Last season, Leicester City were relegated into Division 5. This would usually be disastrous for a club, however, Leicester saw it as an opportunity to focus on squad development, without the pressure of expectations.
This focus had already been ongoing for the 2 seasons that Earle had been there, but moving down into D5 opened up new avenues of development and allowed for an increased focus on youth.
This season, many expected that the goal would be to bounce straight back to D4, however, Leicester set no domestic league goal for this season, instead choosing to focus on the growth of the squad and long term security of the club.
They also entered the Youth Competition with no clear expectations, as the squad was changing through the season.
Leicester began life in Division 5 relatively well, going unbeaten in their 5 opening games, and only losing 1 of their first 12 matches. In this time, though, they registered 6 draws showing that, while they weren’t losing games, they were still dropping points. This was a theme that continued throughout the season, as Leicester finished the campaign with the joint 2nd most draws in the division with 15. Squad changes limited the tactical flexibility of the squad, with a narrow 4-3-3 being deployed largely through the 2nd half of the season. Luckily for the club, Raspadori shone in his new starting role following the departures of Cordoba and Gonzalez. Raspadori netted 14 goals in his 16 league starts, placing him 3rd in the top scorers table. He reached this despite playing less than half the number of games of any other player in the top 10 of the list. Suat Serdar also added strength to the attacking play as he chipped in with 2 goals and 11 assists in his 13 starts. With the attack finally coming together and the defence holding strong, Leicester were able to clinch 3rd place, and an automatic promotion spot, on the final day of the season. Their defensive efforts showed as they finished with the 2nd best defensive record in the league (33 conceded), only 1 behind the league winners Bordeaux (32 conceded). While the primary goal was to build, the club is pleased with the immediate promotion, as they feel that their development has come on much quicker than anticipated, which should leave them comfortably in Division 4.
With the senior team performing well, eyes were also focussed on the Youth team. Early on, they looked relatively average, making it out of the Group Stages of the Cup, before being knocked out in the 1st Elimination round by Augsburg. Luckily they filtered down into the Youth Shield, where they found form and confidence.
Their first Shield opponent was Valencia, who fielded a strong attacking trio of Kluivert, Wolff and Pino. Despite the potential of this trio, Leicester won their first leg 2-0, with Valencia forfeiting the 2nd leg due to fielding ineligible players.
After their elimination from the Cup at the hands of Augsburg, The Foxes had revenge on their minds with all three of their remaining opponents in the Shield being German sides.
Firstly Wolfsburg were beaten 4-0 in the first leg and 3-2 in the second restoring the squads confidence playing in Germany. That confidence was carried into the Semi-final where Hamburg were beaten 1-0 and 3-2 opening up Leicester’s path to the final.
There they faced Monchengladbach, a tight squad with no real stars but a strong team ethic and work rate. Their durability showed in the first leg where they held Leicester to a draw, despite the dominance of the home team. It was clear that nerves began to set in for The Foxes before the 2nd leg, with Earle apparently frustrated at his sides inability to capitalise on their home advantage in the opener. However, those nerves were swept aside in the 17th minute of the 2nd leg when Giacomo Raspadori scored his 9th of the tournament to put Leicester 1-0 up. This lead would hold until full time resulting in Leicester’s first ever trophy. Youth captain Oscar Mingueza lifted the shield and top goal scored Raspadori was voted player of the tournament with 9 goals and 3 assists. Thiago Almada also had an impressive tournament chipping in with 11 assists, while the performances of Sandro Tonali and Ibrahima Konate were also praised.
Despite the domestic and youth success, Leicester’s primary goal remained improving the squad, both short and long term. And this season that was one of the strongest points at the club. A combination of player development and transfer additions has seen The Foxes reach the highest valued squad in the Division, with a value of £203.9 million (£18.7m higher than Sao Paulo in 2nd), and the 2nd highest valued youth squad in all 5 Divisions, being valued at £87.2 million (Behind only Juventus). While neither of these translate directly onto the pitch, they highlight the clubs efficiency at brining in the correct player to develop at the right time.
Of the many signings made this season, two really stand out as key for the future of the club. Those are Sandro Tonali and Ibrahima Konate.
At 21, Tonali is already one of the best players in the squad. He has featured in every game since his arrival and is sure to be one of the first names on the team sheet next season. So far he has lined up alongside club captain Douglas Luiz in the holding midfield roles when deployed in a 4-2-3-1, or as a wider pivot in the 4-3-3. Tonali is widely regarded as the clubs future in midfield, and will also be the Youth captain next season.
