Honest Christian (TM) will tell us if we’re wrong, but the American teen star scored one heck of a goal on Sunday and it was 100% on purpose.
Christian Pulisic bagged the opener against Stuttgart when he caught ex-Leicester keeper Ron-Robert Zieler off his line and drifted a shot into the side netting from well outside standard shooting range.
Some have asked whether the 19-year-old Pennsylvanian meant the shot and we firmly say, “Yes.”
This is a bold statement given the potential league-shaking moves made by the Premier League’s biggest clubs, but there may be no more intriguing story to follow in the league this season than Leicester City.
A club that won the title two years ago struggled with relegation fears during its reign, but also went deep into the UEFA Champions League and genuinely did look like a Top Six team by the time it found an appropriate replacement for N'Golo Kante in the form of Wilfried Ndidi.
Could they rival the top teams for another surprise — granted not as dramatic and high-end — season close to the top of England’s top flight?
Best, worst case scenarios – The worst case scenario sees Riyad Mahrez, Demarai Gray, and Danny Drinkwater leave and a brutal early slate sending them well behind the pack. Then, it sees Shakespeare over his skis the first time he has to clean up a mess under his watch, leaving Leicester with another midseason adjustment en route to a relegation battle and, subsequently, relegation.
That’s highly unlikely, though, and provided the Foxes keep Drinkwater and Ndidi continues his form, Leicester should be comfortably midtable. In terms of best case, Harry Maguire is the antidote to the aging back line, Iheanacho combines with Vardy to be a lethal force, and the Foxes either claims the League or FA Cup, or edge an overwhelmed bigger name for a Top Seven spot and the Europa League.
Star player: Wilfried Ndidi — Transitioning to the Premier League from the Jupiler Pro League took about a month for the Nigerian, who saw Leicester go 0-5 with no goals scored to start life in England, but the Foxes promptly won five-straight and Ndidi was no small part of it. He won 3.5 aerial duels per match, while averaging four tackles, 2.1 interceptions, and 3.2 clearances in front of a surprisingly suspect back line while leading the team in dribbles per match with 1.8.
Coaches’ Corner:Craig Shakespeare — Taking over for Claudio Ranieri was surprisingly simple for the Birmingham-born 53-year-old, who took his 1-0 record as West Brom caretaker boss from 2006 and improved it to 9W-3L-5D all-time. It took until well after the season for Shakespeare to be crowned Ranieri’s permanent replacement, and he has a three-year deal to show his stuff at the King Power Stadium. We’ve seen he can clean up a messy side. Now we’ll see if he can set up a side to thrive in the top flight.
PST predicts: A fair share of bumps in the road, but the Maguire and Iborra buys show that the Leicester eyes for talent remain pretty sharp. A comfortable-enough midtable finish in the end, though don’t be surprised if alarm bells ring early: Four of Leicester’s first six matches are against Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Chelsea, and the first two are away. Getting six points from the other two, versus new boys Brighton and Huddersfield, will be key to avoiding an early season rut.
Zieler, 28, made 13 appearances for Leicester after coming over from Hannover 96 last year. He’ll head back to Germany to join Stuttgart, home of USMNT winger Julian Green, for the club’s Bundesliga return.
Zieler signed with Manchester United as a 16-year-old, but did not appear with the club.
As for Mandanda, he’s headed back to Marseille. The 32-year-old backstop made 441 appearances for Marseille and earned 24 caps for France before heading to Palace last season.
Mandanda missed six months for Palace with a knee injury and finished his lone PL season with nine starts which included three wins and two draws.
Zieler’s return to the Bundesliga makes sense with Kasper Schmeichel sticking around the King Power Stadium, but we have to wonder whether things may’ve went differently for Mandanda had he not done his knee after nine-straight starts for the Eagles. Oh well, he’ll have to settle for a return to a club where he’s a club legend.