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Season Preview: Another star departs; can Leicester cope?

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Leicester City at a glance

Premier League titles: 1 (2016)

FA Cups: 0 (best finish: runners-up – 1949, 1961, 1963, 1969)

League Cups: 3 (1964, 1997, 2000)

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It’s been two years since Leicester City won the Premier League after starting the season as 5,000-1 long shots, and the Foxes only managed to narrowly eclipse their 2015-16 season points total (81) in the last two seasons gone by, combined (91). Leicester were headed for a serious relegation battle when Claudio Ranieri was dismissed nine months after lifting the PL trophy, but managed to finish 12th (44 points) on the back of a seven wins in their final 13 games. Last season followed quite the opposite path, as Craig Shakespeare was fired in October and Claude Puel arrived with a massive boost still quite early in the season. They finished ninth, but still won just 47 points in the process.

N'Golo Kante, Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy were pretty unquestionably — and probably in that order — the three most important players during the title-winning season. Kante left for Chelsea mere weeks after celebrating at the King Power Stadium, while Mahrez finally got his long-sought-after move to — and corresponding payday from — a European giant, Manchester City. Even while missing a handful of league games due to transfer-related issues last season, Mahrez still bagged a dozen goals to come second, behind Vardy (20), for his now-former club.

The top-end talent is nowhere near the level it has been in the recent past, but there’s a solid case to be made that the middle of the squad is massively improved and that that could result in a steadier ride in 2018-19, with higher lows and lower highs.


Leicester will further solidify a top-half place because… manager Claude Puel builds and drills extremely competent and organized — but limited, albeit — teams. They’ll have one of the most robust, hardest-working midfield units in the entire league. They will be no fun to play against, and they’ll be even more difficult to score again. They have a great chance to finish with the best defensive record of clubs outside the top-six.

Leicester will end up in the relegation scrap because… scoring goals will be a challenge, unless Kelechi Iheanacho has a breakout season. While contributions will come from more places this season, there isn’t really any way to replace a player of Mahrez’s caliber if you’re a club of Leicester’s stature. Mid-table PL sides don’t sell a player for $80 million, then turn around and replace him with a $50- or 60-million player, the way an Arsenal or Chelsea can do. Also, Vardy is will turn 32 years old in January, and at some point he’s no longer going to be lightning quick, at which point he becomes far less effective — and feared.

Best possible XI:

Schmeichel

Pereira — Maguire — Evans — Chilwell

Ghezzal — Iborra — Ndidi — Gray

Maddison

Vardy

Transfers In: James Maddison ($32 million, Norwich City), Ricardo Pereira ($29 million, Porto), Danny Ward ($16 million, Liverpool), Jonny Evans ($5 million, West Brom), Rachid Ghezzal (undisclosed, Monaco)

Transfers Out: Riyad Mahrez ($80 million, Man City), Robert Huth (free), Ahmed Musa (undisclosed, Al-Nassr)

Ranking their offseason: B-

As discussed already, it’s impossible to replace Mahrez directly or with one player, so it was wise to not even try. Maddison has quickly progressed through the Football League and is full of potential, but he’s 21 years old and has played zero PL minutes in his career. Pereira, 24, is good enough to lock down the right back spot for nearly a decade, if he’s not poached by a bigger club in two years’ time; Evans arrives with the perfect blend of experience and a cheap price tag to replace Huth. Ghezzal is the wild card of the bunch.

Star player: In a perfect world, Iheanacho will have asserted himself as the Foxes’ undisputed star by the time May — November, preferably — rolls around. He’ll have to overcome a lot to do so, though, as Puel used him sparingly last season and pretty clearly doesn’t see him as a fit alongside Vardy, meaning he’ll likely have to unseat the man 10 years his senior in order to deliver on the potential he showed during brief flashes during his time at Man City.

Coach’s Corner: Again, Leicester won’t play the most beautiful, free-flowing soccer you’ve ever seen — far from it, actually — and it’ll be downright frustrating at times, and it’ll be by Puel’s design.

PST Predicts: Alongside Everton, Leicester should occupy no man’s land dead center between the top-six and the other dozen teams in the PL, all of whom are similarly competent and ambitious, but lacking the kind of depth possessed by the Toffees and Foxes. Leicester appear set to be a PL club for quite a long time into the future.

Chelsea needs to wait “48 hours” to assess Mount

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Mason Mount‘s move from the Championship to the Premier League has been nearly seamless.

His adjustment to the Champions League was cut down too quickly to get an understanding of whether it would be too big of a jump.

[ MORE: Match recap | Barkley drama ]

Mount, 20, was chopped down by Valencia’s Francis Coquelin, the former Arsenal man, and had to leave the game after just 16 minutes.

Here’s Frank Lampard, from ChelseaFC.com:

“He’s got an ankle injury but we don’t know how bad it is. We’ll have to assess it in the next 48 hours to see the scale of the injury. It was a shame because he started the game well and it meant we had to make the change early on.”

