Now that we're one week out from the opener of the Premier League season against Arsenal, it's a good time to look at our summer recruitment and try to determine if we're closer to the success of the 2015 transfer period of the, um, less immediately fruitful 2016 term.
We won't know for certain until next May, when we'll have know whether the players fit the squad, the tactics, and the culture at the King Power. For now, all we have to go off is their past performance, but you can learn a lot from just that.
The summer of 2015 was marked by managerial uncertainty but nonetheless wildly successful recruitment. City brought in Christian Fuchs, Shinji Okazaki, N'Golo Kanté, Yohan Benalouane, and Gökhan Inler. In addition, Robert Huth's loan spell from the previous season became a permanent transfer. While Inler and Benalouane couldn't hold down regular spots in the starting XI, the other four quickly became mainstays.
Who could possibly have predicted their success? The answer is "pretty much anyone who researched these players at all." The first thing I do when we're rumoured to be running the rule over a new player is to check the player's history on WhoScored.com. The site isn't transparent with regards to their statistical system for rating players, but I've found their methods to be directionally accurate. Good players are highly rated (7.00+), lesser players receive lower grades. Here are the rating for the 2015 recruits for the 2014/15 campaign:
- Christian Fuchs (Schalke 04): 7.30
- N'Golo Kanté (Caen): 7.36
- Shinji Okazaki (Mainz): 7.04
- Robert Huth (Stoke City/Leicester): 7.42
- Yohan Benalouane (Atalanta): 6.78
- Gökhan Inler (Napoli): 6.80
It’s no coincidence that the players who made the greatest impact all had a rating of at least 7.00 the previous year. Similarly, it’s no great surprise that the Foxes improved when these players were added to the squad. They may not have been the biggest names in the world, but they were top players in top leagues. The summer of 2015 was remarkable in terms of both quantity and quality of recruits brought to the King Power.
Why Did It Work?
Not only did City bring in quality players, they were quality players who addressed obvious needs. Paul Konchesky no longer had the pace to contribute at left back, Esteban Cambiasso’s departure and Matty James’ injury left us short of options in the central midfield, and Robert Huth had already proven his value at center half. Only Okazaki didn’t seem to have a clear role as top-scorer Leonardo Ulloa and Jamie Vardy were settled as strike partners. As it turned out, Okazaki’s work rate and intelligent positioning would be a key element to Vardy’s incredible season.
Faced with the task of competing in the Champions League for the first time in club history, the defending champions focused on adding depth to cope with playing more midweek matches. Manager Claudio Ranieri broke the club transfer record three times in rapid succession, bringing in midfielder Nampalys Mendy, striker/winger Ahmed Musa, and striker Islam Slimani. In addition, Ron-Robert Zieler was added to back up Kasper Schmeichel and defender Luis Hernandez came in to give us some depth in the back line and Polish winger Bartosz Kapustka joined as prospect for the future.
- Nampalys Mendy (Nice): 6.84
- Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow): 7.14
- Islam Slimani: (Sporting CP): *
- Ron-Robert Zieler (Hanover 96): 6.87
- Luis Hernandez (Sporting Gijon): 6.82
- Bartosz Kapustka (Cracovia): *
* WhoScored did not provide ratings for leagues in Portugal or Poland in 2015/16
Only three of the six played in top leagues prior to joining the English champions, and none of those three had played exceptionally well during the previous year. Therefore, it should have come as no surprise that this crop failed to come close to replicating the impact of the previous recruiting class. This group was as indifferent as the previous summer’s signings were exceptional.
Why It Didn’t Work
City’s record signings never fully settled in, albeit for different reasons. Filling N’Golo Kanté’s shoes was always going to be a big ask of Mendy, but the French U21’s season was so completely ruined by injuries that we never got to see if he was up to the task. Ahmed Musa struggled to adjust to the English game, and Slimani showed flashed of brilliance, but he too struggled with injuries and displayed worryingly loose passing skills. None of the three really came to grips with the pace and physicality to playing in the Premier League.
So how do this summer’s additions compare to those of the previous two years? Thus far, Leicester have brought in four key players: Defender Harry Maguire, goalkeeper Eldin Jakupović, midfielder Vicente Iborra, and striker Kelichi Iheanacho. What do their ratings from 2016/17 tell us about what to expect from them in the coming season? Let’s find out!
- Harry Maguire (Hull): 7.07
- Eldin Jakupović (Hull): 6.66
- Vicente Iborra (Sevilla): 6.80
- Kelichi Iheanacho (Manchester City): 6.40
This is a very different group than we saw in either of the two previous terms. Three of the four are from the Premier League, so there’s no reason to question the quality of competition they faced. The other key difference is that two of the players, Iborra and Iheanacho, were used primarily as substitutes last season and WhoScored’s system makes it almost impossible for a sub to rate highly. If you look at just the games they started, it’s a very different picture:
- Vicente Iborra (Sevilla): 7.30
- Kelichi Iheanacho (Manchester City): 6.98
That’s more like it. All three outfield players were top-notch last year and two of them (Maguire and Iheanacho), given their ages, are very likely to improve.
Why It Will Work
All four top signings are accustomed to plying their trade in top leagues. The Morgan-Huth partnership has an approaching expiration date and adding a young, strong centre-half like Maguire is exactly what the club needed. Iborra seems an odd signing until you see him play. The tall Spaniard’s technical abilities and calm, tidy distribution, as well as his versatility, make him a valuable squad player at the very least. And then there’s Iheanacho, the kind of player we never would have dreamed of signing three years ago. In a mere 17 minutes, he showed that he and Vardy have the potential form a terrifying partnership. What’s not to like?
Are the players we’ve brought in this summer likely to produce at the same level as those from 2015, or are they going to be as disappointing as the 2016 batch? The coward’s answer is “somewhere in the middle.” It’s also the correct answer. This group doesn’t have the pedigree of the players we bought two years ago, but, on paper at least, they’re well ahead of last year’s group.
Obviously, many other variable will determine whether or not this was a successful summer for City, and those will all be considered when we run the rule over the results next May. Based on what we know now, though, this is a strong set of signings, much closer to those of 2015 than 2016. I’m not saying they’ll be enough to propel us to the top of the table again, but I’m not saying they aren’t.