A midfielder who can also play as a forward, Minamino joined Salzburg from Japanese club Cerezo Osaka in 2015. He reportedly had a release clause of $9.5 million.
Shinji Okazaki won the Premier League title with Leicester in 2016, while Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United), Hidetoshi Nakata (Bolton) and Junichi Inamoto (Arsenal and Fulham) are among other Japanese to have played in England’s top division.
Comparing this Leicester City squad to the title-winning team
Leicester City sits second place in the Premier League table in mid-November, eight points back of a historic Liverpool position.
Since winning the title, Leicester City has finished 12th, 9th, and 9th and suddenly are challenging for a Champions League place yet again. The simple fact that the Foxes have managed to sustain considerable top-flight success over the course of the last six seasons might be even more impressive than their lightning-in-a-bottle title run.
While there are a few holdovers from the title-winning campaign, like goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and striker Jamie Vardy who stand out among the crowd, there has understandably been considerable turnover from that title team. Midfielders N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater were sold for significant sums of money, as was winger Riyad Mahrez. Both members of the center-back partnership Wes Morgan and Robert Huth put together are 35 years old (Morgan is still with the club but has logged just 28 Premier League minutes thus far).
So, naturally, we thought it fitting to compare the two sides. In another universe where Liverpool doesn’t dominate the Premier League landscape in record-breaking fashion, could this current Leicester challenge for a title? The only way to find out is to pit them against the squad that did. Here we go.
GOALKEEPER – Kasper Schmeichel (15/16) vs. Kasper Schmeichel (19/20)
Now 33 years old, Kasper Schmeichel has become one of the faces of Leicester City. Fans adore his leadership and calming presence, and respect his dedication to the club. But how does he stack up now against the likes of his younger self? With five clean sheets in 12 appearances under Brendan Rodgers this season, Schmeichel is up to his old tricks. Among qualifying goalkeepers, Schmeichel ranks second in the league in overall score according to SofaScore’s rating system, and has has managed to do so without facing a ton of shots – Leicester City has conceded the fourth-fewest xGA according to UnderStat.com.
So how does that stack up to the legendary title-winning season of 2015/16? That year, Schmeichel recorded 15 clean sheets in 38 league appearances, one behind Petr Cech‘s 16 for the league lead. He had the fourth-highest saves per goal conceded total in the league at 2.8, behind just Cech and a pair of goalkeepers with higher volume in Vito Mannone and Fraser Forster.
VERDICT: DRAW – Schmeichel is up to his old tricks, and has kept his level of play high through the years. Leicester City still has a rock between the sticks.
Wes Morgan and Robert Huth built an unlikely center-back partnership at Leicester City. A former Chelsea youth product, Huth was on his fourth club after spending six years at Stoke City toiling in the middle of the Premier League table. Morgan, meanwhile, had been a career Championship player, with the previous campaign his first in the top flight. Together, they logged a massive 6,570 Premier League minutes en route to a defensive performance that saw them concede just 36 goals in 38 games, one off the league’s stingiest defensive output. By April, the two led the top-four defenders in blocks, and both appeared in the WhoScored’s top 15 for center-back ratings at season’s end.
Today, an equally unlikely circumstance has led Leicester City to the league’s best defense. 23-year-old Caglar Soyuncu has developed into one of the best young center-back prospects in the league next to experienced former Manchester United defender Jonny Evans. Thanks to that pair, Leicester City is one of just two teams to have conceded a single-digit goal total through 12 matches alongside Sheffield United. Soyuncu ranks 3rd in WhoScored rating among CB’s with at least 7 appearances, while Evans is 11th, and the former is a beast in the air and pressures with accuracy. Also, he can dribble?
We were done, but this one was too weird not to do.
VERDICT: SOYUNCU/EVANS – While Wes Morgan and Robert Huth will live in club lore, the longevity potential for Soyuncu/Evans and their underlying statistics prove they are far more than a one-hit-wonder and can be a massive asset for this club moving forward.
