Leicester City shocked the world by winning they Premier League title.
Now, with Claudio Ranieri back on a new contract, Jamie Vardy committing himself to another campaign, and Riyad Mahrez sticking around for now as well, the Foxes for the most part are back for another swing at history.
This time around,unlike last season when the Foxes climbed previously unattainable heights, the world will be watching and waiting to see if they will build on their historic campaign, or if they will slip back into the depths from whence they came.
It’s an impossible one to call. On the one hand, lightning never strikes twice. On the other hand, we’ve seen the chaos caused by doubting this squad. So let’s look at both sides of the coin.
Why Leicester City will return to the top of the table
Let’s be honest, repeating as champions for anybody is nearly impossible. With that in mind, here’s why they not only could qualify for the Champions League once again, but maybe even defend their title.
1) The squad is nearly identical: The loss of N'Golo Kante (arguably the side’s MVP) aside, Leicester City kept all its important components. Striker Jamie Vardy and winger Riyad Mahrez are back and ready to go, barring a last-minute Arsenal approach for Mahrez. Danny Drinkwater remains in midfield. Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel‘s return was never in doubt, and the club even got him some competition. Defender Wes Morgan signed a new deal, Robert Huth soldiers on, and the quartet of wing-backs are all in place. Consistency is key, and the Foxes managed that this summer.
2) Every hole was filled in the transfer market: With Kante’s departure and the addition of another competition to face, Leicester City had plenty of work to do this summer, and they did it. They filled Kante’s place with Nice midfielder Nampalys Mendy. It remains to be seen if he can fill Kante’s enormous shoes, but the box is checked for now. Ahmed Musa will partner with Vardy and Leonardo Ulloa to navigate multiple competitions. Luis Hernandez will help with an aging defense. Ron-Robert Zieler gives Schmeichel some legitimate competition for his starting place. Finally, young Bartosz Kapustka will add a jolt to the attacking force. Ranieri did wonderfully to capture a variety of additions, now they need to repay his trust with production.
3) Doubting this team has proven futile: Nobody believed they were for real during much of last season, and here we are, asking if they’ll defend as champions. Why would that be any different this time around? It’s hard to win the title and remain underdogs, but that’s what Leicester City is up against. Continue to doubt this team at your own peril.
Why Leicester City will falter
This team has done it all, yet people still question their abilities. With an even bigger challenge than last year set before them, it’s possible this team was a one-hit wonder. A number of obstacles lie in front of them, pushing them down the Premier League table.
1) Fixture congestion will exhaust this squad: With each transfer brought in, the squad has been bolstered, and yet it remains thin for the coming storm. Last season, with a third round FA Cup and a fourth round League Cup exit, that left the Foxes with just a single competition to focus on from January on. This year, those results won’t be acceptable, and with the addition of Champions League play, this squad will be stretched to the brink. Huth, Morgan, Fuchs, and many of the strikers are on the wrong side of 30, and the weight is all on Ranieri’s shoulders to rotate smartly but not excessively.
2) There is precedent: The only time in recent memory a “smaller” club won the English top flight was Blackburn in 1995, and they shot straight down the table, finding themselves in turmoil for the next three years until relegation in 1999. Capturing lightning in a bottle is one thing, but putting that lightning to long-term use is a whole other animal, and Blackburn is a prime example of the difference between the two.
3) Their preseason has been rocky: The brightest spot of Leicester’s preseason warmup was the Community Shield against Manchester United this past Sunday, where they hung with this year’s title favorites most of the way but fell at the buzzer. Other results haven’t been so pretty. They drew with Celtic 1-1, were trounced by Paris Saint-Germain 4-0, and fell to Barcelona 4-2. The defense, their strength last season and a unit Ranieri relied on when things weren’t clicking up top, has looked shaky. If that continues to be the case, things could potentially go downhill fast.