EPL Previews: Leicester City can't repeat as champions... right? (+ season predictions!)
After Leicester City’s 5000-1 odds to win the Premiership, capping off what is, in all likelihood, the most fantastic championship in major sports history, the perennial powerhouses have gone hard towards defeating the slew of underdogs currently rising up the table. With the addition of three world class managers, Antonio Conte, Jose Mourinho, and Pep Guardiola, this season could shape up to be even crazier than the last. While international competition has been outstanding, as usual, we can’t help but miss that massive hole in our heart and pine for the return of the soccer league CoachUp loves the most. In order to prepare the loyal and initiate the newcomers, CoachUp will have you all ready for the August 13th showdown between current title-holders Leicester City and newly-promoted Hull City. We’re counting down by previewing the league’s top ten clubs from 2015-2016, detailing the players to watch, and their European (or lack thereof) adventures. So, without further ado, here's the magical team that turned the soccer world upside down last year: Leicester City.
It was always going to be impossible for Leicester City to repeat their dream 2015-2016 season -- but, then again, nearly every pundit expected them to be in a relegation battle come May, not one of title-contention. Instead of going back to the Championship, they went and won the whole damn league, fending off perennial powerhouses like United, City, and Chelsea all year. For a team that was supposed to win between 5-10 games in total, they only lost 3 times -- twice to Arsenal and once to Liverpool. That's it. So maybe, then, all bets are off on Leicester City -- however, the same question needs to be asked: the Foxes couldn't possibly win again... right?
Almost miraculously, Leicester got all of their big-time players to stay or re-sign -- including Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez -- and only lost N'Golo Kante to Chelsea. For all their potential to crash and burn, the Foxes have done well to convince their core that King Power is a place worth staying. That alone will be enough to keep Leicester competing for another European berth.
Speaking of Europe, Leicester City qualified for Champions League, of course, for the first time in club history. As of today, they've been drawn into one of the more winnable groups -- Club Brugge, Porto, and Kobenhavn -- but will the bright lights of mid-week matches across the continent scare them? So long as they have Mahrez and Vardy, two of the Premier League's most electric duos in 2015-2016, the Foxes should be perfectly fine. A slow start to 2016, however, have pundits wondering if they were a one-hit wonder.
In reality, it's likely a mix of both -- no, Leicester City will not compete for the EPL crown again, but they're not in danger of becoming a mid-table club either. So long as Barcelona don't come knocking for Mahrez in January, Leicester should feel great about their chances to remain near the top of the world's most competitive league. Of course, we all said similar things last year -- waiting for the moment when Leicester would finally slip up and, yet, it never came. Leicester's achievements in 2015-2016 are some of the best the sport has ever seen, but shouldn't cloud expectations on either side of the scale this time around. Leicester are a great club -- perhaps it's best to just leave it at that for now.
PREFERRED STARTING XI
Although some key players for manager Claudio Ranieri are already beaten up -- including the all-important keeper Kasper Schmeichel and newcomer Papy Mendy -- there's still some fantastic skill left for Leicester to build off of. Through one month, Leicester's attack has looked toothless at times, only putting a penalty past Hull City during the season opener and then drawing with Arsenal 0-0 the following week. Once Vardy gets going -- see his 10+ goal-scoring streak in 2015-2016 -- we'll see the real potential of Leicester this campaign.
No Kante leaves a crater-sized need for destruction and crushing tackles, but Drinkwater and King have been serviceable in the middle of the park thus far. With tough fixtures between now and Halloween, Leicester will find it difficult to climb the table and may not find themselves in a familiar position come the holiday season.
PLAYER TO WATCH
It's got to be the enigmatic striker, Jamie Vardy, right? The English international declined a move to North London this summer by saying no thanks to Arsenal and committing his future to the Foxes. Vardy tied for the second-most goals in England last season with 24, on pace with the World Class Argentinian, Sergio Aguero, and one behind his fellow countryman, Harry Kane. When Vardy cooks, Leicester City eats, it's truly that simple. Although Mahrez provided 17 goals of his own, Vardy offers a different style of play -- one that was crucially important to the champions' successes last year. His ability to chase down a hoofed, over-the-top ball made their counter-attack nearly impossible to gameplan for. With expectations off, will Vardy prove he's the real deal or will he just fade away?
HIGHLIGHT FROM YESTERYEAR
February 6th, 2016 -- the day that even the most adamant of disbelievers started to realize how special this Leicester City squad was. Faced with a stretch that was supposed to destroy the Foxes' title hopes -- Stoke City, Liverpool, Manchester City, and Arsenal consecutively -- they rose above the adversity and put the league on notice. Their dismantling of Manchester City, and in particular Mahrez's goal above, meant that not only England had to pay attention, but the rest of the world as well. On this day, Leicester became title favorites.
GETTING OFF TO A GOOD START
8/13 @ Hull City, L, 1-2
8/20 vs. Arsenal, D, 0-0
8/27 vs. Swansea, W, 2-1
9/10 @ Liverpool
9/14 @ Club Brugge
9/17 vs. Burnley
9/20 vs. Chelsea
9/24 @ Manchester United
9/27 vs. Porto
It's quite simple with Leicester City: the expectations have never been simultaneously so high and so low. They've already done the impossible and shocked the sport by winning the Premier League in 2015-2016 -- how can they possibly top that? As mentioned, they're unlikely to hoist the trophy again, but qualifying for Europa League and making it out of the Group Stage in Champions League would be considered a massive follow-up by the Foxes. With their major stars in tow for the foreseeable future, the Foxes will look to continue their onslaught on European soccer thanks to the magical skills of Mahrez and the smashmouth style that Vardy brings to the table.
Their window as title-contenders has likely come and gone already -- so it's a good thing they took care of that last season then, huh?
English Premier League Previews 2016-2017:
9th: Stoke City
7th: West Ham
5th: Manchester United
4th: Manchester City
1st: Leicester City
10th: West Ham
8th: Leicester City
3rd: Manchester City
1st: Manchester United
Golden Glove: David De Gea, Manchester United
Golden Boot: Romelu Lukaku, Everton
Player of the Year: Mesut Ozil, Arsenal
Young Player of the Year: Kevin de Bruyne, Manchester City
Manager of the Year: Antonio Conte, Chelsea
Thanks to crazymand79 on Trip Advisor for the awesome photo titled "Home of the Champions" -- it's a brilliant shot!