Wilfried Ndidi

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Premier League 2017-18 preview – Leicester City

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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.

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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.


Best possible XI is… 

Schmeichel

Simpson — Morgan — Maguire — Fuchs

Iborra — Drinkwater — Ndidi 

Mahrez

Vardy — Iheanacho


[ MORE: 2017-18 PL season preview hub ] 

Transfers In: Vicente Iborra (Sevilla, $22 million), Harry Maguire (Hull City, $20 million), Eldin Jakupovic (Hull City), Sam Hughes (Chester City), Kelechi Iheanacho (Manchester City)

Transfers Out: Ron-Robert Zieler (Stuttgart), Marcin Wasilewski (released), Bartosz Kapustka (Freiburg, loan)

Last season:

UEFA Champions League quarterfinalists
— 12th in Premier League
— FA Cup fifth round loss to Millwall
League Cup third round loss to Chelsea

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.

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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.

January window made the difference in tighter relegation battle

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This year’s Premier League table sees just eight points between eighth place and 17th , and just four more before the relegation races. The latter gap will max at 15 and could be as small as nine.

It was 23 last season, and 21 the previous season. This year will end a three-season run of 20-plus points between 8th and 18th, and seems likely to be a harbinger of what’s to come.

With the big TV money increasing roster investment even more, it will become more difficult to stay in the league for all sides. Perhaps we’ll be talking a gap from 9th to the drop on occasion, especially if West Ham or Southampton ups its investments.

But look at tiny Burnley smashing its spending records this year, and how many clubs have shattered their transfer records. Part of that is a function of the market, but consider how much big boys Newcastle United and Aston Villa spent in an effort to return to the PL. The days of idle windows working are long gone. At best, they will be outliers.

Additionally, expect to see more activity in the transfer market itself (if not in January, then August).

Sunderland proved the old maxim of Jims and Joes being more important than x’s and o’s on a weekly basis this season, and — with apologies to Paul Clement, Sam Allardyce, and Craig Shakespeare — the winter window saved the seasons of Swansea, Palace, and Leicester as key pieces Patrick Van Aanholt, Luka Milivojevic, Mamadou Sakho, Wilfred Ndidi, Martin Olsson, and Tom Carroll arrived to new homes.

(You may find it curious to see Leicester there, but Ndidi’s arrival was probably the No. 1 move in the country. In a world without N'Golo Kante, he was Best XI quality at his position).

Even Hull City’s turnaround under Marco Silva prominently featured January buys in the forms of Andrea RanocchiaLazar Markovic, Alfred N'Diaye and others.

When you see that Sunderland whiffed on several half-hearted Moyes-Everton reunions and Middlesbrough got little from its four window buys, all four of which sit outside their Top 11 in per-match performance, it’s fairly clear that men make the difference.

There’s always danger in evaluating an entire league based on one season, but it feels prescient to me. What do you think?

Leicester City 3-0 Watford: Foxes keep moving on up

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  • Leicester goes ninth
  • Vardy lively
  • Ndidi rewarded with goal
  • Watford drops 15th

Leicester City is within a win of eighth place after a thorough beatdown of Watford at the King Power Stadium on Saturday.

Wilfried Ndidi, Riyad Mahrez and Marc Albrighton scored in a 3-0 win for the Foxes, who now have 43 points after spending so much of the season in the drop zone. Leicester is two points back of West Brom.

Watford drops a spot, their 40 points now eight points clear of Swansea.

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Watford found some moments of promise after the first 10 minutes, and Tom Cleverley wasted a good chance from 18 yards.

Leicester rang the bell at the other end five minutes later, as Adrian Mariappa acted quick to stop a free kick play from reaching Shinji Okazaki. The ball rang off the post, and Watford was safe.

Ndidi changed Leicester City’s season in the long-term, and finally gave the Foxes their deserved lead in the short-term when he pounced on a missed Watford touch about 8 yards from goal.

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Heurelho Gomes went horizontal to make a slapping stop on Vardy as the second half began and Leicester’s tails remained up.

And Mahrez beat Mariappa on the left of the 18 before nutmegging Gomes for a 2-0 Leicester lead.

The Foxes had a chance to eliminate all visiting hope with a near dead center free kick from 25 yards out, but Christian Fuchs‘ 72nd minute left-footed effort curled over the bar.

Albrighton added the final marker in stoppage time on a pretty classic Leicester counter attack. Vardy sucked Watford’s entire defense left, and Albrighton raced to the back post for a wide-open finish.

Premier League AT HALF: Leicester, Stoke nab first half leads

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For a second-straight Saturday, a batch of mid-morning Premier League matches is begging for more attack.

[ MORE: Man City crushes Crystal Palace ]


Burnley 0-0 West Bromwich Albion [STREAM]  

Not much cooking here aside from the typical physical play you’d expect from a Sean Dyche and Tony Pulis managed affair.

Leicester City 1-0 Watford [STREAM]  

Wilfried Ndidi changed Leicester City’s season in the long-term, and finally gave the Foxes their deserved lead in the short-term when he pounced on a missed Watford touch about 8 yards from goal.

Hull City 0-0 Sunderland [STREAM]  

No breakthrough yet for Hull as the Tigers attempt to put heat on Crystal Palace and open up more space from Swansea City. Hull probably should’ve been awarded a penalty for a clumsy handball from John O'Shea.

Bournemouth 0-1 Stoke City [STREAM]  

At last, Stoke’s goal drought is over before reaching 11 hours of play. Geoff Cameron appeared to have scored off a corner kick, but the ball hit Lys Mousset on its way to an own goal.