What’s happened to Leicester ?

It’s been a mixed start to the season for the Champions. A fine start to life in Europe has been overshadowed by inconsistent form domestically. Already having lost 3 games this season in the league, the amount for the whole of last season, it’ safe to say it’s been a slow start from the foxes who were so fast out the blocks this time last year.

So what’s the issue ? Well many would probably point to the absence of N’Golo Kanté. Swapping the Midlands for London over the summer, the French international jumped at the chance to work with Antonio Conte at Chelsea. Arguably the signing of the season, Kanté was one of the key men in Leicester’s title-winning team of last year. Making 175 tackles (31 more than anyone else) and 156 interceptions (13 more than anyone else) in the 2015/2016 premier league season, everyone could see how important he was to the Foxes. Now he’s gone and you can clearly see the void left in front of the defence. Conceding 11 goals already this season, including 4 at Old Trafford and 5 at Anfield, the defence doesn’t look as water tight as it did and a lot of that is to do with the lack of protection in front, the role Kanté performed with such ease.

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Kanté joined Chelsea for £32 million last July

On the other hand, despite the loss of Kanté, Ranieri managed to retain the services of all the other members of the title-winning squad. Leicester repelled Arsenal in their pursuit of both Mahrez and Vardy over the summer and the two both ended up signing new contracts. However, for whatever reason, it’s not happening for the big names this time around. Vardy and Mahrez were the league’s most feared pairing last season scoring goals for fun between them. This season their luck seems to have changed. Vardy has only managed 2 league goals this season whilst his counterpart Mahrez isn’t having the influence of last year with arguably his best performances coming in Europe. Ranieri has tried to take the burden off them with new signings but other than £25 million man Islam Slimani, the rest have failed to really make much of an impact.

I think everyone expected Leicester not to hit the heights of last season without any disrespect, but I think maybe they expected to still see the energy Leicester showed. At times they look flat and devoid of confidence which is a strange thing to say considering they are the English Champions. They aren’t the only team to enter a lull following the premier league title, why only last season Chelsea made a dismal attempt at retaining their title undergoing their worst season in recent times. Leicester’s fall from grace isn’t as severe as Chelsea’s, not even close especially as many predicted they might not do as well this time around. Even though I’m sure Ranieri will be disappointed with the start they have made. There is no way Leicester are in with a relegation shout, there are far worse teams than them, but I’m sure they expect more from themselves. It is after all only 7 games in they have plenty of time to rectify it and I’m fairly confident they will. Who knows, they might even end the season with the European crown … now that would be special.

 

Mahrez would be a pointless signing !

Every summer, it’s the same old story for Arsenal fans. Money to spend, but it never actually is. The early acquisition of Granit Xhaka suggested that maybe Mr Wenger was finally going to splash the cash on some genuine quality. However, little such activity as happened since then and with Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United spending big, you have to wonder where Arsenal will finish next season. On the other hand, it seems that perhaps the premier league’s star man from last season is on his way to the Emirates.

Riyad Mahrez performed at the highest level throughout the whole of 2015/2016 premier league campaign scoring 17 goals on his way to receiving the PFA Player’s Player of the Year Award. This sort of form is of course going to attract the attention of Europe’s finest and especially with team-mate N’golo Kanté already moving to Chelsea, there is much talk that Mahrez could be doing the same and Arsenal seem the favourites to land his signature.

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Mahrez landed the PFA Player’s Player of the Year Award following a fine campaign for the Foxes (see above)

The question is, do Arsenal really need him ? With already an array of talent in the attacking midfield department with Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Aaron Ramsey , Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla, you have to wonder where he would fit in. There is no denying that he would improve the team, he would improve any team, but why spend £40 – 50 million on a player in a position where they already have plenty of depth when other aspects of the team require much more attention.

An example of this is upfront. Ever since the departure of Robin Van Persie in the summer of 2012, Arsenal have struggled to find a consistent goal scorer. Giroud has shown glimpses at times but has rarely set the world alight never scoring over 20 goals in a premier league season. Of course like they always are, the Gunner’s have been linked with the biggest names in the game. Players like Luis Suarez, Karim Benzema and even Jamie Vardy have been targets but they have ultimately moved else where or decided to stay put. It now also seems that Gonzalo Higuain is also out of reach with his imminent move to Juventus meaning that Arsenal’s long struggle to find a world-class goal-scorer will go on.

Now if Arsenal do go to sign Mahrez then there is no denying that he would likely add to the quality that they already possess in midfield. But you have to wonder if his inclusion alone is enough to bring the Arsenal faithful that allusive Premier League crown. This remains to be seen but one for thing is for sure, Arsene Wenger must spend big !

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Gonzalo Higuain looks set to join Italian champions Juventus this summer from Napoli (see above)

 

If anyone can, Kanté can !

It was clear throughout last season, that Chelsea lacked that defensive stability that won them the title the previous year. A lot of this was down to the horrific drop in form of one Nemanja Matic. Considered by many to be the best in his position during the 2014/2015 season, Matic was one of Chelsea’s key players in helping them achieve league and cup glory. However, last season on the other hand, was a completely different story.

From minute one against Swansea on the opening day of last season, Matic looked like a shadow of the player he once was. His confidence looked shot and he no longer had that presence in front of the defence. This ultimately exposed how slow Chelsea’s defence was at times leading to players like Terry and Ivanovic also enduring a tough season. Perhaps Matic’s drop in form was over-looked following the demise of Eden Hazard, but he ultimately must be held equally responsible for Chelsea’s horrific campaign.

However, it seems that new boss Antonio Conte has already found a replacement in the form of one N’Golo Kanté. Breaking on to the scene only a year ago for Leicester, this man has already earned tonnes of plaudits for his style of play. Simply put, he’s an engine. Described by many as non-human as he seems able to continue running at the same pace throughout the entirety of games. Perhaps what has surprised people the most is how well he reads the game even  though last season was his first outside France. He seems to be able to see things that others can’t and rarely lets anything slip past him, demonstrated by how well Leicester kept clean sheets on their way to the title.

He seems the perfect fit for Chelsea who desperately need to find a midfield enforcer to protect their ageing back-line. On the other hand, Kanté is moving from a team who rely on the counter attack to one which is all about possession. This is a big step for a player who arguably lacks experience in the game and whether he can adjust to this new style of play remains to be seen.

Ultimately though you can see why Conte made buying Kanté a priority because in this day and age there are very few player’s like him. If you want success as a team then you need a balance of pace and power and he certainly provides that. Looking at him, he does remind you of one Claude Makelele, and we all know what happened when he signed for the Blues.

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Kanté was one of the stars of the 2015/2016 premier league campaign (see above)