33+ during the course of next season with no obvious starting caliber players in the squad.
As with a few of these posts, it can get a bit similar due to the fact that teams will have similar needs and my opinions of players wont change! Ben Gibson and/or Harry Maguire depending on the outcome of this year’s relegation battle would be welcome additions to the Foxes. They failed to get Michael Keane but they should fare better here as neither appear to have drawn the same kind of publicity or cache.
Another fantastic youth option from the French league – where they’ve had some success as of late – is Issa Diop of Toulouse. Aged 20, he has been linked to Chelsea for sums quoted around £15 million and he offers them composure on the ball without sacrificing the height they value so much measuring in at 6’3. A French u-21 talent it may well be the case that he ends up moving to a bigger club, certainly they’ve been sniffing around, but if Leicester can move quick their recent history and the promise of first team football may enable them to land another French star.
Sign a partner for Ndidi – The final need for improvement is quite a tricky one to decide upon. Last season’s signing of Ron-Robert Zieler means they are at least prepared should Kasper Schmeichel be leaving this summer as predicted.
I was tempted to suggest another forward because as a player reliant on elite speed now over the 30 years old mark, the number of years Jamie Vardy can be effective would seem to be reducing fast. Leonardo Ulloa wants to leave and, whilst he’s enthusiastic and hard working, Shinji Okazaki in my eyes isn’t really good enough. That leaves Islam Slimani who whilst not reaching the heights of his success at Lisbon has been steady though not spectacular. I’m prepared to wait to see if he’s better next year and can justify his club record fee especially as I think Vardy’s form towards the end of this year would encourage me to believe he has at least one good season left; however a move for Jermain Defoe here wouldn’t be a bad addition as a supporting role.
Instead I look to continue with the theme of strengthening the core of the team which is so important to achieve success in the Premier League moving from the back up. Having addressed the back four, Shakespeare and co. need to look at their midfield. They have talented wingers and Wilfred Ndidi, aged only 20, has come into his own with form good enough for the tabloids to link him to Manchester United. However, beyond that I think there are weaknesses.
I don’t expect them to find another N’golo Kante; it took Chelsea 9 years to replace Claude Makélélé! I do expect them to improve upon what they currently have. Danny Drinkwater is adequate, but made to look like a star as a cog in an effective system last season which is why he is rightfully not seriously considered for England. Daniel Amartey and Nampalys Mendy may well improve next season when the Foxes face much less pressure and scrutiny which could allow them to thrive again but I still don’t want to apply blind faith at such an important position.
An interesting player for the team to consider would be Geoffrey Kondogbia who since leaving Monaco for Inter Milan has faced difficulties in making the French squad due to the emergence of his successor in the principality Tiemoué Bakayoko. Inter Milan are not the club they used to be tabling all the way down in 7th and so it would be unlikely that he’d consider it a step down nor would the question of Europe be a valid one unless facing more lucrative offers. Leicester’s year in the Champions League without any ridiculous forays/investment in past windows shouldn’t price them out of a market for a solid prototypical centre defensive midfield anchor to sit infront of their back four.
Another option for them, depending on their budget, is Franck Kessié; a 20-year old Ivorian international who is a box to box midfielder who many have likened to a Kante. In fact the press constantly linked him to Chelsea as a talent Conte admired prior to turning to the more proven commodity from Leicester. If these targets proved unreachable for whatever reason an intriguing alternative either on a loan or permanent (i’d prefer loan due to personal bias) would be to move for highly rated dutch midfielder Timothy Fosu-Mensah. A versatile player with strong physical attributes and measurables who can play fullback, centre back and a composed, hard working figure in his most natural position in the middle of the field. He’s highly regarded by those within Carrington but due to ill-timed injuries and the supposed depth of Mourinho’s squad he has seen limited playing time (3 league appearances) in a season many had tipped to be his breakout a la Rashford. Granted, Leicester wouldn’t want an entire team of young players with high ceilings but low floors but he’d be a cheaper option and certainly has looked the part holding his own when given the opportunity at one of the biggest clubs in the world.