One of the more under-heralded fan favorites of the 2015/16 title team, Christian Fuchs is another that will live on in club lore. He was energetic and a lively presence in the dressing room. Along with his full-back partner Danny Simpson, both players were seemingly on the decline before coming to Leicester – Fuchs had made 16 and 25 league appearances in his final two season at Schalke before being shipped out, while Simpson had lost his starting place at Newcastle two years prior and spent a season in the Championship with QPR before Leicester City gave him another shot at the Premier League. Somehow, things clicked under Claudio Ranieri and the two took off, providing both defensive cover and overlapping contributions moving forward.
With Fuchs a bit-part player and Simpson off at Huddersfield Town, they have been replaced by two of the best full-backs in the Premier League. Ricardo Pereira was the second-best right-back in the league behind Trent Alexander-Arnold last season according to WhoScored, while Ben Chilwell has earned a regular spot on the England national team.
VERDICT: Pereira/Chilwell – Fuchs is an absolute fan-favorite and Simpson’s revival was stunning to behold, but like the current center-back pairing Pereira and Chilwell have the longevity to serve the club for years or become valuable assets, and the two have already earned personal accolades the previous duo would not have achieved.
DEFENSIVE MID – N’Golo Kante (15/16) vs. Wilfred Ndidi (19/20)
This is one of the most fascinating player comparisons in recent soccer memory. N’Golo Kante’s rise to become one of the best defensive midfielders in the world, earning PFA Player of the Year in 2016/17 and finishing 8th on the Ballon d’Or list for 2017. Kante was the most important player on the title-winning squad – quite simply, Leicester City doesn’t win the title without Kante leading the league in tackles per 90 (4.7) and interceptions per 90 (4.2). His ability to halt opponent counters in their tracks was mind-numbing.
And yet, Leicester City’s only gone and produced his clone.
Wilfred Ndidi leads the league in interceptions per 90 minutes and is second in tackles behind tackle machine Aaron Wan-Bissaka. At just 23 years old, the Foxes are staring another N’Golo Kante in the face, a player who many believed – rightly so – was a once-in-a-generation type midfield product.
VERDICT: N’Golo Kante – while Ndidi is a massively promising player who is producing another season like Kante’s in 15/16, it will be hard to top one of the most legendary performances of the past decade, one backed up by Kante’s rise to stardom over the past few years.
CENTER MID – Danny Drinkwater (15/16) vs. Youri Tielemans (19/20)
Danny Drinkwater has flopped since his move to Chelsea, but don’t let that cloud your memory of his performance as N’Golo Kante’s midfield partner. Drinkwater was massively important to Leicester City during the title run, scoring two goals in 35 league appearances and assisting seven more, providing a dynamic presence in midfield to both calmly hold possession and provide dangerous moves forward. Still, admittedly being next to Kante made Drinkwater look better, and that proved true through the rest of his career.
Tielemans, on the other hand, is putting up numbers of his own that prove he’s his own player outside of any lift he gets from being slotted next to Ndidi and James Maddison. His passing percentage is way up from his days at Anderlecht and Monaco, and while he still struggles with turning the ball over on occasion, his heavy volume (55 passes per 90, 13th among non-defenders) and key passes (1.8 per 90, 17th in the league) suggest Tielemans has settled into an important role with the club.
VERDICT: Tielemans – While Danny Drinkwater was important to Leicester City’s run, his peripherals suggested Chelsea probably should have been more careful with its money. Tielemans has made significant strides since his disastrous time at Monaco and has become an important cog in midfield.
