Over the course of the last season, Leicester City fielded one of the oldest teams in the Premier League. Even after young midfielder Wilfred Ndidi joined, the Foxes first choice starting line up from last season are now 30, 30, 32, 33, 31, 26, 27, 20, 27, 31 and 30 years old.
Not only were we old on average, but we probably look younger on average than in reality; all of the players who’d be considered young are midfielders.
Old doesn't necessarily mean bad (Manchester City were up there with us), but it is a good suggestion that performance is more likely to decline in the future than improve. When placed in the context of a team that massively declined on their previous season, you could get the impression that the loss of Ngolo Kanté was not the only factor in our drop off.
The summer got off to a good start with the arrival of Harry Maguire, a 24 year old centre back who should slot in immediately and push one of those 30’s out. We also have two very promising young talents in Demarai Gray (21) and Ben Chilwell (20), both pressing for more playing time.
Get in Demarai Gray ⚽️#eurou21 pic.twitter.com/W0jogxyQKS— Mike Dudley (@MDudz2) June 22, 2017
The problem is, you can't necessarily just throw them both in together. Gray may be forced into the starting line up if Riyad Mahrez moves on. In that situation, the likelihood is that he’ll play on the left with Albrighton moving over to his more natural position on the right.
He’s an exciting attacking talent, as he’s been showing at the Under 21 European Championships, but he doesn’t put a lot of effort into defending, even compared to Mahrez. That puts a lot of pressure on whichever fullback is playing behind him. As good as Chilwell has looked at times, he might not be ready for that at the highest level yet.
For me, the answer is that team needs to continue what they’ve started and keep buying young defensively. Another centre back would be ideal, with the likes of Ben Gibson (24) and Wesley Hoedt (23) linked. Depending on how the team views Daniel Amartey (22), more cover at right back is also a must.
The other end of the pitch is a slightly different matter. With a bounce-back end to the season, Jamie Vardy showed that he’s still comfortably good enough to lead the line at this level. He’s not only still a very good player, he’s also completely instrumental to the way this team plays football right now. Which is where it gets tricky. Anyone not interested in doom and gloom ought to skip the next paragraph.
While he has other traits, there’s no doubt that his game is based around blistering pace. Without it, he probably doesn't have the technical ability to remain a genuine, ageless threat like Jermaine Defoe. He’s also 30. People don’t get faster after 30. Unless they share a coach with Justin Gatlin, they tend to slow down and sometimes rapidly.
It probably won't be soon, but we’ll need a replacement eventually. None of Shinji (31) Ulloa (30) or Slimani (29) look like the future, but young, good quality strikers cost...well the price keeps going up so fast I don’t really know. If it’s Iheanacho, about £25m, and he’s got just 12 league goals to his name.
Anyone who comes in for that kind of price tag will be expecting to start and no one Leicester could attract would be good enough to replace Vardy right now. Anyone else getting regular minutes up front will do so in a secondary role. If they decide to leave this one until it becomes more pressing, I couldn’t blame them.
Of course, just buying young players isn't the end of the story, as Bartosz Kapustka showed us. Trusting inexperienced players can be a difficult with so much at stake, but this team has shown twice in the last 3 years that they can escape trouble if they get too close.
Maybe the young players won't be up to it yet, but there’s only one way to find out.