Leicester City's Worrying Situation: What Needs To Change?
There is no general consensus as to how Leicester City will perform this season, after a previous campaign that was plagued by COVID-19 outbreaks and injuries. Both Leicester City’s board and the manager, Brendan Rodgers, have continuously downplayed the club’s chances in the media, calling for ‘different expectations’ this season to be adopted. This pessimism is not what the team will want to hear after so many years of continuous impressive league finishes and playing European football. For fans of The Foxes, the future looks worryingly uncertain.
At the time of writing, Leicester City have played two games. They drew 2-2 to Brentford on opening day, in what was a disappointing display from The Foxes in the second half. Leicester looked like they were going to cruise to a comfortable win with two goals in the first 45 minutes, but they allowed The Bees to acquire a glimmer of hope in the 62nd minute, with Ivan Toney finding the back of the net. Brentford scored again with Dasilva notching the equaliser in the 86th minute.
The Foxes then faced a difficult trip to the Emirates, where they succumbed to a 4-2 defeat thanks to a Gabriel Jesus brace and an impressive display from Gabriel Martinelli. Arsenal only winning by a 2 goal cushion was somewhat of a let off for Leicester City, as the Gunners could have easily won the game by a much bigger margin.
Indeed, it was only lacklasture defending from Arsenal that allowed Leicester City back into the game in the first place. When defender William Saliba scored an own goal to make the score 2-1, The Foxes allowed Arsenal midfielder Xhaka to score two minutes later. For the most part of the game, Leicester looked deflated and out of ideas.
Of course, it is important to remember that Leicester have only played two games this season; form can improve and tactics can be altered. Allowing heads to drop and failing to take chances to get back into a match however does not set a promising precedent for The Foxes for the rest of this season. One is led to question the mindset within the dressing room. Rodgers commented after in his post match Arsenal press conference that “he was impressed with the performance” and how his team “fought back” after equalising. After losing 4-2, is this really what the fans of Leicester City football club, who have often delivered upsets to the traditional ‘top six,’ want to hear?
Back in July during his first preseason interview, Rodgers commented on the need for “different expectations,” cutting a downbeat figure as he said it. This is the sound of a manager conceding to a disappointing campaign before a ball had even been kicked. Surely such an attitude has not helped within the atmosphere of the dressing room, who know, and have proved, that they are more capable of going toe to toe with the big teams. Rodgers’ comments about being impressed that his team ‘challenged’ after losing 4-2 make him sound like he is managing a newly promoted side, not a side who have consistently challenged for a top four place.
Another worrying factor for the Leicester faithful is their very limited transfer activity during this summer’s window. After the shock departure of captain and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, who had occupied the goalkeeper starting spot for over 10 years, The Foxes signed the experienced Alex Smithies on a free transfer. Smithies is expected to take on the role as backup goalkeeper, with Danny Ward stepping up for Leicester to become their starter goalkeeper. This is the only signing that Leicester City have made at the time of writing.
Many commented on the need for new players last season, and it is a huge gamble to not act to at least refresh the squad. Brendan Rodgers addressed the lack of transfer business this summer in a recent pre game press conference. “I felt it was the right time to improve, but it’s not the case and I respect the club’s position.” He also went on to say that business could only be conducted if key players were sold.
Reading between the lines, it seems that Rodgers is implying that the board have chosen not to back him in the transfer market this summer, despite his feeling that new signings should be brought in to freshen up and improve his current squad. With the transfer window slamming shut in a couple of weeks, it looks more and more likely that the board will follow through with what they told Rodgers at the beginning of the window.
Leicester City have talent in abundance. There is no doubt about that. Over the past few years they have conducted excellent scouting to bring young talent to the club, signing the likes of James Maddison from Norwich City and defender James Justin from Luton Town. However, there are areas in which The Foxes must improve to ensure they continue their impressive form in the Premier League this season. The first obvious area is the centre back position.
Experienced veteran Jonny Evans and young talent Wesley Fofana started alongside Daniel Amartey in a back three for the opening game of the season. Rodgers most likely chose to deploy a back three system to utilise the attacking threats of his fullbacks whilst also defending against Brentford’s dangerous attack. Evidently, this did not prevent The Foxes from collapsing in the second half and only gaining one point, with striker Toney being heavily involved in The Bee’s revitalisation. Deciding to play a back three was a tactical blunder from Rodgers, who has a reputation for focusing too much on how to limit the opposition instead of letting his team impose their identity on the game.
Beyond Evans and Fofana, the club’s centre back depth is questionable. Jan Vestergaard seems to be far away from Rodgers’ plans and Çağlar Söyüncü has become somewhat of a liability when he plays, not being able to reach the form he managed in his impressive premier league debut season. With Fofana being a defender in demand who is rumoured to have agreed terms with Chelsea, a new centre back signing looks to be an essential acquisition for Leicester to make.
The Foxes are also in need of a new winger acquisition for the upcoming season. At the start of the transfer window, permanently signing Ademola Lookman looked to be a certainty, but the winger instead chose to strike a deal with Serie A club Atlanta. With star player Harvey Barnes currently out injured, Leicester’s options are limited and they lack pace out wide. When Barnes returns from injury, he will be expected to consistently occupy the wide left role due to the departure of Lookman. There is a real need for a new right winger, and Leicester current refusal to seek a new addition could hinder their potency in attack as the season goes on.
As Leicester City stutter in the transfer window and refuse to refresh their squad, other Premier League clubs are circling around their star players. Fofana, as mentioned previously, is rumoured to have already struck a deal with Chelsea and a move is all but imminent, especially after the player seemed to bid farewell to the travelling Leicester fans at the Emirates.
Newcastle are also trying to sign Leicester’s vital talent James Maddison, with The Foxes rejecting two offers so far as they fall below their valuation of £60m. Midfielder Boubakary Soumare looks set to leave The Foxes after Rodgers conceded that it was a ‘big possibility,’ and there are also rumours of Arsenal targeting Youri Tielemans.
Letting players leave and not bringing in new faces is often detrimental to a club’s season, and can often lead to a dejected frame of mind in the team. It is important to be smart in the transfer market, as Leicester for so long often have been, but not improving when key players have left or may soon be leaving is a dangerous game to play.
At this moment in time, the expectations that Rodgers and the board hold is very different to the expectations of the fanbase and the players. Over the past few seasons, Leicester have achieved a staggering amount, delivering historic performances along the way. The manager talks about having “different expectations” for the season, yet he is presiding over a set of players who have become accustomed to playing European football and frequently challenging among the big teams in the league table.
The Leicester board may not be able to spend due to financial constraint, but not looking for alternative options such as free transfers and loans gives the impression of a club who are conceding to disappointment before a ball has even been kicked. Leicester fans have seen their team reach impressive heights and they know what they’re capable of. The players know it too. Rodgers’ current gloom-ridden approach and the board’s refusal to endeavour in the transfer market is likely to produce a despondent atmosphere within the dressing room and in the fanbase. Unless something drastically changes, the outlook for Leicester City’s season looks bleak, dominated by division and pessimism.