ATTACKING MID/WINGER – Riyad Mahrez/Marc Albrighton vs. James Maddison/Ayoze Perez (19/20)
Riyad Mahrez’s road to becoming Leicester City’s record sale was at times a bumpy tale, but there were no higher highs than he had in the 2015/16 title run. The Algerian international became a Premier League sensation with his 17 goals and 10 assists, doing it all for the Leicester City attack. He produced an xG of 11.88 for himself, with a silly goal conversion rate on top of that. In addition, he set his teammates up for a nearly equal 11.45 xA total, picking up 20 big chances created and dribbling successfully at a rate of 3.5 per 90 minutes. By contrast, Mahrez’s wing partner Marc Albrighton is a mostly forgettable player for casual fans, but he was massively important in other ways. Playing in every single Premier League match that season, Albrighton helped keep the shape and offered a more rigid foil to Mahrez’s marauding, with Fuchs overlapping on the left.
This season, James Maddison is the standout attacking player for the Foxes, with the 22-year-old developing into a key contributor up front. The youngster is eighth in the league in key passes per 90 minutes, and he himself is ripping off over three shots a game, with four league goals already to his name. Still, Maddison could be creating more – with 23 shot assists on the season so far, only two have qualified as “big chances” according to SofaScore. Ayoze Perez has not quite brought the explosiveness we saw in his Newcastle days over to the King Power Stadium, but his three-goal haul is also proving important early on.
VERDICT: Mahrez/Albrighton – while this duo was sorely one-sided, the season Riyad Mahrez had for Leicester City that title-winning campaign was an attacking display for the ages. Maddison is an extremely solid future asset contributing at a high level for such a young age, but he still has distance to cover to reach the heights of Mahrez that fateful year, who finished as the highest rated player in the entire league according to WhoScored.com.
STRIKER – Jamie Vardy (15/16) vs. Jamie Vardy (19/20)
Alongside Schmeichel, Jamie Vardy is the face of Leicester City. His out-of-nothing story makes him special to Leicester City fans, and his goalscoring prowess has been critical to the club ever since they were promoted to the Premier League. Vardy has made a career of scoring out of nothing – his top-flight career has seen him score 91 goals, a massive +11.5 differential over his 79.5 career xG.
Yet, a closer look provides a fascinating underscore of the evolution of the 32-year-old’s career. This season, in just 12 matches, Vardy has bagged 11 goals on an xG of just 5.19, meaning nearly 6 of that +11 career differential has come just this campaign. The Foxes striker is taking just two shots per 90 minutes, and yet has scored on nearly half of them – absolutely astronomical conversion numbers that are surely unsustainable, even if Vardy’s career has been built on exceptional finishing.
While those numbers are surely inflated by the relatively small sample size of 12 matches this year, they aren’t all that different from the title-winning season. That campaign, Vardy took 115 shots – 3.28 per game – and scored on 24 of them, and his 0.19 xG per shot is quite close to the 0.21 he is putting up this season. Most interesting, he scored 18 of those 24 goals with his right foot, a variance which has evened out this season as Vardy becomes more competent with his off side – four goals with his right, four with his left, and two with his head.
VERDICT: 15/16 Vardy – This season’s Jamie Vardy just isn’t shooting at the volume you’d expect from a striker of his finishing caliber, and he needs to find a higher volume if he wants to keep up the ridiculous goal conversion rate that will surely regress towards the mean.
It is impossible to discuss the epic season Leicester City had in 2015/16 without talking about Leonard Ulloa and Shinji Okazaki, who combined came off the bench 30 times in league play and were often called upon to rescue points. Andy King became a club icon as a Leicester City youth product who fans took a liking to, brought off the bench 16 times himself to close a game down.
Brendan Rodgers has Demari Gray and Harvey Barnes at his disposal to inject life into a game, while Hamza Choudhury is a talented young player who has shown flashes of being able to do the job himself should anything happen to Ndidi. Still, Grey – who was a member of that title-winning squad – has not become the star many thought he would a few years ago and Barnes is still showing his age at 21 years old. The group has yet to become true super-subs and Rodgers has been somewhat forced to run with his main group – five players have played every minute of this Premier League campaign so far (Schmeichel, Soyuncu, Evans, Vardy, Pereira) while another (Tielemans) is has seen just seven minutes of rest.
