Leicester City begin their preseason preparations in earnest this week, with the start of the training camp in Austria. With last season behind us and a new one appearing in front, we’re appraising the current status of the playing squad. Previously it was goalkeepers, and today its defenders.
The 63 goals conceded last season nearly doubled the total from the year before, so far it was from ideal. Particularly worrying was the tendency to capitulate once behind, as we conceded three or more goals ten times, including 5 against Porto and 6 against Tottenham.
Age certainly appeared to be a factor for centre backs Huth and Morgan, though they were able to right the ship to an extent as the season wore on. Their primary backup Marcin Wasilewski also showed signs that his time with the club was winding down and, while Yohan Benaloune was a pleasant surprise when called upon, at 30 he couldn’t be considered a long term fix.
(...This would not end well).
The defensive positives came from the fullbacks, mainly. Danny “the player rater’s nightmare” Simpson remained his consistent 7/10 self, while the youthful exuberance of Ben Chilwell proved to be a good foil for the calm experience of Christian Fuchs. Depth behind Simpson was rarely needed, but obviously lacking when called on.
In a quiet summer so far, two of our three moves came at the back, with Wasilewski leaving and Harry Maguire joining. That’s not expected to be the end of the matter, with links to a range of other centre backs throughout the window, but now that Maguire is in, the club has no need to make desperate moves and can wait out a better price.
Oddly, we seem to have shown no interest in any fullbacks, including a backup for Simpson. Shakespeare, who was assistant when Pearson had success with a three at the back system, did try out some three and five man defences, so maybe that’s his plan there.
Chilwell is the only other defender linked with an exit, but it’s not likely at the moment, especially given that most of the interested teams would offer him less playing time than us.
Better than last year, you’d expect. The form of the defence had already picked up in the second half of the season, in no small part due to the arrival of Wilfred Ndidi, whose defensive abilities meant a lot less players running directly at our centre backs.
6 wins out of 6 - 15 goals scored, only 4 conceded. Craig Shakespeare enjoying life as a manager. #LCFC— John Bennett (@JohnBennettBBC) April 4, 2017
I wouldn't expect an immediate turn around in form either though, even if others are brought in. Changes at the back can take a long time to gel properly, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the season start with Huth and Morgan still together at the back.
The future here looks better than it has in a while though. Maguire should be good enough to force himself into the starting lineup in preseason, and will certainly be worked in eventually. With big sums still being talked about to bring in other young defenders, it’s not unreasonable to expect that, by the end of the year, we could be looking at an established partnership that could last us the next four or five years.
There’s always uncertainty with change of course, and you’d rather have consistent selection at the back, so there is a risk of the situation becoming a little messy. The club aren’t being cheap, however, and are trying to bring in real quality. Combined with the experience of the existing players, and Shakespeare’s ability to man manage his squad, I’m optimistic that the transition will be about as smooth as we could hope.
The left back situation will interesting. Chilwell is an exciting prospect and needs more playing time to develop, but Fuchs was one of our more consistent performers last year. We seem to be heading into another ‘use him or lose him’ situation, so I say it’s time to give the youngster a chance. A move to a back 3/5 would allow both to play.
Danny Simpson will play right back and get a 7/10 most weeks. Unless he gets injured, in which case...Daniel Amartey...I guess..?