If Tonali wasn’t enough for fans, two weeks later Ibrahima Konate was announced too. Another shock signing due to the talent and value of the player. The 22-year-old joined from Bayern after barely featuring. He has already shown his talent at Leicester, but has been limited in game time due to a red card suspension. On paper, he is the best defender at the club, and will likely be a mainstay for years to come. He also played a key role in the youth shield success next to youth captain and senior CB partner Oscar Mingueza.
While Tonali and Konate do stand out as exceptional signings, they weren’t the only arrivals. Youssouf Fofana arrived from Leverkusen, adding a great depth option to midfield, Koen Casteels joined along with Suat Serdar from Dynamo Moskva and both became immediate starters. As did Keita Balde and Rodrigues Dudu who added width to the squad when they joined from Hertha, allowing different formations to be implemented. Other key additions were Alex Moreno, Marvin Friedrich and Fabien Centonze, all of whom are likely to be starting or challenging next season. But the one that fans are most excited about is Eberechi Eze. The 23-year-old arrived from Rubin Kazan and has looked solid so far. He is likely to pick up a starting role next season and boasts outstanding talent for the future plus great versatilility in midfield. Emil Audero has also been added late in the season. He will be the starting keeper next season with Koen Casteels set to depart.
It wasn’t only the senior squad that was improved. This season has seen a large influx of youth talent, helping in the current seasons youth success, and also solidifying for next season. The most improved position was centre back, with the additions of Loic Bade, Sebastian Walukiewicz, Hugo Guillamon, Lucas Tuta, Nehuen Perez, Andrea Carboni and Flavius Daniliuc all arriving or being confirmed as future signings. Many are already pushing for a senior role, and will expect domestic cup and shield game time next season. Mateo Klimowicz and Yunus Musah stand out as impressive attacking additions too and may look to capitalise on the lack of wide and attacking depth at the club to gain game time. However, all of the youth signings have been overshadowed by the recent announcement that Yusuf Demir would arrive from Koln. The 18-year-old boasts immense potential and could be one of the players who makes a big difference in the future of Leicester City. It is likely that he will fill the role of Thiago Almada, who has since left the club.
Despite these deals, the club is not done yet with their transfers. Below is a list of arrivals due next season;
– Robert Sanchez
– Nehuen Perez
– Konstantin Tyukavin
– Francesco Antonucci
– Victor Chust
As always, Leicester are still on the hunt for reinforcements, and are believed to be seeking a new starting striker and left back as well as a back up right back.
League Position – 3rd (Automatic Promotion)
Youth Finish – Youth Shield Champions
Player of the season – Giacomo Raspadori – 23 goals, 3 assists (league and youth)
Signing of the season – Suat Serdar – 12 games – 11 assists
Most improved player – Oscar Mingueza – Youth regular (83) to senior regular (87)
Most MoM awards – Douglas Luiz – 4 (6.64 average)
Best moments – Raspadori hattricks vs Montpellier and Olympiacos, Raspadori winner in Youth Final
Staring XI Week 1
87 – Marco Silvestri
87 – Ezri Konsa
87 – Robin Knoche
87 – Rick Karsdorp
87 – Faitout Maouassa
87 – Sander Berge
89 – Douglas Luiz (C)
88 – Yangel Herrera
87 – Nicolas Gonzalez
87 – Mattia Zaccagni
87 – Gaetan Laborde
Starting XI Next Season
88 – Emil Audero
88 – Ibrahima Konate
87 – Oscar Mingueza
87 – Fabien Centonze
87 – Alex Moreno
89 – Sandro Tonali
89 – Douglas Luiz (C)
88 – Suat Serdar
87 – Eberechi Eze
89 – Rodrigues Dudu
88 – Keita Balde
Similarly to this season, the ultimate goal is to improve the squad, with the boards only goal being to remain in the division.
Earle has made it clear that he believes that the team is now only about 3 key signings away from securing the clubs staring XI for the future with players such as Tonali, Luiz, Konate, Audero, Eze, Mingueza, Dimarco, Raspadori and more considered long term options in their respective positions. And that is before looking at the exciting youth options at the club such as Bade, Guillamon, Walukiewicz, Musah, Busio, Moriba, Demir and many others who are keen to make a quick impression.
Whatever the season holds, one thing is for sure, Leicester City are on the right tracks and have come on leaps and bounds over the past season. The first team is the strongest it has been since Earle arrived and the youth squad is ready to supply the senior team in several key positions.