Mount scored nine times with four assists on loan under Lampard at Derby County last season, and has already chipped in three goals for Chelsea this season.

Lampard turned to Pedro off the bench on Tuesday, but any lengthy absence for Mount will spell more time for American youngster Christian Pulisic.

UEFA Champions League Wednesday preview: Man City, Spurs debut

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Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur begin their UEFA Champions League campaigns on very different results and with very different vibes.

City is coming off a stunning 3-2 loss to injury-hit Norwich City, and is set up in Ukraine to face Shakhtar Donetsk for the third-straight season, a side which beat Pep Guardiola once in four tries between 2017/18 and 2018/19 in the UCL.

[ MORE: UCL Tues. wrap ]

But on Wednesday, Guardiola’s men are going to carry a similar feel to one of his old Barcelona teams, as Pep seemingly will have Fernandinho pull a Javier Mascherano and drop into the back line.

Yes, Fernandinho and Nicolas Otamendi are Manchester City’s hopes at center back, now that John Stones has joined Aymeric Laporte on the shelf.

“For me as a manager it’s an incredible challenge,” said Pep Guardiola. “But I believe a lot, people don’t know the spirit and resolve to solve this problem. The players going to come back with Dinho, Eric Garcia, Taylor Harwood-Bellis. … It’s happened, but what we are not going to do is complain. We have to have 11 players on the pitch and I like it, to find a solution. For the players as well to find an incredible step forward.”

Spurs, meanwhile, will simply be trying to build on any momentum gained by a 4-0 demolition of Crystal Palace at the weekend, a win which came after manager Mauricio Pochettino begged his side to “re-focus” after a relatively poor start to the season.

Now a bit more relaxed, Spurs head to Greece as the clear favorites against stingy Olympiacos. These are, after all, the finalists of last season’s tournament.

Pochettino won’t be sleeping on the challenge, from The London Evening Standard:

“They have good players and if we are not focused and don’t take our best game we are going to suffer. But last season we played in the final of Champions League, so it’s normal people think before the game, Tottenham is one step above Olympiacos but in the end you need to show it on the pitch.”

Spurs are one of two early kickoffs on Tuesday.

Full UCL Wednesday schedule

12:55 p.m. ET
Club Brugge v. Galatasaray
Olympiacos v. Tottenham Hotspur

3 p.m. ET
Bayer Leverkusen v. Lokomotiv Moscow
Paris Saint-Germain v. Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid v. Juventus
Dinamo Zagreb v. Atalanta
Bayern Munich v. Red Star Belgrade
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Manchester City

American coach Marsch speaks after landmark Champions League day

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Jesse Marsch made his UEFA Champions League debut on Tuesday, a historic first for not just the Wisconsin native but also his country.

Marsch, 45, oversaw Red Bull Salzburg’s 6-2 demolition of Genk, becoming the first American to win a UCL match as manager.

[ MORE: Champions League Tues. wrap ]

“We knew we were going into the match full of confidence,” he said, via the Salzburg site. “We knew too that we could put in a performance of this quality. I wasn’t pleased with a few situations, such as conceding for 3-1. That shows our incredible mentality though as it prompted us to give a few more percent and immediately score two goals.”

The ex-New York Red Bulls manager and RB Leipzig assistant manager got another three goals from incredible 19-year-old striker Erling Braut Haland, who nows has 17 goals in nine matches this season.

“It is an absolute joy to work with this team. We have a lot of players who just know how to battle, and that rubs off on the others. You can see that on the pitch on nights like tonight.”

There will be tougher nights ahead for Marsch, who is in a group with Liverpool and Napoli, but Tuesday was a fine start for the tactician. And it was a banner moment for American coaches abroad, who’ve been led by past and present USMNT coaches Bob Bradley and Gregg Berhalter.

Maybe one day that’ll be Marsch’s title… but it seems like he may have some loftier ground to cover on his path through world soccer.

Klopp: Liverpool made wrong decisions; Penalty also incorrect

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Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp is going to bat for his left back after Andrew Robertson gave away what became the decisive penalty in a 2-0 loss to Napoli in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday.

“I don’t think it’s a penalty,” Klopp said. “What can I say, for me, it is clear and obvious no penalty. He jumps before any contact, we can’t change that.”

[ RECAP: Napoli 2-0 Liverpool ]

For what it’s worth: It sure seemed like both a foul on Robertson and a comical embellishment from Callejon, but we digress.

Liverpool just didn’t have it on the day, like when Sadio Mane played a terrible pass to Mohamed Salah on what could’ve been an easy 1-0 lead.

In the moments they did have it, there was Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret making a splendid save.

“We played a lot of good football but didn’t finish it off. We controlled moments but had not enough chances in the end. We made decisions that were not right and have to accept the result. It was very often the final ball that was not right.”

Also, forgive Klopp if he has stopped enjoying the beautiful country of Italy.