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Match Preview: Leicester begins title defense against newly-promoted Hull

It’s the second week of August. That means Premier League football is back for another season, and this time Leicester are reigning champions.

Leicester City v Everton - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

Location: KCOM Stadium, Kingston upon Hull, England

Kick-off time: 12:30 PM GMT, 09:30 AM Eastern, 06:30 AM Pacific

SB Nation Opposition Blog: N/A

Available TV: Sky Sports (UK), NBCSN (US), TSN (Canada)

Available streaming: NBC Sports Live Extra

Flashback to this exact time last year.

Chances are you were just happy to see Leicester City back in the Premier League. The greatest of great escapes helped the Foxes finish 14th after being bottom of the league for four-and-a-half months. A nice lower-mid table finish was hopefully on the horizon, maybe even a decent cup run, but most importantly — Premier League survival.

Now, Leicester returns to the Premier League as Champions of England after sitting atop the standings at the end of the year with 81 points — 10 ahead of second-place Arsenal despite being neck-and-neck with Tottenham for most of the year.

Fresh off a preseason tour across Europe and North America at the International Champions Cup that included opponents like Barcelona, Celtic and Paris Saint-Germain, the Foxes approach unfamiliar territory as champions with the added bonus of Champions League football on the horizon.

Things could not be more different this time around, and it’s for certain that both Leicester City’s players and passionate fans are up for the challenge.

Bolstered by the retention of key players such as Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez (we think) — coupled with a handful of key signings that include the likes of Ahmed Musa and Luis Hernandez — the Foxes begin their title-defending season on Saturday afternoon away to Hull City at the KCOM Stadium.

Hull City v Leicester City - Capital One Cup Fourth Round
Leicester are unbeaten (W3, D2) in their last five league games against Hull, but lost 1-1 (5-4) on penalties to the Tigers last season in the Capital Cup Fourth Round.
Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

N’Golo Kante is gone to Chelsea, and the Foxes are left with a defensive hole that needs to be filled in the midfield beside Danny Drinkwater. Andy King looks poised to get his chance to fill that role, but Leicester’s like-for-like signing to Kante in Nampalys Mendy could be exactly what the Foxes need to fill the void left by Kante’s departure.

Mendy is one of five summer signings for Leicester that could make their debuts, but the lone start looks most likely in center back Luis Hernandez with Robert Huth serving the second match of his three-match ban from clashing with Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini last season. Other than that, Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri has a fully fit squad to choose his starting XI from, but don’t expect the Italian to deviate from last year’s winning formula too much for the first few games.

For Hull, it’s hard to imagine making your return to the Premier League in worse shape than when you left the Championship, but somehow they’ve done it. Almost every pundits’ favorite to go straight back down, the Tigers are without a permanent manager after the departure of Steve Bruce, are missing a number of key players due to injury including Michael Dawson and Moses Odubajo, and could possibly dress only 13 players this Sunday.

Mohamed Diame, who scored the winning goal at Wembley for Hull last season in the play-offs, jumped ship to take a step back down to the Championship to play for Newcastle. It’s safe to say the Hull fans aren’t happy as more protests are planned for the KCOM this weekend against the owner Assem Allam.

The Tigers have experience in midfielders Robert Snodgrass and Tom Huddlestone and their biggest offensive threat coming in striker Abel Hernandez, who notched 20 goals in 39 games for Hull last season in their promotion campaign. Apart from that, it’s hard to find much bite in this Hull side who could begin to struggle early back in the Premier League.

Score Prediction: Expect Leicester to push aggressively against a newly-promoted, beaten-up Hull side with the Leicester back line keeping their only big threat in Hernandez at bay. Hull 0 - 3 Leicester (Vardy, Mahrez, Musa)