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. We’ve had goalkeepers and defenders, today its midfielders.
To prevent this one article becoming twice as long as the rest of the series, today will feature just the central midfielders, with the wingers treated separately.
As a whole, the the season kicked off incredibly inconsistently, lurching back and forth between good wins and heavy losses. This had a lot to do with the revolving door next to Danny Drinkwater as the club tried to replace N’golo Kanté. It turns out you can't do that, but at least we know now.
Andy King got the first chance and, while he remains a good enough player for the league, he’s never seemed to pair well with Drinky. In came record transfer Nampalys Mendy, and then quickly he came back out again as a debut injury that he could never shake derailed his whole season. Daniel Amartey stepped into his place and immediately looked like the answer for a couple of weeks, until it suddenly became clear that he wasn't.
Drinkwater himself looked nothing like his brilliant best, but when he was forced out with injury it became clear that we still relied on him.
Wilfred Ndidi won more tackles (31) than any player in the Europa League in 2016/17, despite not playing in the competition after December. pic.twitter.com/TSOCSKpul6— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 16, 2017
It wasn't until the January arrival of Wilfred Ndidi that things turned back around. While most signings here have been eased in over time, the young Nigerian was thrust straight into the starting 11 and never looked back. He closed a lot of the defensive gaps and allowed Drinkwater more room to play his preferred role. The England man still never quite recaptured his form, but was slowed significantly by a nagging injury for the second half of the season.
It was supposed to be a quiet summer; with Drinkwater, King, Amartey and Mendy already in, and the return of Matty James from a very positive loan spell to end his injury woes, the position was pretty stacked and no arrivals were expected.
Then all of sudden Sevilla captain Vicente Iborra was joining, and for a good price too. The Spaniard is a quality player who will help the squad in a number of ways.
With Ibo in, we could see at least one player leave. Mendy’s exit has certainly been discussed the most, including by the player himself, who is hopeful of a return to France.
Much like the defence, the outlook should be better for next year, at very least because we solved some of the problems in the second half of the season. Ndidi is still young, and we shouldn't expect a full season of the consistent quality that he’s shown since his arrival, but it would take a big step back for him to look like Mendy, King or Amartey from early last year.
Hopefully Drinkwater’s injury concerns are behind him, and the two can continue to build on a promising partnership. With Iborra providing a third quality option, we shouldn't be so reliant on one good pairing either.
Personally, I’m excited for the possibility of Matty James being given another chance. He’s been out for a very long time (the last time he played we were still in with a good chance of being relegated), but he was an integral part of the Championship winning side, and showed his Premier League quality, consistently outplaying Drinkwater and King in our first season back.
This was arguably the strongest unit of the title winning squad; with Kanté it may not be that again, but the pieces are certainly here for a strong group that won't be holding the side back.