VERDICT: 2015/16 – It felt like every time Ranieri called upon the cavalry, they would deliver in the given situation. Gray has yet to develop into the player many believed he would years ago, and Barnes is still a raw product.
In Erik Pieters (Stoke City) Undisclosed
Joel Senior (Curzon Ashton) Undisclosed
Jay Rodriguez (West Bromwich Albion) Undisclosed Ryan Cooney (Bury) Undisclosed
Adan Phillips (Free)
Bailey Peacock-Farrell (Leeds United) Undisclosed Danny Drinkwater (Chelsea) Loan
Uruguay looks to continue its hot start to the 2019 Copa America when they take on tournament guests Japan in Porto Alegre.
A hot first half saw Uruguay down Ecuador 4-0 in its opener and positioned the South American giants well in Group C alongside fellow 4-0 winners Chile. A Uruguay win tonight and Chile win tomorrow against Ecuador would see both sides clinch spots in the knockout stage.
Manager Oscar Tabarez has made one change to his starting lineup against Japan, installing Arsenal midfielder Lucas Torreira in place of Matias Vecino who will miss the rest of the Copa America with a thigh injury. Otherwise, the team is unchanged with Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez, and Nicolas Lodiero manning the front lines.
For Japan, there is still plenty riding on this match as well despite their poor start. The Asian side can still qualify for the knockout stage in a number of ways, including one of two third-place slots. Still, they need points for that to happen and with each of the other two groups sporting third-place teams that have picked up points, Japan is behind the eight ball.
Anyway, with the transfer window closing at 6 p.m. ET next Thursday, Jan. 31, there are still plenty of PL clubs who have yet to make a single signing and are coy on the possibility of adding to their squads. There are also plenty of players praying for a big move, or just a switch to somewhere they can lock down some guaranteed playing time.
You just know everyone loves a last-minute bargain.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the business each of the Premier League’s clubs should do if they dip into the market in the final seven days.
Key transfer needs: Center back, CM – Unai Emery has had so many injuries in defense that he needs to add cover, but he’s already said he can only bring players in on loan. With Aaron Ramsey agreeing his move to Juventus for the summer, Denis Suarez seems to be coming in on loan from Barcelona, but do Arsenal really need another central midfielder? Getting a new center back in should be the priority and although they’ve been linked with Eric Bailly, that seems like a long shot.
Key transfer needs: None – They’ve done their business nice and early with Nathaniel Clyne and Dominic Solanke arriving from Liverpool, then promising young Welsh center back Chris Mepham arriving from Brentford for $15 million. With Jermain Defoe moving to Rangers, buying Solanke was a big risk at $24.1 million but he has bags of potential and Eddie Howe will think he can develop that talent a la David Brooks, Ryan Fraser and Callum Wilson. Clyne is only on loan, but you can see a permanent deal happening this summer. Mepham could be a long-term replacement for Nathan Ake, who reportedly has a buy-back clause in his contract and his former club Chelsea are keen to exercise it.
Brighton & Hove Albion
Key transfer need: Central midfield – Some extra depth in central midfield is all that is needed, as Chris Hughton has a strong squad and the quality of his starting XI doesn’t drop significantly when a regular is replaced. Having some extra nous in central midfield would be a good move, but not essential. The Seagulls probably won’t sign anyone.
Key transfer needs: Winger, attacking midfielder – Injuries to key players in attack have hampered Burnley for most of this season, and with their defense sorted out in recent weeks and Tom Heaton back in goal, they are shored up at the back. They could do with adding more creativity in the final third but Sean Dyche will be hesitant to spend big.
