Leicester City will battle with expectation this year in a way they never have before. After an unexpected loss to Hull City week 1, they will now be tested even more with a visit from Arsenal, the only side to beat the Foxes twice last year.
Two games later they visit Liverpool, the only other team to take all 3 points from us last year. Facing more media and fan scrutiny than ever before, if they were to equal last year’s loss tally within the first 4 games, the blow to confidence, and the squad harmony that comes with it, could be a huge blow.
These things have a tendency to spiral quickly - look at Chelsea last year. So a bounce back performance and some kind of positive result against Arsenal suddenly looks a little more important than it did preseason.
The team looked unsteady and lacked composure throughout the Hull game and, while the loss could focus their minds, such a poor performance could undermine confidence further. This was a team that needed a pick-me-up.
BREAKING: Leicester midfielder Riyad Mahrez signs new contract until 2020: https://t.co/5IqcuhVU0F #SSNHQ https://t.co/Nn6hOaHEg2— Sky Sports News HQ (@SkySportsNewsHQ) August 17, 2016
Nicely timed then, Riyad. Well, some time in May or June might have been nicer still, but I’ll take it. Especially with the news that this contract doesn’t have a release clause.
The tricky Algerian hasn’t really looked himself throughout preseason and it carried over into the season with another slightly lackluster display. Although Mahrez himself never engaged in it, it is possible that the non-stop transfer transfer speculation was cutting into his concentration. Could we see a more focussed player, back to his magic best after a difficult time, personally?
He was always laughing, never anxious or nervous. Never - Ranieri on Mahrez
Ignore Claudio. What does he know anyway?
The important thing is that the team is a little more settled, they know who the squad is now and they can hopefully pull together a little more after a disjointed first game.
Tactically, the Foxes were full throttle in that game, with their most attacking pairings in central midfield, on the wings and up front. It was an exciting, if unexpected, team announcement to start the season and...it didn’t exactly work out.
They went into the first Arsenal match last year with a similar approach and were ripped apart for their only 3-goal loss since their return to the big time. Later in the season we took on the Gunners with a measured defensive approach and, until Danny Simpson was sent off, we looked to have the better of them. Could this bring a return to this more reserved mentality?
We won’t change our mentality. We are strong and we believe - Claudio Ranieri
Come on, man. Throw me a frickin’ bone, here.
Seriously though, I think this means the team-first hard-working mentality that the team is built on is here to stay, rather than the aggressive player selection. The return of Robert Huth will help there, but unless other areas are tightened, it might be asking too much of him. Here’s the team I’d go with:
In reality, the former Tinkerman has shown that he prefers to adapt and bring new players through very gradually, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Simpson and King retain their positions ahead of Hernandez and Mendy, with Okazaki returning up front for Musa.
Is this the right approach? Should we try to park the park bus and counter like last year, or should we be keeping the throttle on full against a team who themselves conceded 4 last weekend?
It still feels odd after such a settled side last year that there are so many possibility for this year’s lineup. Have your say below on what the best options are.
Oh and happy birthday to Big Bob, we’ve missed you.
Happy birthday big man @robert_huth #YouCantHandleTheHuth #LCFC pic.twitter.com/eZ6BjPFdMV— Christian Fuchs (@FuchsOfficial) August 18, 2016