Leicester 2020/21: Another top-four challenge unlikely?

Ahead of the new season, we look at Leicester's strengths, weaknesses and what the targets will be for boss Brendan Rodgers...

Leicester

On the face of it, a Europa League spot looked a good season for Leicester. But the truth is, there's no fooling the fans. This was an opportunity missed.

Despite holding a 14-point lead over Manchester United midway through the season, Leicester ended up finishing fifth in the Premier League, meaning Europa League football is added to this season's schedule rather than the much-coveted Champions League.

How Leicester react is vital. Will they turn over a new leaf and treat this as a fresh season to challenge to break the top four? Or will their poor form seep into the coming campaign?

Where they stand

Image: James Maddison and Jamie Vardy have secured their futures at the club

Though transfer activity has been minimal so far during the current window, Leicester have secured the long-term futures of James Maddison and Jamie Vardy.

In central defence behind Caglar Soyuncu and 32-year-old Jonny Evans, they have veteran Wes Morgan and 2019 summer signing Filip Benkovic, whom it is clear Brendan Rodgers does not trust fully.

Leicester are full of options in midfield, but little out wide, while Kelechi Iheanacho has been hit and miss if Leicester plan to play two strikers.

It feels Leicester have recognised their financial limitations - they took out loans to fund the new £100m training ground - and have instead secured the futures of current players as Rodgers seeks to improve what he has at his disposal.

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Leicester transfer business so far

In
Timothy Castagne - Atalanta, £21.5m

Out
Calvin Bassey - Rangers, free transfer
Daniel Iversen - OH Leuven, loan
Ben Chilwell - Chelsea, undisclosed
Viktor Johansson - Rotherham, free transfer

Merson's verdict: Leicester can cause problems

Leicester City boss Brendan Rodgers shakes hands with Manchester United's Harry Maguire after their 2-0 home defeat on the final day of the 2019/20 season
Image: Leicester finished just short of fourth place, despite holding a 14-point lead over Man Utd at one stage of the season

"I see Leicester causing teams problems next season, just as they did last season. I'm a big fan of Jamie Vardy, if he stays fit and strikes up that partnership again with James Maddison, who they missed at times last season, Leicester will be in the mix again.

"It will be hard for Brendan Rodgers. They have had to sell Ben Chilwell, and tying Vardy and Maddison to new deals is like making a signing, whereas other clubs are spending fortunes. Leicester have also got the Europa League to contend with, but I'd like to think they will give that a real go.

"They look like a side well suited to the Europa League; they are hard to beat and great on the counter-attack. It's realistic to accept they are not going to win the Premier League and getting in the top four is going to be a tough ask, so if they really go for it, they could be real dark horses in Europe."

Where they're strong

At 33, Jamie Vardy shows no signs of slowing after claiming the Golden Boot last season with 23 goals and signing a contract extension this month to keep him at the club until he is 36.

Vardy's quality derives from his devastating conversion rate: one-third of his unblocked shots were scored last term, with a success rate only surpassed by Danny Ings among the top scorers.

Leicester also attempted a league-topping 742 tackles, with Wilfred Ndidi (129) and Ricardo Pereira (118) leading the way. The graphic below shows how the Foxes are particularly good at snuffing out danger down their defensive flanks.

Foxes hunting opponents

Leicester only allowed opponents to average at 9.5 passes before making a defensive action last season (known as 'PPDA') - no club achieved greater pressing intensity in the middle and attacking thirds.

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Where they need to improve

Leicester were gunning for third spot when the league was suspended but capitulated after the restart and lost out on Champions League qualification on the final day, so 'consistency' will be the buzzword in the King Power dressing room.

Incredibly, the Foxes spent 92.1 per cent of the season in the top four, while Manchester United managed only 6.2 per cent and still pipped them to the post.

Key injuries played a major role in their downfall, with key creator Maddison sidelined along with the full-backs Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira - but their form had taken a notable dip during the festive period and never fully recovered.

However, Rodgers will be looking to replace Chilwell as a priority after the England left-back joined Chelsea in a £50m deal, having played an integral part of the team's build-up play between Soyuncu and attack.

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Key man

Leicester will be without Ricardo Pereira for the rest of the season
Image: Ricardo Pereira suffered an ACL injury in March

Ricardo. Coming back from a ruptured ACL, the right-back is arguably Leicester's best player, and will be even more key if he plays right wing-back in a 3-4-1-2. If he hadn't received that devastating injury in March, the Portuguese may well have been sold.

One to watch

Teenager Luke Thomas made his Leicester debut - and set up a goal for Ayoze Perez
Image: Luke Thomas impressed last season for Leicester

Luke Thomas. The 19-year-old academy graduate, capped at England youth level, was Development Squad player of the season and impressed when given minutes in the first team. He may feature heavily unless Leicester do splash out on a left-back.

What is success for Leicester in 2020/21?

A good cup run, particularly in Europe, and a top-six finish would be success. There is a feeling that Leicester will struggle to recreate the form they produced in the first half of last season, particularly with a lack of big spending and the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United splashing out.

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