Key transfer needs: Striker, defenders – There is real work to do for Cardiff to seal some signings, and with the tragic situation regarding their club-record signing Emiliano Sala they are likely without a new forward to push them away from the relegation zone. Cardiff do not have a big budget and will have to wait for the last minute. They will have to get creative and look at loan deals, as Neil Warnock was angry to lose out to Bournemouth for Nathaniel Clyne.
Chelsea Key transfer needs: Central midfield – With Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud misfiring, Maurizio Sarri needed a new striker and he finally got one: Gonzalo Higuain arrived initially on loan from Juventus and will be tasked with putting away the copious chances Chelsea create. Cesc Fabregas left for Monaco and Sarri wants a new central midfielder, but a $55 million move for Cagliari midfielder Nicolo Barella seems unlikely, while Leandro Paredes seems to be heading to PSG instead. Maybe just play Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Callum Hudson-Odoi or Ross Barkley more, Maurizio?
Key transfer needs: Striker, striker, striker… – Roy Hodgson needs one thing to turn this team into a midtable side: a striker. Michy Batshuayi has been mentioned on several occasions but Hodgson has had to rely on less than prolific Andros Townsend, Wilfried Zaha and Jordan Ayew for goals. Palace are set elsewhere, but need a new targetman. If they don’t sign anyone, at least Christian Benteke is now back from injury. Reports that Borussia Dortmund want to sign Wilfried Zaha in the summer are worrying for Palace, but the Ivory Coast winger would demand a huge transfer fee if he did leave Selhurst Park. All of the focus should be adding help for Wilf as the Eagles aim to push away from a relegation battle in the final months of the season.
Key transfer needs: Striker, center back – The Toffees need a new center forward too, as Cenk Tosun‘s move just hasn’t worked out and Dominic Calvert-Lewin may not cut the mustard at the top level. Richarlison has had to play through the middle a lot this season and he is clearly better coming off the left. Jean-Kevin Augustin has been linked with a move to the Toffees, as well as other PL clubs, but he may be too expensive after a big outlay on new players over the past 12 months. Perhaps getting Michy Batshuayi in on loan makes more sense? As for defense, Kurt Zouma, Michael Keane and Yerry Mina have had rollercoaster campaigns and getting them extra cover, especially in a 3-4-3 formation, is vital.
Fulham Key transfer needs: Center back, full backs – Claudio Ranieri has improved this Fulham defense significantly but this may be all he can do with his group of players. Gary Cahill has been linked with a loan move from Chelsea and Ranieri could do with strengthening both full back positions and adding two new center backs. Going forward they look more than adequate, and added Ryan Babel on loan to help with that, but there’s no real balance in this team. Gary Cahill was linked with a move to Fulham on loan, and his experienced would be helpful for plenty of teams at the bottom of the table.
Key transfer needs: Everywhere – It is quite simple, Huddersfield need to spend big in the transfer window or they are going to get relegated. It seems they’re already resigned to their fate. Jason Puncheon has arrived from Crystal Palace on loan and has made a difference, but top quality in midfield and attack is needed. Losing Aaron Mooy and Danny Williams for a key part of the season was a blow. The Terriers know they will have to add a few new players in the next week to give themselves a chance of staying up, but that likely depends on how they get on in their next game.
Key transfer needs: Striker, central midfield – With Vicente Iborra sold to Villarreal, there is a hole in central midfield for Claude Puel to plug. Up top the likes of Shinji Okazaki and Kelechi Iheanacho continue to deliver lackluster displays and Jamie Vardy really needs some support. Bringing in a strong center forward who can link up with Vardy would be ideal. But Leicester probably won’t spend anything.
Liverpool Key transfer needs: Defenders – Injuries have hit Jurgen Klopp‘s side hard in this area of the pitch, but Joe Gomez, Dejan Lovren and Trent Alexander-Arnold will be back fit soon. Maybe a young defender or right back who can be developed is the way to go. Either way, Liverpool don’t need to do anything in the final days of the window.
