It may have just been a stretch of the legs against League 1 Oxford United, but the Foxes were back on the pitch yesterday for the first time since their title winning campaign came to an end at Stamford Bridge in May. Leicester ran out in their familiar 4-4-2 formation, with 9 of the 14 players used that day appearing.
Although the result and, to some extent, the performance, were irrelevant, some things can still be nothing can be taken from it. So here are a few thoughts based on what we saw:
Mahrez Plays, Gray Stars
Transfer speculation is nothing new for this team this summer, but recently things have been particularly confusing with Riyad Mahrez. Days apart we’re getting stories saying he wants a new challenge and is on the verge of leaving, then that the club is completely confident that he’s staying.
It was reassuring then to see him on the pitch. Again, it was just a run out and his performance was nothing to note, but players with impending transfers just don’t play in friendly matches.
Demarai Gray will be one hell of a player - Gary Lineker
With or without the tricky Algerian, the future may be bright for the club, though. Young winger Demarai Gray, signed from Birmingham City in January for just under £4m was the stand out performer on the night.
He was fast and tricky, reaffirming the ability we saw last year to turn fullbacks inside out. He capped his 45 minute first half performance with an equalising goal.
A Chance for Youth
Alongside the 21-year-old Gray, two teenagers given a chance to start with Hamza Choudhury (18) in central midfield and Ben Chilwell (19) at left back.
Chilwell broke into the first team squad last preseason and quickly became the backup to Christian Fuchs, playing in most of the sides cup matches. He’s very well thought of at the club and beyond and, if his suiters can be kept at bay, it’s when he will break into the 11, not if.
Choudhury, a combative defensive midfielder, was listed in The Guardian’s Next Generation 2014 as a player with a very bright future. At the time, he was linked with many of the biggest clubs in Europe before signing his first professional contract with Leicester.
A Look at the New Guys
Unfortunately, Choudhury’s chance to start came at the expense of very brief record signing Nampalys Mendy, who missed the game with a slight injury problem.
Albrighton and Mendy had little problems. I wanted to leave them out but maybe they will play at Celtic - Ranieri
The other 3 senior signings Zieler, Hernandez and Musa, however, did all come on in the second half. Zieler was not often called upon, but did make a few saves towards the end of the game. Hernandez as well looked solid, but hard to judge against opposition like this.
Musa’s was the appearance from which we can take the most note. While his performance against an Oxford defence won’t necessarily translate to the Premier League, one aspect the fans were keen to see was his well advertised pace.
Musa using his pace already. He looks lightning quick. Zoooooooooooom.— BBC Leicester Sport (@BBCRLSport) July 19, 2016
It was there alright and he’ll be just as quick in real games. However they choose to line up, Leicester’s pace will scare opponents on the counter even more than last year.
Who’s Playing Right Back?
We’ve already discussed the right back situation here before, and it’s clearer today. Danny Simpson started the match, as expected, and will almost certainly start the season. He was one of the weaker links in the team last year, however, and certainly could be replaced.
Luis Hernandez was one possibility touted to take over, but as the 3rd choice center-back we’re unlikely to see him given an opportunity in the preaseason, at least until Morgan and Huth are fit and happy to go a full 90 minutes.
The backup is also an area of uncertainty. Ritchie de Laet started last season, but was loaned out in January and made no appearance in the game. Instead, utility man Daniel Amartey came on to play right back in the second half.
After signing in January, the young Ghanaian filled in in a number of positions, but was the name called upon when Simpson was suspended. Interestingly enough, while Amartey played on the right, CB/RB Liam Moore was brought on in central midfield, another position Amartey has covered.
Was this a statement of intent on a firm position for Amartey, or an indictment of his midfield play? Or possibly just a weird experiment? Tune in this season to find out.
All in all, the team will have been happy to get some minutes into some rusty legs with no major incidents.
As preseason rolls on, Leicester will next play Celtic on Saturday. I’ll hold off on calling that a bigger challenge until we know whether Brendon Rogers’ men have been knocked out of Europe by minnows Lincoln Red imps from Gibraltar.