Now that we’re (just barely) in the close season, it’s time for my annual, absolutely-divorced-from-reality list of players who might fill a need for Leicester City who may not be on your (or anyone’s) radar. My criteria are that the players:
- Play outside of England
- Are 25 years old or younger
- Fill an apparent need for the Foxes
- Might be realistically available, meaning that they don’t play for teams bound for the Champions League and are preferably from sides relegated from the top flight in their country.
This does not mean that I don’t think we should go after Said Benrahma or Gareth Bale*. They’re just not the sort of players I’m looking for when I’m putting this list together.
This year’s list is going to be wildly different from what I’ve put together in the past. My perennial favorite, Hakim Ziyech, is finally leaving the Eridivisie, but for reasons known only to him, he chose Chelsea over Leicester. His loss.
In addition, this year’s squad has fewer obvious needs than we’ve had in the past but at the same time has a greater need for depth. So, I’ve looked for players at every position
except for defensive midfielder (“in Ndidi we trust”) (late update-let’s do defensive midfielder too!) and goalkeeper, as I have no clue how to rate goalkeepers.
We’ve already looked at the attacking players, so let’s run the rule over some defenders today.
Leicester City do not need a defensive midfielder, do they? Wilfred Ndidi and Hamza Choudhury are a fantastic pair at this position and they are 23 and 22 years old respectively. The only way you could justify adding another would be if Brendan Rodgers had a penchant for starting two defensive midfielders...and he does!
Even without a pressing need, McKinnie would be a fantastic get for the Foxes and Schalke are highly-motivated sellers right now. He’s a high-energy player who excels at winning the ball back and starting attacks. The defensive side of his game is well ahead of the offensive side, but he’s shown enough that he projects to be a plus in that regard as well, giving him a chance to be a solid box-to-box player.
- Pros: Very young, very accomplished defensively, started in a top league.
- Cons: Can get unfocused on his job. Probably not Leicester’s most-pressing need.
If there’s one position where Leicester’s lack of depth was exposed at the end of the season, it was center-half. OK, it was also “fullback” and “winger” and “attacking midfielder”, but it was most-especially plain at center-half. The Foxes may not need a starter to step in ahead of Jonny Evans or Çağlar Söyüncü, but the need for an able deputy was clear for all to see.
Schonlau may not be the most exciting defender out there, but he did a fine job for a woeful Paderborn side. He’s a solid, safe throwback who wins the ball and gets it out of danger areas. He’s not going to go on marauding 40 meter runs into the opposing half, but there’s a reasonable argument to be made that you don’t want more than one of those on your back line.
- Pros: He’s a solid, safe, finished product who won’t make unnecessary mistakes.
- Cons: He’s close to as good as he’s going to be.
Leicester don’t have any defenders who dominate the air in either box. Söyüncü and Evans do a fine job, but they lack the height to be a major force in that area of the game. Leicester have Benkovic waiting in the wings and they’ve been linked to Jannik Vestergaard, so they are aware of the problem.
Botman, all 193cm of him, would be another attractive option. He’s very young, but he’s filled out a little more than Benkovic and might stand up to the physical nature of the league a little better. He’s (stop me if you’ve heard this before) good with his feet for a big man, a strong tackler, and, as you might imagine, a beast in the air. He scored twice and added four assists for Heerenveen last year.
- Pros: Size, polished for his age.
- Cons: The Eridivisie isn’t quite the physical challenge the Premiership is.
Leicester lost both of their starting fullbacks at the end of the season and, given how dependent Rodgers system is on the fullbacks providing the width, this could have been a disaster. James Justin and Luke Thomas stepped in an acquitted themselves well, but with Ricardo out until October and rumors of Chilwell’s departure swirling, an experienced body or two be welcome additions.
Skov is probably too good (and expensive) to be a backup, but he’d be an attractive play if Chilwell leaves and the club wants to ease Thomas into a bigger role. Skov is an extremely attacking-minded wide man. In fact, he was so much so that he was deployed at times at a right winger and even a striker. His versatility would be a huge plus for a team trying to patch multiple holes in their depth.
- Pros: Experienced, can play almost anywhere, plays in a top league.
- Cons: Likely pricey if there’s not starting role available for him.
Let’s just start with the obvious here: No one can replace Ricardo Pereira. He’s rated as the top right-back in Europe by WhoScored. His knee injury was probably the biggest single factor in Leicester’s struggles down the stretch. The goal, then, is not to find another Ricardo, but to find an able deputy.
Centonze is a fullback’s fullback, assume that you still think of fullbacks as primarily defensive players. He is an exception defender, winning the ball, blocking shots, and basically being a royal pest at the back. He’s not quite as effective going forward, losing the ball more often than you’d like and not finding the mark with his crosses.
- Pros: Solid defender, willing runner, may have some upside left if he can tighten up his crossing.
- Cons: Has some struggles in attack. Do we really need a right back?
There we go. There’s no Hakim Ziyech out there this time around, but I think there are some interesting targets who might be available at reasonable prices. What do you think? Let us know in the comments.
* Of course we should sign Gareth Bale. Only a cad would suggest otherwise.