If you had told a Leicester City fan, or any other fan for that matter, that the club would be in 7th after 19 games, they would have laughed you out of the room. Yet now, at the mid way point, Leicester are there in a play-off position. So, why is it so shocking that a team who missed out on promotion by a goal difference of 2, and missed out on the title by only 2 points are now in 7th?
At the end of last season, Nick Wheels left the club after just 11 games. He became the 5th manager in under a year to leave the club after less than 50 games. Despite this, the club looked to be in a strong, short term position with the likes of Max Kruse, Dimitri Payet, Rodrigo Caio, Hans Vanaken all in the squad. However, the arrival of Earle brought a new direction to the club. Despite the potential for imminent success, the club had no real future and no clear transfer policy. This changed immediately as almost all of the former players were put up for sale.
Payet who had scored 9 and assisted 10 left for Manchester United. Kruse, despite scoring 10 and assisting 9 also left, moved to Swansea City. Following both out the door was Vanaken who had also had an impressive season with 4 goals and 9 assists joined Aston Villa and key defenders Caio and Moses joined PSG and Bordeaux. Further sales included Amavi, Mammana, Steffen, Schneiderlin and Obiang, leaving just three original players in the starting line up for the start of the season. Two of these have also since been sold. All of these departures saw “lesser” players brought in as replacements, leaving many concerned for the season ahead. The preseason “Division 4 Stats and Facts” had Leicester last by some distance. Few fans, pundits, or even players could disagree with the predictions. But the teamhave impressed, and the transfer policy has paid off more quickly than expected.
With the build underway, Leicester City have already acquired several players that they deem key to the future. Sander Berge joined from Manchester United and has started all 19 games so far, netting twice in that time. The 22-year-old has taken over as captain since the recent departure of Bonfim Dante. While his partners this season have shuffled, it looks as though moving forward the club will rely on Yangel Herrera. The Venezuelan also joined from Manchester United but has had a slower start to life at the club. The 22-year-old has made just 3 starts, none of which have been in the league. Despite this, Earle has rejected interest from several clubs, suggesting he has big plans for the midfielder. Ahead of them in the more advanced midfield role, Ifran Kahveci has been the clear favourite. Earle made two attempts to bring the Turkish midfielder to Atletico Madrid, but failed both times. However, now that he has him in the team he will be determined to hold onto him. The stand out performer so far has been Oussame Idrissi who has scored 5 and assisted 6 from the wing. The 24-year-old has played every league game since arriving from AZ and will be hoping to continue his fine form into the 2nd half of the season. The final player in the starting XI who is on this list ins Faitout Maouassa. The 22-year-old left back was someone that many believed would be out of reach for a team such a Leicester, but his shock arrival delighted fans who were unsure who their number 1 left back was before his arrival. The Fenchman has started all of the games since he arrived and is likely to face very little competition for the position. Nicolas Gonzalez and Luis Sinisterra are also believed to be off limits for the time being.
Despite some impressive additions, the club are still looking to solidify some positions. Goalkeeper has remained an area of interest with Lucasz Skorupski starting the season but being swapped out for Luigi Sepe recently. However, to say Sepe is the clear number 1 would be too easy. Robin Zentner joined at the start of the season and has improved quickly already, and Jesse Joronen was also brought in to add further depth to a strong position. For now the impressive form of Sepe will keep him safe. but he will be wary that any drop could see him dropped. Centre back is another position that Earle is working hard to improve. Bonfim Dante started the season as the main option but has since been traded for the younger Jacinto Bastos. The second position has been shared between Alessandro Bastoni and David Garcia. Bastoni has been the preferred option, but Earle is wary that the club will need to find a longer term option once his loan ends. Joe Worrall, Philippe Sandler and Carlos Cuesta have all arrived in an attempt to sure up the position for the future, but the club will still be after some more immediate options too, for next season. A top striker is also something the club is searching for. Florian Niederlechner is currently the starter up top and has netted 3 goals in 8 starts. His promising start has left Leicester fans pleased but the club are still hoping to pick up a younger, more clinical option. Nicolas Gonzalez is a promising option, but Earle doesn’t believe the Argentine is ready to lead the line yet.
Earle has also been working to put together a youth side to be entered into next seasons Youth Cup. Colombian duo Luis Sinisterra and Carlos Cuesta look the stars of the group so far with other notable prospects such as Josh Sargent, Yassine Benrahou and Steven Alzate available too. Big boosts came when Martin Zubimendi and Paul Nebel chose to join Leicester ahead of a host of other teams. All that is left to add is a goalkeeper, a task the scouting department are working hard on.
9 wins, 2 draws and 8 losses have Leicester sat on 29 points, an impressive number given last years total of 60. This was largely aided by an unbeaten run at the star of the season running 6 games and including 4 wins. While form has dropped off since, the team have done well to snatch wins against better opposition and maintain their impressive position in the league. While reality will surely sink back in soon, the club are in a fantastic position to move forward with a young and promising squad.