Key transfer needs: Left back, defensive midfielder – Benjamin Mendy‘s injury problems mean that left back is the main area needed to strengthen in. Pep Guardiola‘s plan to play Fabian Delph there worked last season, but not so much this season, while Oleksandr Zinchenko hasn’t settled in that role. Aymeric Laporte has plugged the gap for now, but a long-term left back to challenge Mendy is badly needed. A long-term replacement for Fernandinho is needed too, as the Brazilian is badly missed when he’s been out injured. A few names thrown around to come into central midfield include Declan Rice (despite his new contract at West Ham) and Everton Soares, while City were priced out of a deal for Frankie de Jong as he signed for Barcelona.
Key transfer needs: Center back, left back – Defensively United need some serious help, as their stable of center backs are getting by in games but David De Gea is usually bailing them out. Luke Shaw is their only real option at left back, with Matteo Darmian, Marcos Rojo and Ashley Young able to play there out of position in a pinch. But Ole Gunnar Solskjaer probably won’t be allowed to spend money as he isn’t the permanent boss.
Key transfer needs: Striker, central midfielder, winger – Now, it is very unlikely Rafael Benitez will be given money to spend in January, but he does need to strengthen in a few areas. Defensively they are solid enough and they are all set. But going forward he is woefully short of quality options. Extra quality off the wing, a No. 10 and a striker to partner Salomon Rondon is needed. Miguel Almiron from Atlanta United has been linked with a move to St James’ Park but the Magpies are baulking at the $35 million transfer fee and Atlanta will let this run until the final hours of the window as they are in no rush. Benitez will be pulling his hair out right about now, as Newcastle just need a few reinforcements to push well clear of the relegation zone. Another club which could use Batshuayi to strengthen their attack.
Southampton Key transfer needs: Winger, striker, center back – Saints have yet to bring in a new signing, while Wesley Hoedt, Manolo Gabbiadini and Steven Davis have all been moved on and Cedric is on his way out. It seems like Ralph Hasenhuttl is keen to head to his former club RB Leipzig add the likes of Dayot Upamecano or Willi Orban to shore up his defensive unit, while adding Jean-Kevin Augustin, also from Leipzig, would be a major coup. Time is ticking for Saints, and their biggest need is for a new speedy striker to challenge Danny Ings, Michael Obefemi, Shane Long.
Key transfer needs: Central midfield, striker – The latter has become essential given injuries to Harry Kane and Dele Alli, while Heung-Min Son‘s absence throughout January has also hurt Spurs. It is unlikely they will do any business in the final week of the window, even after selling Mousa Dembele to the Chinese Super League. Harry Winks and Oliver Skipp will be asked to step into prominent roles in midfield in the final months of the season and that’s the great thing about Mauricio Pochettino: he loves giving young players a chance to shine.
Key transfer need: Center back – It is unlikely Watford will do much business but if they do, a new center back should be a priority. The Hornets are going along nicely under Javi Gracia and their squad looks extremely strong. If Abdoulaye Doucoure forces a move then it will be tough, but it is likely he will leave in the summer.
West Ham United
Key transfer needs: Striker – The Hammers are pretty set and spent a lot of money in the summer but Marko Arnautovic‘s stance that he wants to leave for the Chinese Super League has complicated what should have been a quiet window. Javier Hernandez reportedly wants out, while Andy Carroll is struggling after his latest return from injury. If Arnie is allowed to leave, Celta Vigo’s Maxi Gomez is said to top their list of replacement strikers. Batshuayi could be a short-term fix until the summer.
Wolverhampton Wanderers Key transfer need: Striker – Recent wins have shown the strength Nuno Espirito Santo already has in his squad. Having another option for Raul Jimenez up top would be handy if they are going to finish seventh and qualify for Europe. A move for Tammy Abraham fell through, and although they’ve been linked with Jean-Kevin Augustin too, they may not spend at all.