Last season felt like the inevitable consequence of Leicester City’s failure to take advantage of one of the most open top-four races in recent memory. After winning just one of their final five games, Leicester missed out on Champions League football for the second successive year in 2021.
So, when young defender Wesley Fofana suffered a season-ending injury at the start of last season, the momentum that Brendan Rodgers had built over the past couple of years quickly drew to a halt.
A full-scale defensive injury crisis ensued, and Leicester ended up finishing the season 14 points worse off than the season prior. The Foxes have thrown everything at their pursuit of Champions League football, and fallen short, they need to swallow their pride and regroup.
This is a squad brimming with quality, but one who are gripping onto past glories. There’s been investment, and some smart investment on the surface, but the fact that a 35-year-old Jamie Vardy is still entrusted to lead the line shows the transition into a new age has not been as smooth as expected.
This is a squad on their knees, Vardy, James Maddison, and Wilfred Ndidi have all struggled with injuries and form as a result of the club’s relentless charge for the top four.
Maddison’s return to form over recent weeks has been a welcome relief. But where Ndidi is concerned, he has suffered from burnout and his replacement or at least his cover should be of paramount importance this summer.
Leicester had hoped that Boubakary Soumare would offer them a like-for-like replacement when he arrived from Lille last summer. But the Frenchman has struggled to adapt to the tempo of the English game.
Soumare’s tracking back and speed in possession had been earmarked as areas for him to improve on by Rodgers, but little progress has been made in that regard. Leicester are now seemingly prepared to cash in on the midfielder just 12 months after signing him, with PSV’s Ibrahim Sangare eyed up as one of the two midfielders Leicester are looking to bring in this summer.
Whilst Sangare profiles more similarly to Ndidi, Leicester are also looking to replace talismanic midfielder Youri Tielemans, who looks set to leave the club after his contract expires. The Belgian is a hero in Leicester, after his winning goal against Chelsea in the FA Cup final. But he is seeking pastures new, perhaps as a result of Leicester’s failure to secure Champions League football.
The ascension of academy product Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall has gone some way to compensating for the loss of Tielemans, but the Englishman is still a raw talent at this level. Leicester will be expecting to spend big to replace Tielemans. Though, whether they look to target a direct replacement is yet to be seen.
Defensively, the return of Fofana has been crucial, but with Caglar Soyuncu struggling in his absence and both Ryan Bertrand and Jannik Vestergaard failing to make the desired impact since their respective arrivals from Southampton, there is a case for more reinforcements.
There were high hopes that Filip Benkovic would make the step up, having enjoyed success at Rodgers’s former club Celtic. His departure to Udinese in January was a surprise, but according to Rodgers he was not of the required quality to compete for Leicester.
There will likely be departures before any one defender is bought in. But with Burnley’s Nathan Collins available at a cut-price fee and the potential for Chelsea’s Levi Colwill to leave on loan, Leicester will undoubtedly be keeping their options open with regards to buying a centre-half this summer.
The signing of Patson Daka from RB Salzburg has been an unqualified success thus far, but with Vardy only getting older Rodgers needs to start trusting Daka more next season. Whether or not this means playing two up top and allowing Kelechi Iheanacho the opportunity to finally play off another striker on a consistent basis.
There needs to be a tactical rethink regarding Leicester’s offensive play. The more they rely on Vardy the more Leicester will regress, at 35 he is not the player you build your attack around no matter how tempting it may be to utilise his goal threat.
Leicester City still possess one of the most talented squads in the Premier League, but they need to start regenerating the core of the team that has served them so well over recent years.
Their success in this time makes it difficult to comprehend a life outside of them, but this is a necessary part of Leicester’s evolution. They must forget the heartbreak of missing out on the Champions League and forge new memories, or risk being left behind.
By: Sam Tabuteau / @TabuteauS
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / DeFodi Images