Despite winning game after game last season, the needle was always moving away from Leicester City. A hot start was brushed off due to an easy schedule. When they proved they could beat anyone the narrative became, “let’s see how they handle the busy festive period.” When they got through that people saw a daunting schedule in February that included three straight games against Liverpool, Manchester City, and Arsenal. When they came out of that stretch with six points and still top of the league the narrative flipped to, what will they do when they play weaker teams now that they are expected to win?
No matter what challenge was thrown at Leicester City last season they overcame it. On the first weekend of May, they lifted the Premier League trophy at the King Power Stadium, earning the respect of the Premier League and the rest of the world.
Or did they?
Before the celebration in Leicester could even fully get under way the doubters were back and writing off Leicester’s title chances for next season. They won’t be able to keep their best players; they’ll have to play midweek Champions League matches that will tire them out; they’ll have to play a different style of play; they won’t even make it out of the group stage in the Champions League.
Those are just some of the arguments made to try and knock Leicester down.
And if you asked Leicester City, they wouldn’t want it any other way.
Leicester are a team that want to prove you wrong. They reveled in it last season. Whenever the needle got pushed back, Leicester just accepted the new challenge and kept winning. They did it by never looking too far ahead and taking things one game at a time, which is exactly why you shouldn’t be doubting them anymore.
They’ve earned that much.
Does that mean we should be making them favorites to win the Premier League title once again? Not necessarily but that doesn’t mean we should be writing them off from finishing in the top four once again.
It wasn’t surprising that as soon as last season ended bigger clubs immediately came in trying to poach away Leicester’s best players. However, most of those players spurned the bigger clubs. It started with Jamie Vardy rejecting Arsenal, and despite rumors linking Riyad Mahrez to the Gunners, if I were a betting man I’d say he’ll be playing for Leicester this season.
Sure, they lost N’Golo Kante but just as quietly as they discovered Kante, they’ve already managed to replace him. Will Nempalys Mendy be just as good as Kante was last season? That’s doubtful, but let’s not forget that Leicester is a team that has a history of finding hidden gems that many bigger teams have overlooked. Who’s to say that Mendy can’t fall into that same category?
Leicester remain in a great position to be able to stay at the top of the table. They have a manager who over the past year has done nothing but perfectly manage expectations for the club. All through last season he maintained the goal was to stay in the Premier League. When that was accomplished, it was to reach European football. Only late in the season did manager Claudio Raneiri finally start talking about winning the title. This season, he’s once again setting the bar low, saying Leicester’s goal is simply to finish in the top 10. Raneiri’s ability to keep the pressure off his players is nothing short of brilliant.
Leicester will have a new challenge this season as they play in the Champions League for the first time. Not only has everyone written off their chances in that competition, but they also believe many of the players will leave in January as Leicester will no longer be in the competition.
That’s a foolish belief. By winning the league last season Leicester earned a spot in Pot A for the Champions League draw. That puts them in the same pot as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Benfica, CSKA Moscow, and Paris Saint-Germain. That means they can’t be drawn into a group with any of them. Sure there are plenty of other great teams in Europe, but not having to go up against one of those giants greatly increases their chances of finishing as one of the top two teams in their group.
Every challenge Leicester faced last season they passed. Whether it was going up against the Premier League’s big boys, or having to completely change their style of play against a lesser team who let them have much more of the ball than the Foxes were used to. Whatever the case, Leicester found a way to win.
This season they return the same group of players, the same manager, and more importantly, the same fighting spirit. Leicester have proven they don’t care who’s lining up on the other side of the field. No matter who it is, the Foxes think they can win.
You can doubt their ability to keep finding ways to win but Leicester City won’t mind. In fact, they’d prefer it that way.