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Premier League 2016-17 season preview: Leicester City

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The dust has settled. Last season’s fairytale is now for the history books. It’s time to move on.

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Leicester City now faces a battle on multiple fronts, one that won’t be easy. With Champions League play to contend with, plus higher expectations for the Cup competitions, there will be many new challenges to face.

In addition, the Foxes will be without their most important player from last year, N'Golo Kante, who made the choice to move to Stamford Bridge. Jamie Vardy, however, decided not to leave, a major boost to the squad. It remains to be seen what Riyad Mahrez chooses, caught between Leicester and the pull of Arsenal.

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They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, but this year, it’s Claudio Raneiri’s job to make sure it does. Chances are they won’t win the title again, but supporters are moreso looking for steady growth and a strengthening of the club’s position in the long term. That’s most certainly in play for the Foxes.

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Leicester City can remain among the Premier League powers if…the new signings prove to be adequate fill-ins. Nampalys Mendy will have the world’s weight on his shoulders looking to replace N’Golo Kante, and without him, the system will fall apart. Ahmed Musa will be vital, as failure to produce will put more shoulders on an otherwise thin and aging strike group split across four competitions. If the two – plus any additional talent brought in before the window closes – can produce, they can help turn this squad from Cinderella to perennial Premier League power, the next step in this club’s meteoric growth.

However, more likely Foxes will return to Earth. It’s pretty clear that Kante is somewhat irreplaceable to this squad, and his loss will show. In addition, Leicester probably could use a few more players to come in. Ranieri is big on squad cohesion, and will likely wish not to disrupt the chemistry too much with additional bodies, but another midfielder would be vital to stretch the club across all the fronts they’ll do battle. It might be too much to handle, especially at how they were hammered by PSG in preseason, although it’s hard to see them falling too drastically flat.


Best Possible XI

—– Schmeichel —–

— Simpson — Morgan — Huth — Fuchs —

Mahrez — Mendy — Drinkwater — Albrighton

— Vardy — Musa —

Transfers In: Ahmed Musa ($22m, CSKA Moscow), Nampalys Mendy ($17.5m, Nice), Ron-Robert Zieler ($4m, Hannover), Luis Hernandez (Free, Sporting Gijon).

Transfers Out: N’Golo Kante ($40m, Chelsea), Andrej Kramaric ($11m, Hoffenheim), Paul Konchesky (Free, Gillingham).

Last Season: You know all about last season. Leicester City was nearly relegated two seasons ago, some time passed, yada yada yada, they won the title. Yawn. Ok fine, it was awesome. A club that had fallen to League One not five years prior lifted the Premier League trophy. A fairytale story like none other, Leicester City will be remembered for a long time as soccer’s Little Engine That Could.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 07: Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City poses with the Premier League Trophy as players and staffs celebrate the season champion after the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Everton at The King Power Stadium on May 7, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Star Player: Riyad Mahrez – The Algerian is still being wooed by Arsenal, but with every passing day it seems more and more likely he will stay. Should he remain at King Power Stadium, the Foxes will have much of the same firepower they did last year. Jamie Vardy is right there with him, but Mahrez is the magic man. The 25-year-old was an absolute workhorse, one of just 15 midfielders to top 3,000 minutes last season, and he missed just a single league match all year. To show for it, he pumped out 17 goals and 10 assists, a number which seems likely to be repeated.

Coach’s Corner: Claudio Ranieri was considered one of the better coaches in Europe never to win a trophy, and that came crashing down last season. He consistently kept his players grounded and focused during the midst of an improbable run, an incredibly difficult task with so much attention on the club. There’s no question that once Ranieri feels his work at Leicester City is complete, he will have plenty of offers coming his way. However, that does not seem to be anytime soon, and he will keep dreaming with the city of Leicester.

OXFORD, ENGLAND - JULY 19: Leicester City's manager Claudio Ranieri looks on prior to the pre-season friendly between Oxford City and Leicester City at Kassam Stadium on July 19, 2016 in Oxford, England. (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)

PST Predicts: People have been doubting this team for long enough that the noise about a one-hit-wonder won’t bother them. Unfortunately, that’s the realistic scenario here. European fixture congestion has taken down too many middle-tier teams to ignore. Last season, an unusually impeccable bill of health kept a thin squad from showing weaknesses in the depth department. This season, that won’t be the case. This club is too talented to be in the relegation picture, but a bottom half finish is likely, somewhere in the 10th-12th range.

Everton’s Silva: ‘It is concerning about the goals we didn’t score’

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Like in the two games leading into Friday night, Everton have done their part in creating clear-cut chances.

They haven’t done their part in finishing, however. A major point of concern for manager Marco Silva following his side’s 2-0 loss against Aston Villa. From the BBC:

“It is really difficult to see how we can lose this game when we create so many chances to score. It is a tough place to play football.”

The Toffees have now outshot all three opponents they’ve faced this season (34-21), but have only a goal to speak for their attacking dominance. Against Villa, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Theo Walcott squandered ideal chances in the first and second halves, respectively. In the minutes following his Everton debut, Alex Iwobi was the closest to converting for the visitors, hitting the post in the closing minutes of the match.

Silva, as critical as ever before, acknowledges that despite his team succeeding when it comes to creating chances, they desperately need to move the ball past the white line.

“The most difficult thing is to create and when you do you have to put the ball in the net,” the 42-year-old added. “It is concerning about the goals we didn’t score and of course we should score more. Against Palace we created lots of chances to score and didn’t and again today.”

