The Prem darlings from just two seasons ago crashed and burned in their attempt at a title defense for 2016/17 campaign. Despite dropping over £60million in transfers in order to contend for both the Prem and Champions League trophies, their new signings, Ahmed Musa, Islam Slimani, Luis Hernandez (left in January) and Nampalys Mendy did not even approximate their weight in pounds. Islam Slimani – heretofore to be known as the Muslim Slim Jim – was the only new signee not to struggle, tallying 7 goals, 4 assists and 35 shots in 1279 minutes playing striker coming off the bench.
Their season was very much a tale of two teams: since Shakespeare took over the team last February at the end of Gameweek 25, the Foxes surged from 17th place and 1 point above relegation to finish the season in 12th place, 10 points clear of relegation and a mere 3 points behind sole possession of 8th. Part of their success was a return to the 4-4-2 formation that won them the Prem Title in 2016, and certainly their old manager had begun to rub people the wrong way. Ranieri’s 2016/17 campaign was characterized by unnecessary rotations and constant meddling with formations, resulting in abysmal 24 goals scored while allowing 43 in 25 matches. Shakespeare’s return to the basics led to the Foxes scoring 24 more while only allowing 20 in 13 matches, 6 of which were throttled down their throats by Spurs in the penultimate week of the season; if you take out those 6 goals, that’s 14 goals against in 12 matches (1.17 goals conceded/match, right on par with Arsenal’s 1.15 goals conceded/match rate for the entire season).
It’s a new season, and Leicester City does not have Champions or Europa League as a distraction this campaign, which gives me hope that they will be focused on winning the FA Cup or maintaining a higher position in the top half of the table as they look to compete again in continental fútbol.
What does this all mean for fantasy? Leicester’s nose dive last season and surprise season two years ago has created good value here, prettay prettay good value. Their two most expensive players, Vardy (3.5% owned) and Mahrez, are both priced at £8.5, cheap when you consider that Man City has 5 midfielders over 8.0 (thanks Smokey). Also keep in mind that Mahrez has been the focus of transfer rumors all summer (see below), and very well could be the man to replace Alexis Sanchez should Arsenal part ways with him. In terms of attacking, it would seem that Craig Shakespeare would do well to experiment with both Vardy and the Muslim Slim Jim up top. At £7.0, Muslim Slim Jim might be too expensive for most budgets as a 3rd striker with no track record, and if Kelechi Iheanacho (more on him below) does indeed finalize his transfer to Leicester, he might remain a fixture on the bench for the upcoming season.
The calendar has turned to August, so let’s speculate who are the players to focus on, and what it means for your squad…
Buying: Christian Fuchs, Defender, £5.0, 3.9% owned
The Austrian leftback led the team in minutes played and touches made, finishing only second in passes to Mr. Double D Daddy Drinkwater. Despite his the Foxes horrible start, Fuchs finished the year with 2 goals, 4 assists and 8 clean sheets, good enough for 104 fantasy points and ranking him tied with Adam Smith and Phil Jagielka for 4th highest from last year at the current 5.0 price point. I like the room for growth, and with an ownership rate of 3.9%, it’s about fuching time to make him a part of your selection.
Demarai Gray, Midfielder, £5.5, 1.0% owned
One of England’s top youth players – and distant cousin of Razzball’s own Grey Albright – Demarai Gray bagged 2 goals and an assist in 4 matches at the 2017 U-21 Euro Championship this past month. Unfortunately, he only started 9 games last season as he sat buried on the bench, scoring 1 goal and making 3 assists in just over 1000 minutes. In that limited time, he still finished 4th on the team in crosses with 82, showing that the potential is real if he is able to log regular minutes and find a rhythm. He’s also just one Mahrez trade away from having a legitimate shot at becoming their main attacking midfielder this season. At present time, he is my 4th midfielder and I’m happily reallocating the money saved to other parts of my team; the only reason I wouldn’t have him to start the year is if Mahrez ends up staying at Leicester. Fortunately for us, Mahrez will most likely be out of the picture by week’s end.
Danny Simpson, Defender, £4.5, 5.8% owned
Well for Fuchs sake, if you can’t afford the big Austrian at 5.0, Mr. Simpson provides a cheaper way to get into the Leicester defense. Last season he was 4th on the team with 1,812 touches, 3rd in passes with 1,092 behind Drinkwater and Fuchs, had 2 assists, 9 clean sheets and finished 2nd in minutes played at 2990 (also behind Fuchs). That being said, the Foxes defense in general might not be a major player in the first few Gameweeks, as they start the season with some tough competition: Arsenal (A), Brighton (H), United (A), Chelsea (H). Uff. While I like the home fixture to Brighton in GW2, those other games aren’t exactly a bed of roses, but stick with me:
Gameweeks 5-9: Huddersfield (A), Liverpool (H), Bournemouth (A), West Brom (H), Swansea (A). Predicting clean sheets is a crap shoot, but I guarantee the Foxes will have at least 2, maybe 3 under their belts come Gameweek 10 because they simply aren’t as bad now as they were to start last season. For just an extra .5, I much prefer Fuchs to Simpson due to his attacking ability alone (96 crosses for Fuchs to Simpson’s 26). However, Simpson will slot in fine if you need a solid starting defender with low ownership to round out your back line. He is guaranteed minutes at right back and there aren’t enough managers that can sell him causing his price to slide.
Avoiding: Riyad Mahrez, Midfielder, £8.5, 1.8% owned
As of writing this piece, AS Roma had already submitted two separate bids for the Algerian, with Leicester rejecting the most recent one at £32 million. Now that they are close to buying a replacement in Iheanacho for £25m, Leicester might back down from its £50m asking price on Mahrez. Arsenal are also rumored to be interested, and if Mahrez leaves for Roma or heads to North London to fill the void left by Alexis Sanchez changing clubs, then of course we would need to reevaluate his role in a new context. Until then, don’t count him as a part of your plans as he’ll likely be in Italy come opening day.
Stargazing: Kelechi Iheanacho, Forward, £7.0, 1.2% owned
Iheanacho is expected to complete his transfer from the Etihad to King Power Stadium for £25m in the next 48 hours after passing his physical on Tuesday morning. Man City have inserted a £50m buy back clause, so there is plenty reason for Leicester City to play him and try doubling their investment, and likewise equal motivation for Iheanacho to show Pep and the only European club he’s ever known that he deserves to be in their future plans. At £7.0, he’s a full 1.5 cheaper than Vardy and the same price as the Muslim Slim Jim, but I’d roll with the young Nigerian over both and hope you strike lightning in a bottle. There is huge potential here for him to be a cheap and productive 2nd forward. Even better might be pairing him with a forward in the 7-8.5 range and one attacking stud to give you three legitimate options up top. I’ll probably wait to see what they’re starting XI looks like once he’s come aboard and Mahrez is out of the picture, but it feels as if he’s guaranteed to win a starting position with only Vardy, Okazaki and the Muslim Slim Jim in his way. Sign me the Fuchs up!