Premier League 2022-23 preview No 11: Leicester | Football


Guardian writers’ predicted position 9th (NB: this is not necessarily Michael Butler’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)

Last season’s position 8th

Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker) 200-1

Prospects

After last year’s difficult season ended in an eighth-place finish, this is a huge campaign for Leicester City. Do they re-emerge as a challenger for Europe or continue to fall back into the stress-free comfort of mid-table mediocrity? Remember, it was only just over a year ago that – with largely the same squad and manager – they blew the chance to qualify for the Champions League on the last day in 2020-21.

Injuries hurt them last year – key players such as Jamie Vardy, Wesley Fofana, James Justin, Jonny Evans and Ricardo Pereira were all among those who missed large chunks of the season – and while there have not yet been any summer additions, a fully-fit Foxes can hurt any team, as Liverpool found out after Christmas.

Ready for the Premier League 2022-2023: Leicester – video

However, frustration lurks. Leicester were eliminated from the Europa League in the group stage, and despite being the FA Cup holders, were completely outclassed by east Midlands neighbours Nottingham Forest in the fourth round, losing 4-1. The Europa Conference League run to the semi-finals, where they were defeated by eventual winners Roma, provided some solace for Brendan Rodgers, who found himself under pressure as Leicester’s season petered out.

The reliance on James Maddison is considerable. Nobody in the squad comes close to the 30 direct goal contributions (18 goals, 12 assists) the No 10 made for City in all competitions, while it will be interesting to see if Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall continues to progress after his fine breakthrough season.

The manager

The debate over whether Brendan Rodgers is elite has raged ever since his Anfield days. He has certainly improved his man-management skills since Envelope-gate at Liverpool, where he sealed away three names that he thought would let him down. In contrast, this Leicester team seems relatively tight-knit but the squad certainly grew unsettled over speculation linking Rodgers to Manchester United late in 2021 – a distraction that continued even after Ralf Rangnick was appointed on an interim basis at Old Trafford.

Reaching the top six feels unlikely but if another underwhelming season unfolds it would not be a surprise to see Rodgers leave after three and a half years at the helm. He has spoken of the frustration of not having transfer funds – “my honest opinion is that [the squad] is not going to be the level I would have wanted” – but says he “really respects the club, so I don’t go to war with them”.

Wesley Fofana missed most of last season with a broken leg and having the defender available will be a big boost to Brendan Rodgers.
Wesley Fofana missed most of last season with a broken leg and having the defender available will be a big boost to Brendan Rodgers. Photograph: Plumb Images/Leicester City FC/Getty Images

Transfer coup

Leicester City are the only club in Europe’s top five major leagues yet to make a summer signing. They have a first XI capable of challenging for Europe but lack the squad depth of their rivals. “We have to do some business out before we can get players in,” Rodgers has conceded, “but hopefully we can improve the squad.” A lot depends on the future of Youri Tielemans and Maddison (who was subject of a £40m bid from Newcastle last week), while Luke Thomas, Wesley Fofana and even Kasper Schmeichel have all been linked with moves away. After missing out on Charles De Ketelaere (destined for Milan) and Kim Min-jae (signed for Napoli), City could yet move for Monaco’s Sofiane Diop.

World Cup impact

The fact Nigeria failed to qualify for the World Cup is a big plus for Rodgers, with both Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho set to stay in Leicester for the tournament. The England contingent is an interesting one: as many as four players – James Justin, Thomas, Harvey Barnes and Maddison – could be called up but a more likely scenario is that none of them are, with Jamie Vardy having retired from international football.

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Alternative attractions during World Cup

The National Space Centre is an absolute doozy of a day out, complete with rockets and a planetarium. And if you’re feeling peckish, head to Leicester Market, the largest outdoor covered market in Europe, where Gary Lineker (and brother Wayne) used to help run the family fruit and veg stall.

Leading the shirt sales

Who else but Vardy? Despite his injury troubles last season, Mr Leicester City has an enduring appeal among young and old supporters. This is Vardy’s 10th year with City, and the striker has no plans to let up with 12 months remaining on his contract. “If I can carry on getting the goals, still playing well and keeping fit, that can be extended to later down the line,” said Vardy, who has held legendary status since firing the Foxes to the Premier League title in 2016.

Social climber

At 35 years old, you might think Vardy is a bit too old to be on TikTok. But there he is, kicking balls as hard as he can towards the camera and reacting to fans submitting their best Sunday league goals. However, James Maddison pips Vardy as the most popular player on the platform with 1.6 million followers, who are treated/subjected to a lot of baby content as well as tricks and flicks from the midfielder’s back garden – Maddison has built a proper 4G pitch, complete with two full-size goals. No wonder he’s so good at those free-kicks.

If Leicester were a Netflix doc …

We’ve already watched a summer drama unfold in the Wagatha Christie case, in which Rebekah Vardy has been pitched against Coleen Rooney, with husbands Jamie and Wayne exchanging nervous glances across the courtroom. But if there was a documentary on the Foxes, the first order of business would probably be to establish whether Rodgers has still got a portrait of himself in his hallway, as he did in the 2021 doc Being Liverpool.



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