With a challenging bout against Wolves at Goodison Park next on the schedule, the Portuguese will certainly look to tinker his attack to improve the team’s poor conversion rate. Despite falling to score 10 yards in, Iwobi contributed positively for Everton at Villa Park. Moise Kean, still adjusting to the rigors of the league, can be another prudent option to consider.

Luckily, Everton have time – and a match against Lincoln City midweek – to weigh their options. Silva, as he clearly explained at Villa Park, would want the goals to come in sooner rather than later.

Villa’s Wesley hopes to ‘continue like this’ after scoring first goal

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Anwar El Ghazi was the x-factor Friday night, giving every Aston Villa supporter in attendance at Villa Park the excuse to roar at the top of their lungs following his composed finish in the dying seconds of stoppage time.

But about an hour earlier, Villa’s $28-million striker, Wesley, gave the same supporters a reason to believe that they had a chance against Everton, and, most importantly, that Villa made the right decision in securing his signature just months ago.

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With a timely run and a well-paced strike, the Brazilian opened his Premier League and Aston Villa account. Something manager Dean Smith knew was bound to happen. From the BBC:

“Wesley is not rewarding me but this performance was very good tonight. I believe in him, I have watched him for a while at Club Bruges, playing in the Champions League so I know the calibre of player we were bringing in. You can’t judge someone after two games.”

Prior to Friday, Wesley was less effective than expected in the claret and blue, recording only two shots on target in his first 164 minutes in the league. Smith was swarmed with questions about the striker’s ineffectiveness as the pressure continued to pile on.

Against Everton, however, with the Villa struggling to keep possession and most playing through frenetic counter attacks, the 22-year-old made the most out of the small number of chances he saw. 21 minutes in, he scored. A couple of minutes later – if it wasn’t for a superb last-second tackle from Everton’s Yerry Mina – the Brazilian would have had a brace.

When he wasn’t aiming for goal, the striker was effectively displacing Everton’s back four with his clever runs and brawny hold-up play. One could tell that the Brazilian was playing the game to his strengths, in peace.

“I am very happy tonight, what a performance from the team,” Wesley said after the match. “We worked hard, played very well and we hope to continue like this week by week then we will see what happens.

“The manager knows me, he sees me everyday working hard and the supporters know me too. I keep calm, I know my qualities and today you saw that I can do.

“I hope to continue like this, the last two games were very difficult but now I have to help my team with goals.”

Time will tell if Wesley will continue on the same path, but after a slow start, its quite crystal clear that everyone at Aston Villa is behind the Brazilian striker.

Late El Ghazi goal seals Aston Villa victory over Everton

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With three points under their belt and Villa Park rocking like never before, it now feels like Aston Villa are finally back in the Premier League.

Pinned back the majority of the second half, trying to conserve a 1-0 lead, Anwar El Ghazi‘s last-gasp goal sealed the deal for Villa, edging Everton 2-0 on Friday.

Wesley‘s cathartic welcome to the Premier League 21 minutes in gave Dean Smith‘s side the room to breathe, despite being behind the ball the majority of the match.

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Four things we learned

1. Certainly not the case last time they featured in the Premier League, Villa now have the luxury of boasting game-changing choices off the bench like El Ghazi, who can come in and finish things off.

2. Three matches in, and the Toffees’ glaring void is a clinical finisher up top. They’ll need to find a solution, sooner rather than later.

3.  In the 30-minute cameo, Alex Iwobi displayed that he can turn out to be a difference-maker for Everton this season, if utilized properly.

4. On a good night, there aren’t many stadiums that roar louder than Villa Park.

Man of the Match


Jota, positive for 77 minutes on the right side of the midfield, combined time and time again with Villa right back Frederic Guilbert for the greater good of creating energetic counters. The Spaniard’s first assist of the season came in similar fashion, when Wesley finished off his precise through ball.

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Everton, like in the first half, imposed themselves on the home side, dominating control of the ball. A lack of fishing and creativity in the final third, however, complicated things for Marco Silva‘s side. As the clocked ticked, the ingenuity was nowhere to be found.

Shortly after coming on, Iwobi put forward the clearest chance Everton had experienced all night. The substitute’s shot, though, struck post, denying any chances of a brilliant debut by the former Arsenal man.

Villa continued to sit back with its four-man backline and Douglas Luiz right above as the No. 6, while remaining attentive on when to spring forward and take advantage of an unbalanced Everton.

El Ghazi surprised many, riffling a shot from 25 yards out. Pickford, vigilant as ever before, calmly blocked it out of danger.

Right before stoppage time, the Toffees were a couple of feet from walking away from Villa Park with a vital point. Theo Wolcott, however, failed to keep his strike leveled, skying the ball well over the bar.

Just minutes later, substitute El-Ghazi showed those watching how to finish, leading Villa to their first Premier League win since 2016.

AT HALF: Wesley scores first goal for Aston Villa

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With pressure certainly on, Wesley scored his first Premier League goal, which has Aston Villa 45 minutes out of their first points since their return to the big stage.

Following a sublime through ball from Jota, the Brazilian didn’t shy away from slotting the ball past Jordan Pickford and into the back of the net.

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Such timely run and clinical finish showcased by the 22-year-old put into perspective why Villa were willing to shell out $28 million for the striker this summer.

Welcome to the Premier League, Wesley.