Feature

Can lightning strike twice for Leicester City?

Only six teams can win the English Premier League according to the bookmakers - and Leicester City aren’t one of them.

Vardy

Leicester striker Jamie Vardy Source: Getty Images

Most of the British bookies have the Foxes about 30-1, odds you’d seldom take on a horse in the Melbourne Cup (yet had you backed Leicester or Prince of Penzance in the past year, you probably wouldn’t be turning up to work today).

So, can the miracle have a sequel? It’s worth asking the question ahead of Saturday night’s season opener away to the promoted Hull City, a match you’ll see live on SBS at 9:30pm. 

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Critically, and surprisingly, only one big name has gone - N'Golo Kante is now at Chelsea, signing on for £32million ($53million) - a price that represents excellent value for the Londoners if he can replicate his remarkable form. Andrej Kramaric went to Hoffenheim for £7.6million ($13million) but was already on loan there anyway in the second half of last season. Other fringe members, like ex-Socceroo Mark Schwarzer, were released.

Replacing Kante is the big question. Do that - a seemingly impossible task at first glance - and they’re every chance of making the top four again. The man tasked with that is Nampalys Mendy, who comes in from French club Nice with a £13million ($22million) fee on his head.

Ranieri described him as “Our [Claude] Makelele” when the pair worked together at Monaco, and have clearly patched up their differences since Mendy left for Nice in 2013.

Three years at Nice only improved Mendy's standing in French football and with Ranieri so confident in his new signing, it’s enticing to think Kante’s departure won’t be as destructive as it initially seemed.

To take the weight off the shoulders of Jamie Vardy, Nigerian forward Ahmed Musa has been signed for £16 million ($27million) from CSKA Moscow, where he scored 54 goals in 164 games.

Musa is no stranger to the big time, having starred at the 2014 World Cup. Only small in size, Musa makes up for it with his explosive pace and superb finishing.



Indeed, the prospect of both Vardy and Musa in the same team is quite terrifying - it might be the fastest forward line in the history of the Premiership. But by his own admission, he'll need to adjust.

“When I started my first session I was thinking, ‘wow’," he said.  “I have never seen that in Russia but now I am getting used to it. The intensity here is quite different to Russia. Here it is a little bit harder, in Russia they are more laid back.

“I think that is the most difficult thing, but I think that is the secret behind Leicester's success.”

Intensity has been a problem for players adjusting from Russia to England - Andrei Kanchelskis might have starred but since him Roman Pavlyuchenko, Andrey Arshavin and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov were inconsistent, while Yuri Zhirkov, Oumar Niasse and Jô were all expensive flops. Musa will have to break the mould but he at least appears well-suited to the style.

A sizable £7million ($12million) has been dropped on Bartosz Kapustka, a winger from Cracovia. But he’s only 19 and it’s hard to see him having a huge influence in his first year. He can at least take the duties of Riyad Mahrez, if absolutely required.

More can be expected from Luis Hernández, a seasoned Spanish defender who came through the ranks of Real Madrid’s youth academy. He’s spent the past few years with Sporting Gijón and didn’t look out of place in La Liga last year. He adds critical support at centre-half for the now-iconic pairing of Wes Morgan and Robert Huth and can also cover Danny Simpson at right-back.

Another adding key depth is goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler, a Manchester United graduate but who made his name with German team Hannover, spending six solid years there. He won’t replace Kasper Schmeichel but may see plenty of cup action.

It’s worth discussing Leicester’s depth because they will be expected to bat deep not only in the Premiership but the FA Cup, League Cup and, potentially, in the UEFA Champions League.

That’s a lot of football for a squad that will be need to kept fresh and lively after last season. Bit-part players in that campaign - Leonardo Ulloa, Andy King, Daniel Amartey, Jeffrey Schlupp, Marcin Wasilewski and the forgotten Matty James - will all be needed, much more than 12 months ago.

On paper, it’s tough to see Leicester competing again. But that’s how it was last year, and they proved us all wrong.

If this squad has arguably improved since then, maybe the defending champions will give a lot better than the bookies expect. Just don’t ask for 5000-1 any time soon.




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5 min read
Published 12 August 2016 at 8:21am
By Sebastian Hassett