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Can Leicester City repeat as Premier League champs? Why they will, and why they won’t

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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.

[ RELATED: Claudio Ranieri signs new four-year contract at Leicester ]

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.

Rumored Neymar for Bale swap: Who wins?

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Who would gain more of an advantage from the rumored, sensational Gareth Bale for Neymar swap: Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid?

Both players are currently problems for their clubs, though neither is known as a true rabble-rouser; Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane wants to be done with the newly-minted 30-year-old Bale, while PSG knows Neymar wants to leave and would love to satiate Kylian Mbappe’s appetite to be the man at their club.

[ REPORT: Man Utd, Leicester agree Maguire fee ]

Presumably some money would be headed PSG’s way in addition to Bale, and both clubs would be getting a motivated megawatt star.

Neymar doesn’t turn 28 until February, but the difference in age may be offset by the Brazilian’s track record of injuries.

In fact, his injury status last season combines with an off-field accusation of sexual assault and a red card for confronting a fan to overshadow his production: Neymar’s 23 goals and 13 assists in just over 2300 minutes last season, including five and two in the Champions League (and a goal and an assist against defensively-stout Liverpool).

Bale presents very few personality challenges, and PSG won’t have a problem with his massive wages (especially with Neymar off the books). His numbers have dipped in two of three seasons since his otherworldly 2015-16, but La Liga is a more difficult scoring league than Ligue 1.

Neymar has twice been a Ballon d’Or finalist and, presuming his legal troubles don’t persist, could be a title fight changer in La Liga. Imagine the Neymar, Eden Hazard, and Luka Jovic trying to outgun Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, and Luis Suarez? Insane.

We’d say Real would be winning the straight-up swap, and that it’s pretty unlikely to go down that way. So it depends what PSG does with the relative Financial Fair Play freedom that would come with the money that also arrives from Spain. Is it Idrissa Gana Gueye? Someone else who helps take PSG’s Champions League hopes to the next level?

Manchester United in ‘concrete talks’ with Lille over Pepe

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Manchester United are reportedly in “concrete talks” to agree a fee with Lille for much-tracked playmaker Nicolas Pepe.

The 24-year-old attacking midfielder has been linked with Liverpool and Arsenal amongst others, and Lille has admitted he’ll be leaving the club.

[ REPORT: Man Utd, Leicester agree Maguire fee ]

United’s reported salvo was around $87.5 million. He’d give them a star who could play across from Anthony Martial or as an attacking midfielder under Romelu Lukaku.

Only Kylian Mbappe and Teji Savanier garnered better season-long ratings than Pepe in the 2018-19 Ligue 1 campaign, and Pepe’s 22 goals and 11 assists stand out from the pack. Only Mbappe had more goals and only Savanier more assists.

Pepe has four goals in 11 caps for the Ivory Coast, and made three starts in Les Elephants’ five-match run at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. He’s a fit for the Premier League, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s system. And if the Red Devils can keep him from Liverpool, well, all the better we’re sure.

Report: Manchester United, Leicester agree to monster Maguire fee

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Manchester United and Leicester City have agreed a fee for Harry Maguire, clearing the way for the English center back to join the Old Trafford set.

That fee is a whopping $100 million, according to Bleacher Report’s Dean Jones. That’s about $4 million more than the world record for a defender, set when Liverpool purchased Virgil Van Dijk from Southampton.

[ MORE: USMNT CB to West Ham? ]

Maguire has been a statistical monster for Leicester City, and he passes the eye test, too.

Manchester United has needed to upgrade its stable of center backs for some time, and now the biggest question is who will work best alongside the 6-foot-4 26-year-old.

The former Sheffield United, Wigan Athletic, and Hull City defender is now 20-times capped by England.

The move could have a ripple effect on the Premier League, as the Foxes have been expected to bid for Burnley star James Tarkowski should Maguire leave the King Power Stadium.

Transfer rumor roundup: USMNT’s Long to London, Newcastle linked with pair

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Could USMNT center back Aaron Long be headed to the Premier League?

The 26-year-old could join West Ham United’s stable of center backs, which includes Issa Diop, Fabian Balbuena, and Angelo Ogbonna.

Sky Sports says that the Red Bulls defender has drawn the interest of Lyon and Fiorentina, but been offered to the Irons should they match his $5 million release clause.

Unable to find a place with Portland and Seattle, Long spent a few seasons in the USL before earning a place with RBNY.

Now 11-times capped by the USMNT with two goals, Long could be bringing his talents to London’s Olympic Stadium.

Elsewhere in the Premier League, Newcastle United has the chance to sign oft-injured Danny Welbeck on a free transfer.

The longtime Arsenal striker, weaned at Manchester United, scored five times in 12 matches last season in a return to injury woes following a 43-match season the prior year.

Newcastle is also being linked with a former defender. James Tavernier has gone on to captain Glasgow Rangers, and the 27-year-old would cost around $10 million.

Surely Steven Gerrard would want more for the defender, but prices haven’t met quality for Scottish Premiership players as we’ve seen with Kieran Tierney at Celtic.