Another season gets underway. Despite how optimistic, pessimistic or agnostic you’ve felt about making predictions, who’s been signed and who’s been sold, it’s over to Brendan Rodgers and the players now to do their best and see where that leaves us. What did we learn from their first effort?
1) It’s been a long 523 days without fans at the King Power
Before we dissect the football, we need to talk about how great it is to have full-capacity stadiums again, whatever reservations may remain about the safety aspects. More than a year since Foxes fans graced the King Power to watch a competitive game, and boy has a lot happened in the time that’s followed. The first day of any season is always a mix of excitement, nerves and expectations. The kind of game where you get to the stadium hours early and buy one of the new kits you were previously sceptical about - or is that second one just me? I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little emotional to be back.
However you spin Leicester City’s last season and yes, the injuries took their toll, but our home form remains the blot on the last fixture list. We never really looked convincing at home. It was easy to speculate on the importance of fans having an impact on that form but hard to prove, or disprove it given it was a first. With a nearly full stadium against Wolves, and a generally good atmosphere, it clearly meant a lot to the players. Bizarre to think that for the likes of some, this was their first time playing in front of a large home crowd (ignoring the Villareal friendly).
What a weekend. The Premier League is back. The Football League is back. Fans are back. That’s the key. Fans. Football is nothing without us. Nothing.— Stu (@LCFC_STU) August 15, 2021
It’s always important to get the season off to a good start, but possibly more so to get that first home win. Our home form had to be a focus point for improvement, along with corners, and if we do want another top six finish, better home form could be the crucial factor.
There’s no denying that some players just thrive in front of a full stadium, case in point being the match winner: Jamie Vardy.
2) Jamie Vardy, a wolf in fox’s clothing, roles back the years (again) to bite Wolves
Is it even a Premier League season if Jamie Vardy hasn’t antagonised some fans? Luckily, we didn’t even have to wait forty-five minutes before he earned some new haters to help fuel the abuse he’ll get when we head to Molineux. Make no mistake, if anybody is thrilled to have all fans back, it’s Vardy. The arrival of Patson Daka over the summer has helped provide some extra depth and more options for the Foxes. You have to wonder if the likes of Vardy have welcomed a bit of extra competition. And with Daka showing early Vardy-esque traits, it’s no wonder our talisman had a bit of a point to make yesterday. You don’t need to teach an older dog new tricks when they can still do all the original ones.
In what was easily Vardy’s best game for a while, you’d be forgiven for wondering if he’s going Benjamin Button on us in the way he appeared to roll back the years. Looking as sharp and fast as ever (we’ll ignore his exhaustion when the whistle went), the striker made it a very uncomfortable afternoon for the Wolves defence. Playing off the shoulder, snapping at centre-back’s heels and opening up space for the likes of Harvey Barnes, he was a pretty obvious choice for Man of the Match.
The only obvious sign that this is in fact a 34-year old Vardy and not the younger version we signed was his fatigue at the end. His efforts were replicated from years past, but clearly took more of a toll. Down on his haunches resting in the additional time and his face at the end confirms what we probably already knew; we can still get ninety minutes out of him but in the weeks where we have two or three games, he won’t be playing all of them. When he can play one this well though, are we concerned?
His goal turned out to be the only one of the game, which felt unlikely given the chances for both sides, but it was incredibly well taken. The angle looked awkward, and Connor Coady will rue his positioning but it’s exactly what Vardy does to you. It also helps when the setup and assist are that good though, so all credit to Ricardo Pereira.
| I think it’s time we have another look at that Ricardo Pereira assist from yesterday— Próxima Jornada (@ProximaJornada1) August 15, 2021
Click play for the assist but stay for the celebration. Looks like Vardy’s missed fans as much as the rest of us!
3) For whoever needs to hear it, pre-assassinated knee Ricardo is back, baby!
The signs were there in pre-season that we were getting to see the Ricardo we know and love back, but it was best to be cautious in shouting it from the rafters. The Portuguese fullback is proof that it’s hard to put recovery time in writing after a serious injury. Despite making his comeback last season, while fitness seemed to be regained pretty quickly, he didn’t look as potent or dangerous as before Jack Grealish damaged him. Fortunately, the wait for that part looks to be over.
