With the 2018/19 season officially in the bag for Leicester City, we’ll be breaking down how the year went, and how things look heading into the summer. We’ll start, as tradition dictates, with the defenders.
7th in the league with 48 goals conceded, and 5th with 44.6 xGA (understat.com), it certainly wasn't a bad year at the back for the Foxes, but it was in some ways a disappointing one.
Kasper Schmeichel continued to be himself between the sticks, RB Ricardo Pereira was Player of the Year, LB Ben Chilwell outright won the England job, Harry Maguire impressed again, while Jonny Evans and Wes Morgan turned in some fine performances of their own. Yet it never quite felt like the defence played up to the sum of the parts.
Some of that is the change in style adopted by Puel and Rodgers, which invited more risk and therefore required better defensive performance. This problem was compounded by a lack of cohesion; the early stages of the season saw a roundabout of RB selections, while a definite first choice CB pair was never fully settled on.
The obvious answer here is Ricardo Pereira, he was strong at the back, a menace going forward and fully deserving of his end of season award. But I’d also like to highlight his fellow fullback Ben Chilwell.
“Ben Chilwell and Danny Rose have been excellent. They have been completely committed to the England shirt and given everything. They’re two very good players” - England manager Gareth Southgate discussing his summer squad selection
The academy graduate was 4th among Premier League defenders in Key Passes, while also seeming to have really developed the defensive side of his game over the summer. Both managers gave him plenty of responsibility, sometimes playing without any left sided midfielder, but he was up to the task and performed very well throughout.
Defenders are not usually match winners, but one game this season was absolutely won by none other than back up GK Danny Ward. The summer signing single-handedly knocked out Wolves, saving three of five penalties, after keeping a clean sheet through 120 minutes.
This one does have to be Ricardo. He was always a threat going forward, but the Portugal international was forced onto the right wing early in the season because he couldn’t be trusted at the back. It wasn’t until Amartey’s injury forced the team’s hand that Pereira became a defender again, but from the improvement was night and day. In the end only Wilfred Ndidi (the runaway league leader) won possession more regularly for the Foxes.
Again, Ricardo was signed this summer, so he really ought to be the answer, but when you splash over £20m on a defender, this is what you should expect. Meanwhile, for the absolute bargain price of £3.5m, the club brought in Jonny Evans who, after a shaky start, won us all over with his assured, reliable performances.
Didn’t I just say that dropping a large sum of money on a defender should yield immediate results? Then why aren’t I wearing my Çağlar Söyüncü shirt that used up every accent and special character in the club shop? Probably because the Turkish international saw the field just barely more than Danny Simpson
He is still very young for a defender, he was learning a brand new language, and he did show some very bright spots at times. I’m confident that he wont remain a disappointment forever, but he’s certainly the only defender that fits the bill here.
Very very good, if we can keep the band together. Remember those cohesion issues? A year of playing together, and deciding much more on a first choice lineup, seem to have knocked them into shape, and there’s certainly plenty of talent there.
If some of those key performers, most likely Maguire or Chilwell, were poached, then of course we might have some teething issues at the start of next year as well but with the likes of Christian Fuchs, Söyüncü, Benkovic and a returning Amartey, there’s plenty of depth to survive any losses.
All the top teams need to absolutely raid Leicester in the summer. Maddison, Chilwell, Pereira, Tielemans (Loan I know), Ndidi and Maguire are all potential CL quality players https://t.co/quGwal3QfZ— 2019 (@AdvancedWinger) May 8, 2019
Counter point: they don’t need to, and shouldn't
For me, Chilwell is the most vital to hold onto at the back. As much as I’d hate to see Maguire leave, both Evans and Morgan looked like they had plenty in tank as the season wore on, Söyüncü has talent, and we’re all very excited to see how another big summer signing Filip Benković will fare after he impressed on loan at Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic.