Leicester City should not rest on their laurels. Preparation is going to be key. With the Champions League comes problems for Leicester, their lack of recognisable quality in squad depth as well as the relative inexperience the squad has in European competition.
If they do not address these dilemmas and fail to prepare, they may as well prepare to fail. It seems every pundit in the land has compared Leicester City’s success to the Nottingham Forest side of 1977-78, which coincidently saw Leicester finish bottom. But my favourite comparison is not a football team, but a baseball team. The Oakland Athletics of 2002, which in my opinion inspired one of the greatest sports films of all time, Moneyball. The way in which the Foxes assembled their team is Oakland A’s all over. For those of you that have not seen Moneyball (its on Netflix), the A’s were a team in an era dominated by the larger, more successful and substantially wealthier teams, a lot like Leicester. I’ll let you watch the rest.
Leicester’s transfer policy has done them good so far, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Leicester’s title winning team was uilt on unwanted strays, ageing stalwarts and cheap and cheerful unknowns, but all delivered, with credit going to the head of Recruitment Steve Walsh. Now I’m not for one second suggesting Leicester should start plundering the lower leagues, attempting to unearth the next Vardy to improve their squad depth. But it would also be unwise for them to blow vast amounts of money on the champagne stars from around the world, or, with the Euros due to begin, fall foul of the over inflated prices teams pay for players that perform relatively well at international tournaments. Instead they should go all Oakland A’s again, but ramp it up a notch. There is plenty of decent players out there with valuable experience, and most will not cost the earth.
For me, despite a good season, Danny Simpson is positionally erratic so adjustments in the right back area could be beneficial. Seemingly heading towards the Arsenal exit, Mathieu Debuchy could be picked up on a free with his contract expiring at the end of June. If Ranieri dusted him down and brought out the marauding Debuchy we saw at Newcastle, he would be a welcomed addition to the Leicester backline. An ambitious addition would be PSG’s Gregory Van Der Wiel. The Dutchman is out of contract this summer and with no destination yet confirmed, Leicester would be foolish not to chuck their hat in the ring. Van Der Wiel has experience in abundance at club level, as well as a substantial amount of international appearances that led to him featuring in a World Cup final. He hasn’t featured as much this season for the Parisians but in the 17 appearances he has amassed, his passing accuracy has been an impressive 90% and has chipped in with 3 assists, Which is not to be sniffed at from right back.
The left side of the field hasn’t been an issue for Leicester this season with Christian Fuchs and Marc Albrighton performing tirelessly and consistently, but a player such as Barcelona’s Adriano could provide more than adequate cover anywhere down the left. He has a wealth of experience at the very top of the game from his time at the Nou Camp and the Brazilian only has one year remaining on his contract with the Catalans. So I seriously doubt Enrique and co will be demanding eye watering figures for a player that has only played a full 90 minutes on 8 occasions.
With Huth and Morgan not getting any younger, reinforcements at centre back are essential for Leicester’s european adventures next season. Marseille’s Nicholas N’Koulou, who will also be available on a free this summer, would give Ranieri a headache regarding who will start at the heart of defence. For Marseille this season he has been an ever present figure; winning 57% of his defensive battles, making 111 interceptions and also maintaining 88% pass accuracy. The Cameroonian would suit Leicester’s highly defensive and counter attacking style perfectly. Leicester may have a fight on their hands to securing his signature, with Tottenham and other clubs across Europe keeping an eye on his situation.
In midfield Leicester have plenty of bite and guile in Kanté and Drinkwater, who I think everyone can agree have been simply amazing. But it is amongst the rest that questions must be asked. It would be very surprising if Matty James isn’t sold as well as Gokhan Inler, who hasn’t been anything like the player he was for Napoli. Again, Leicester should be ambition and push hard for Michael Carrick, who could still do a job for the majority of premier league teams. He may have just signed a new one year deal, but with Mourinho no stranger to a cheque book, is he really going to feature that much?
Leicester’s squad has been more than comfortable operating in a traditional 4-4-2 this season, but judging the success they will have in Europe playing this way is a bit of a grey area. Every season we see Europe’s elite adjust there formation to suit the opponent and Leicester should probably follow suit. The most popular formation amongst the regulars is 4-2-3-1, but Unfortunately its hard to spot a natural CAM in the Foxes Squad. A player they have already been linked with is Gylfi Sigurdsson, who this season has been the only bright light coming out of the Liberty stadium, so a reported £15m doesn’t seem unreasonable. His flexibility to drop back into a midfield three would be valuable when away on the continent, and the attraction of European football would surely be hard for Sigurdsson to turn down.
A player I stubbled upon while watching the under-17s European championships in 2011 is Tonny Vilhena. He was instrumental for the Dutch throughout and scored two goals in the final against a formidable Germany side. The young playmaker is also positionally flexible like Sigurdsson, having played across the three behind the striker as well as in a more conventional centre midfield role. Normally promising youth comes at a price, but Vilhena’s contract is up this summer so would save Leicester a pretty penny.
Yannick Bolasie has had a mercurial season for Palace and has arguably became their talismanic figure when going forward. His direct free flowing style and his uncanny ability to give defenders migraines is almost a mirror image of Mahrez, so to have that kind of threat down both wings is a mouth watering prospect. Prying Bolasie away from Palace could be Leicester’s most expensive pursuit. However their courtship would be hard for Bolasie to ignore, and as we’ve seen in the past, if a player wants to leave, it will most likely happen.
Leading the line can be an arduous task for any striker, but luckily for Leicester Jamie Vardy has been in unparalleled form. Vardy’s prowess and absence of injury meant little contribution was needed from Okazaki and Ulloa, but when called upon they stepped up. With an inflated fixture list approaching, its unlikely Leicester will be as lucky with injuries next season as they have been this campaign. Beefing up their options up top could slash the burden on Vardy’s shoulders. Pep Guardiola’s arrival at Manchester City will almost certainly lead to a squad overhaul, meaning players like Wilfried Bony could be up for grabs for a fraction of their true market value. The Ivorian’s previous exploits at Swansea showed he has quality but he has stagnated at the Etihad. A move could reignite the bullish performances that made teams like City take notice in the first place.
Its highly unlikely Claudio Ranieri will be drafting in this many changes, almost as unlikely as their title chances were last September. But the quandaries of squad depth and European quality need to be addressed. For as much as I do not want to sound like scrooge administering a dose of bar humbug, if they do not enhance their resources, it could be a long old season for Leicester and a massive dampener on a fairytale no one wants to end.