Ricardo Pereira. 2 competitive games played, 2 unbelievable performances... @ricbpereira is back— Jack (@SilkySoumare) August 14, 2021
When the finish was as good as Vardy’s, the assist to set it up may get overlooked. Hopefully not though, because it was excellent from Ricardo. Not just how he managed to turn and squeeze between two Wolves players but that he stayed on his feet and persisted where a lot of others may have gone down and taken the free-kick. Not content with that piece of trickery, he delivered a fine ball, just right for a striker who loves tormenting and humiliating defenders.
Having been one of the standout players in the Community Shield, it was another solid performance from Ricardo at both ends against Wolves. His own turn of pace is still impressive and while he maybe didn’t have so much to do defensively, he was there when needed. It wasn’t an outstanding defensive display, we got caught on the break a few times, saved by some poor finishing by our opponents. As we’re almost expecting these days, it was a defensive lineup that hasn’t played together a lot and Ricardo ended last season more often than not playing higher up the pitch. With Castagne almost ready to return, we will wait to see how they’ll both slot in. With a right winger having not materialised yet, perhaps Ricardo will be pushed up once more.
Either way, it’s a big welcome back Ricky, boy have we missed you attacking!
4) Looking into our crystal ball, we (unfortunately) see more injury issues in James Maddison’s future
Ok, this is a (possibly harsh) jest given his age and wanting us to get through a season without another plague of injuries. It’s a concern though that Maddison failed to complete another ninety minutes, and was down twice with some sort of back issue, receiving treatment once. It may not be hip related this time, but something definitely doesn’t seem right for our creative star.
After a stop-start campaign for the Englishman, we’d hoped this time would be different with a pre-season under his belt and the boost of a newborn to spur him on. Even when he returned last season, his fitness was a problem and Rodgers had to make the tough decision of whether to risk playing him to get him match fit knowing he isn’t there yet, or not. He’s the type of player capable of a moment of magic either way, but with others hungry for game time waiting in the wings, it’s food for thought for the manager.
James Maddison has so much ability, but he is physically such a lightweight. Will never reach the heights he should because he's so prone injuries #LEIWOL— Miles Hackett (@miles_hackett) August 14, 2021
I mean, we hope that this isn’t the case, but it’s a worry.
With the rumours that a bid from Arsenal is still possible, it also raises a tough hypothetical question. If a bid was for a substantial amount of money (given what Ben White and Jack Grealish have moved for, we’d have to be talking £60-70m surely?), should we take it? On his day, and we saw this in flashes earlier last season and quite a bit the season before, Maddison is a maestro, in total control and vital to our attack. He’s got set pieces in him and he can be exciting. They’re a good set of pros for keeping him, not to mention that we’re not a selling club. The cons absolutely come back to his injuries and fitness. Plus selling him this late in the day would make buying a replacement pretty tricky.
Maddison’s substitution, a double along with Ayoze Perez, did give us a chance to welcome on both Boubakary Soumare and Jannik Vestergaard for home debuts.
5) What’s that long-spoken line of new signings needing time to bed in that Soumare appears to be laughing in the face of?
Another summer of shrewd signings would be the summary for the Foxes so far. Touching any nearby wooden object, we haven’t lost any key players either. Despite completing just two training sessions, Vestergaard showed some early composure and understanding in his first appearance. It wasn’t wholly convincing but you can forgive him factoring in how close to the game he joined. One player who doesn’t look like he needs much time to settle in though is Boubakary Soumare.
Soumare is touted as our Wilfred Ndidi back-up and cover. Something we’ve not had before, and with our defensive shortages you never know when we may have to draft the Nigerian in as a centre-back, so it’s a handy addition. Soumare looks even more dynamic than just a simple cover buy though. Absolute bags of energy, a determination to steal the ball that feels very Ndidi, but a good touch too. Crucially, he looks at ease already. As a few clubs who’ve made quite drastic changes to their team struggled for cohesion, the new players likely needing time to bed in to the club or even country, Soumare looks like he won’t need much time at all to catch up.
The inclusion of Soumare while both Tielemans and Ndidi were on the pitch, allowing us to push Barnes a little more forward, and slightly more on the right, was intriguing. Something perhaps Rodgers was keen to test ahead of using. It’s a long way from the Ndidi, Mendy and Choudhury days if this cameo was anything to go by.