What’s Leicester City’s EPL Ceiling This Season?
When Leicester went into the final league game of last season, they had a top-4 spot all but wrapped up.
All they needed to do was to win at home against a fallible Spurs outfit and they’d be playing Champions League football. And when they went 2-1 up thanks to a Jamie Vardy penalty, everything was going rather smoothly.
However, Gareth Bale was introduced and the game quickly turned on its head with the Welshman scoring a brace and Tottenham walking out 4-2 winners.
It was a shattering result for Leicester who were confined to a fifth place finish for a second consecutive season.
However coming into this campaign, the Foxes have the chance to regroup, find their resolve, hold their nerve and secure that sought-after UCL spot.
And it could be their last chance. Harvey Barnes, Youri Tielemans, James Maddison and more are all on the radar of top European clubs and should a top-4 spot once again elude them, their hands could be tied where keeping this excellent squad together is concerned.
With that said, this is why Leicester can most certainly make the breakthrough this season.
Depth Up Front
For so long, the Foxes have been relying on Jamie Vardy to be their main goal threat. This worked a treat as Vardy has been one of the most prolific marksman the EPL has seen in recent times. However, last season his efficiency dropped and when he went down with a hernia injury in January, many feared the worst for Leicester’s top 4 hopes. However, Vardy wasn’t having that good of a season before the injury. His 0.26 goals per shot of target last season was his second-worst in his professional career and a dramatic drop from the season prior's 0.50. As well as this, his 37% shot on target percentage is his worst in his EPL career. This could be a sign of age catching up to a Premier League great.
Not to worry, however, as Leicester have two more strikers who are both more than capable and quite possible ready to explode in both Kelechi Iheanacho and Paston Daka. Starting with the former - the Nigerian international just clinched the community shield for Leicester and has seemed to continue his stellar form from last season. Last campaign, he outperformed Vardy in the above two metrics with 0.48 and 43% respectively. As well as this, he provides a much different option to his English counterpart. Iheanacho’s 3.37 progressive carries and 1.83 dribbles completed outdo Vardy's 2.36 and 0.96 stats respectively. Having a full decade of experience on Vardy, Iheanacho could prove to be a very good successor to one of Leicester finest.
Should Iheanacho not be the player he could be, Paston Daka will be that and some. Being brought in for 30 million pounds from Red Bull Salzburg, Daka is one of Europe’s top young stars. Scoring 27 goals in Austria last season, he’s an unknown quantity who is ready to explode and surprise Premier League defences. Possessing frightening pace and an exceptional eye for goal, he’ll have no problems transitioning into the English game as despite his height and build. He is good in the air and isn’t afraid to get stuck into challenges. With 0.54 goals per shot on target, he is a deadly finisher with all the flair and eye-pleasing assets to match.
This Leicester strike force will strike fear in every Premier League side and could easily lead the Foxes to Champions League football.
Safe Pair Of Hands
They have deadly finishers up one end, and an elite shot stopper down the other.
Kasper Schmeichel has been one of the most underrated goalkeepers in the Premier League for a long time. Very rarely being discussed amongst the elite of the competition despite tuning out consistently excellent campaigns. The Dane is incredibly reliable and capable of the outrageous at times and once again looms as one of the Foxes most indispensable players.
Schmeichel showed his class when it mattered most in the FA Cup final, pulling out outstanding saves time after time to nearly single-handily giving them their first Cup in Leicesters history. He performed in the Euros as well, leading a wounded Denmark to the semi-finals. His 31.8 clean sheet percentage ranks him in the top 71 percentile of Europe’s top 5 leagues and he didn’t commit an error leading to a shot in the league last season. He provides plenty of experience and heart to this Leicester side, and will be a major factor in determining their league finish this season.
Youri Tielemans' strike from 30 yards out in the FA. Cup final won the Foxes their first FA. Cup in their history.
We all knew that he could play-make, dictate the tempo from deep and make line-breaking passes, but this audacious attempt from 30 yards put his name into the history books forever. This propelled him into a good European Championship campaign where he was a part of a double pivot midfield in a Belgium side which fell at the quarter-finals. He showed in this tournament that he is more than capable of taking on the biggest that Europe has to offer and is willing to take Leicester to that next step.
His playmaking ability is one to behold. His 0.35 goal creating actions from open play last season rank him in the 94th percentile and were crucial to Leicester success in the previous campaign. He delivered the 4th most passes into the final third last season with 212 and his 206 progressive passes ranked him 6th in the league. His 1.23 key passes per 90 last season placed him in the top 20% of Europe’s top 5 leagues and he isn’t bad on the defensive front either, contrary to popular belief. He ranks in the top 15% for both tackles in the attacking third and successful pressures with 0.44 and 34.1% respectively.
Players Suiting Style
Brenden Rodgers has been able to invest in a squad that perfectly fits his managerial philosophy.
A solid defence who has the pace for recover tackles and watching for the ball over the top, as well as the physicality to deal with the most physical of attackers.
A midfield which is simultaneously workmanlike and skilful enough to create chances out of nothing coupled with an attack that's equal parts deadly and creative.
Rodgers has conjured a game plan that employs patient football to start with and then explodes with pace in the attacking areas. Barnes and Albrighton on either wing with Vardy and/or Iheanacho or Daka upfront is enough pace and ability to frighten the best of defences. With Maddison and Ndidi complementing Tielemans' ability in midfield, Leicester City will be a big, big problem in the upcoming season.
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