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, defenders and midfielders, now onto the wingers.
You couldn’t have asked for a diverse set of performances from just two positions on the pitch. On one side we had the steady presence of Marc Albrighton; perceived as a slight weakness of the title winning 11, he had somewhat of a breakout year and was one of very few squad members you could argue was better overall this year than the last. His hard work and strong delivery were still there, and he seemed to have added to it with a newfound ability to run by defenders.
1 - Marc Albrighton is the first Leicester player to score in European competition since Muzzy Izzet in September 2000. Moment.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 14, 2016
Across from him was Riyad Mahrez, reigning PFA Player of the Year. The tricky Algerian still looked like a quality player, who would surely make an impact any minute now, but the payoff rarely came as he scored seven fewer goals than last year with six fewer assists, despite playing more games. However, the team did lean on him in the Champions League campaign where he provided as many goals and assists as the next two best players combined.
Behind those two were three exciting, if mostly unknown talents. £17m summer signing Ahmed Musa arrived with some fanfare and started the season up front with Vardy. He disappointed hugely, was dropped for a while, tried again as a left winger, dropped again and then eventually mostly forgotten by the season’s end. Bright young talent Demarai Gray showed the most potential of the bunch, often looking like a game changer when subbed on. His problems came in consistency, however, and whenever he appeared to have earned a starting spot, he failed to replicate his good form. Bartosz Kapustka also existed throughout the season, but rarely did so in a Leicester City shirt, appearing just seven times (none in the league).
Tom Lawrence spent the season on loan at Ipswich in the Championship and had a successful year. Playing all across the midfield and front line, the welshman provided 11 goals and 9 assists on his way to winning their player of the year award.
Marc Albrighton is definitely staying. Everyone else appears to be up in the air. Kapustka is the process of completing a loan move away to Freiburg and there’s been constant speculation about an exit for Musa, though nothing has solidified into an actual bid as far as we know. There’s certainly interest in Gray and he’d like to play more than last year, but the club are very keen to hold on and his reported release clauses simply don't exist. Tom Lawrence has attracted plenty of interest from Championship teams.
The big story continues to be Riyad Mahrez. He announced at the start of the summer that he was looking to move on and you’d have to assume he’s now regretting that, as he’s had to come back to train with the rest of the squad after the club has received exactly zero bids for him.
Thomas Lemar is Arsenal's first choice next signing. Mahrez is flattering himself if he thinks he's anything other than back up option.— John Cross (@johncrossmirror) July 8, 2017
He’s looking for more European football but the problem appears to be that he didn't play well enough last year to have attracted the interest of anyone that qualified. The Foxes are also holding out for a high price for the former star, which may be discouraging some interest.
Fortunately for all involved, Roma have now apparently joined Arsenal in announcing some interest in a deal. Hopefully this drive the bidding up slightly and eventually result in a sale.
Despite all the talk of players leaving, there’s been no talk of anyone joining here. After the January sale of Jeff Schlupp, the club is down to five players covering the two positions, but we can expect at least two of those to leave.
This is going to depend firstly on who’s around, and my guess for that right now would Gray and Albrighton starting with one of Musa or Lawrence and a new signing behind them. Mahrez could very well still stay,and it wouldn't surprise me if he starts the season with us, but I think he’ll be gone before the window closes.
Albrighton, at least, we’ll know what to expect. Probably more of the same and with a big target like Iborra arriving, Slimani still around and a rumoured new contract for Ulloa, he’ll have plenty to aim his crosses at.
Hopefully he can get more game time. He's a player of huge potential who is rated very highly here among the coaching staff and his own players - Shakespeare believes Gray will get the time he’s looking for next year
For Gray, this could be more of a make or break year. Hopefully more regular playing time will help his consistency, but he also needs to learn to put his head up and look for his teammates more. Again, you’d hope that a more solid place will mean he doesn't have to try quite to hard for individual success and he can learn to play with the guys around him.
I’m a big proponent of giving every signing from outside the league essentially a free pass on their first year. Vardy and Drinkwater weren't up to much in their first at this level. That said, I’m ready to move on from Musa. He was supposed to look a bit like Gray, a genuine match winner with frustrating consistency issues. I only saw the latter.
Lawrence has earned a chance, for me, but he’s never really excelled solely as a winger and is more of a wide forward or secondary striker.
The talent will be there once again, whether that includes Mahrez or not, but consistency will probably be an issue again. The real worry for me is now depth after Albrighton and Gray. We’re a couple of knocks away from Amartey starting on the wing.
I’ve mentioned before that Shakespeare could be looking at more of a back 5, but even then Chilwell and Albrighton are the two that really fit that wingback role and we’d be struggling for depth behind them.