[This series will break down each positional group and preview its expectations on a player-by-player basis. We have covered goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders, and we finish the series with strikers.]
Wrapping up our season preview of each position leading up to Saturday’s kickoff, we take a look at the strikers that we will find on the squad this season. The 15/16 campaign was filled with moments of speed, strength, excellent vision and hard work from the position. Who among us wasn’t holding their breath every time Vardy went charging into the eighteen yard box? This was an exciting group last season, and lucky for us, that core group remains heading into this season.
That being said, the summer was not short of drama in this position – with Jamie Vardy being courted by Arsenal, leading most of us to spend hours on end refreshing our social media accounts to learn the outcome of the newest edition of The Decision. We were all awarded with good news - Jamie Vardy is going nowhere. Meanwhile, the position grew stronger, as Ahmed Musa was signed to the squad during the summer transfer window.
Jamie Vardy - @vardy7
Saying it was a quiet summer for Jamie Vardy couldn’t be further from the truth. With EURO 2016 and the Gunners attempt to pull him away from the Foxes, it was a busy summer for the electric striker. That said – THE VARDY PARTY IS STAYING IN LEICESTER – as Vardy just signed another new contract, keeping the English striker with the Foxes until 2019.
Season Preview: Vardy was the most electric striker in the Premier League last season and provided us with some stunning goals along the way (Liverpool match, anyone?). Vardy scored twenty-four goals in the 2015/2016 campaign, including scoring in a record eleven consecutive Premier League matches. It was a phenomenal campaign, and led to his spot on the EURO 2016 roster for the Three Lions.
Vardy flourished under Claudio Ranieri in his first season in charge, and I expect him to continue to excel in Ranieri’s system. Even with the addition of Ahmed Musa, I see no concern for Vardy’s spot. His impact and ability in Ranieri’s system is unmatched, but the spirit he brings to the team only adds to the value Vardy adds to the club. Buckle up – the Vardy Party rages on...
Shinji Okazaki - @okazakiofficial
The Japanese international joined the Foxes last season from FSV Mainz 05, and played an integral role in the Foxes title run. While the position of forward is a bit more crowded this year, Okazaki still will have an important role to play in the upcoming season.
Status: Starter...for now.
Season Preview: If you are a casual fan, taking a look at the amount of goals that Okazaki put in the back of the net last season wouldn't necessarily blow you away - scoring six goals through thirty-six appearances. That being said, goals scored doesn't tell the story of Okazaki last season.
The 15/16 campaign was marked by his contributions leading up to goals on and off the ball. He was exceptional at finding space in a defense, providing pin point passes to create opportunities on goal and putting forth a work rate that was second to perhaps only N’Golo Kanté.
Even with the signing of Ahmed Musa, I am not too concerned for Okazaki’s starting spot at this point in time. The work rate he brings and ability to structure the counter attack make him a valuable piece to Ranieri. However, if things begin to become a bit stale and the side struggles, it would not be surprising to me if Musa takes over for Okazaki.
Ahmed Musa made the move to King Power Stadium this summer from CSKA Moscow for a reported fee of around £16 million. The Nigerian striker provides added depth to the front line of Leicester, having scored 58 goals in 168 matches at CSKA Moscow.
Status: First off the bench
Season Preview: Musa is an exciting new addition for the squad, and should make an impact immediately. We saw what Musa has to offer against Barcelona – pace, creativity, good vision on the ball. Furthermore, he can play on the left wing or play up top along with Vardy & Co. With an ability to play on the wing, Musa could allow the Foxes to play in a variety of formations, and the prospect of Vardy, Mahrez and Musa forming an attack together is one that I would love to see.
Ultimately, time will tell on what Musa’s impact will be, but if I had to pick someone that I was eagerly waiting to see their contribution this season, I’d pick Musa. It will be interesting to see if he’ll provide quality depth off the bench or if Ranieri plans to plug him into the starting eleven. I expect Musa to come off the bench at the beginning of the season, but could easily find his way into the starting eleven should Okazaki struggle or if a change is needed on the left wing.
Demarai Gray – @22Demarai
Am I the only one that finds it crazy that Gray has only been a member of this squad since his transfer from Birmingham in January? Seems like he’s been a part of this squad since as long as I can remember, but perhaps that is a compliment to the talent and contributions that Gray made over the back half of last season.
Status: Secondish off the bench, depending on where he will play.
Season Preview: Gray’s status for this season is an interesting one to consider with the addition of Musa. While squads for the International Champions Cup guarantee us nothing, Ranieri used Gray frequently during those friendlies, and continues to show a promising future. He brings great speed and the ability to run right at a back line in attack.
I expect Gray to still contribute to the side this season, but it feels to me that Musa will cut into the time playing up front, particularly if he too is coming off the bench. Expect Gray to make appearances, but perhaps more frequently on the wing this season.
Leonardo Ulloa – @Ciclone1923
Ulloa was a popular option for Ranieri coming off the bench last season, making twenty two appearances off substitutions to score six goals along the way – including that finish from the spot to earn the 2-2 draw with West Ham late in the season (a beautiful moment). He adds quality depth off the bench, and allows us to bring on a striker that can hold up the ball more to allow the attack to build.
Status: Second off the bench
Season Preview: Ulloa should be the second striker off the bench as long as Musa is on there. His change of style in the position is a nice asset to have. On top of this, Ulloa brings good experience to the squad. He is a player that I still expect to make a multitude of appearances off the bench in matches this season.
Jefferey Schlupp – @Jefferey_Schlupp
If the Leicester City squad were a Monopoly board, Schlupp would own the entire left side of it. He has played left wing back under Pearson, as well left back, left wing and up top as a striker (which is the position he is listed as on the official roster) under Ranieri. Schlupp adds good depth in a multitude of positions, which is nothing to complain about for the more intense 2016/2017 campaign.
Status: Squad Rotation player
Season Preview: Since Schlupp lost the starting left back role early in last year’s title winning campaign, he has not found himself in the starting lineup over Albrighton or Fuchs unless there is a reason they cannot start. Schlupp will be the piece that fills gaps in as needed for Leicester, so expect to see him making appearances, particularly with the more strenuous campaign ahead.