Okay, I’ll admit I’m still not excited by being on the cusp of the new club season. Whilst the World Cup blues have washed away, I appear to be in some sort of a limbo with my thoughts ahead of the Premier League, which starts this week apparently.
Flop: Leicester City
Taking part in that first Premier League game on Friday Night at Old Trafford is Leicester City. Their harsh boom and bust cycle since re-joining the Premier League after a decade’s absence in 2014 has been eye-opening.
From ostrich journalists and scraping survival to chatting shit, getting banged and winning the league in matter of twelve months—Leicester City have since stagnated. They sacked Claudio Ranieri, a man who had manufactured possibly the greatest English league win since Brian Clough’s Derby County in the 1970s and the incumbent Craig Shakespeare lasted little under eight months.
A finish of twelfth in 2016/17 might have only felt a slight underachievement given the players, staff and facilities in the East Midlands but given that they made a Champions League quarter-final, there was clearly still talent in the squad.
Claude Puel, thankfully, didn’t get the chop as he wrongfully did at Southampton, as he manufactured a steadying of the ship. Their ninth place was just Leicester’s third top half finish in the top flight since the turn of the millennium.
Of the seven players that started the majority of Leicester’s title winning side only Marc Albrighton is under the age of 30.
Simpson – Huth – Morgan – Fuchs
Albrighton – Kante – Drinkwater – Mahrez
Vardy – Okazaki
Italics: still at the club but over 30 | Strikethrough: not at club
The dismantling and subsequent rebuilding of the 2016 title-winning squad is well underway. Harry Maguire looks a snip at last summer’s £17m price tag after a superb World Cup, Ricardo Pereira and Jonny Evans have joined him in defence this summer.
Wilfried Ndidi looked an inspired signing but Adrien Silva still hasn’t clicked as his partner, as Kante and Drinkwater so often did. Aleksandar Dragovic failed to impress in his loan period and won’t be seen again this season whilst Okazaki and Iheanacho did little to help Jamie Vardy up front.
Of course, I’m ignoring the elephant in the room. Riyad Mahrez is gone. He was rejuvenated last season under Puel, reaching double figures again in the league and was only one of two to find that tally.
The other was Jamie Vardy: a man who looked less than effective in Russia. Club football and a different system changes Vardy’s role completely, nonetheless, Puel will need to look for his successor quickly. The only remotely attacking signing has been 21-year old James Maddison who has been unproved in the top division. 57 goals in three seasons for a club like Leicester is something very hard to replace.
Schmeichel is also yet to be replaced, unless £12.5m signing 25-year old Danny Ward can prove himself as more than a benchwarmer and cup game player.
Leicester are by no means in trouble purely because of Mahrez’s sale as they have enough quality to be comfortably mid-table. However, having seen from rumoured player revolts – they players won’t be happy with mid-table. They have tasted Europe and wish to be back in it. Not this year or any other year if they don’t start to re-invest their Mahrez money on replacing him and Vardy.
Everybody has earmarked Wolves to set the Premier League world alight with their Portuguese-heavy dealings in the transfer market and the fact that they blew the Championship out of the water last season. However, Fulham have gone slightly more under the radar and despite settling for promotion via the play-offs last season, they look strong enough to stave off relegation.
Out of the last ten Championship play-off winners four have stayed afloat in the Premier League the following season. The only play-off winner to then go onto make the top half of the Premier League was West Ham United in 2012/13. Then again, they were a club that bounced straight back from the Premier League and sold just three first team players in Scott Parker, Junior Stanislas and Matty Upson.
In fact, just Blackburn Rovers (1992), Leicester City (1996), Ipswich Town (2000) & West Ham (2012) have managed a top half finish after being promoted via the play-offs since the Premier League’s inception.
Year / Play-Off Winners / PL Position Season After
2008 / Hull City / 17th
2009 / Burnley / 18th
2010 / Blackpool / 19th
2011 / Swansea City / 11th
2012 / West Ham United / 10th
2013 / Crystal Palace / 11th
2014 / Queens Park Rangers / 20th
2015 / Norwich City / 19th
2016 / Hull City / 18th
2017 / Huddersfield Town / 16th
Fulham haven’t played Premier League football since 2014, a season which featured a revolving door of managers. Slavisa Jokanovic, however, has maintained stability since joining the Craven Cottage club in 2015. He has turned Fulham into a bottom-half Championship team into one that breaks into the top flight again.
They have been just as eye-opening as Wolves in the transfer market too. Jean Seri of Nice remains their biggest signing, of £25million, whilst Andre Schurrle has joined from Borussia Dortmund on a two-season long loan and Alfie Mawson will shore up the defence, in for £20million from Swansea.
The loss of Ryan Fredericks to West Ham on a free will be a disappointment without replacing the right-back sufficiently. Aleksandar Mitrovic transformed Fulham in his six-month loan spell last season and is back at Craven Cottage, with the hefty fee of £22million.
The spine of Tim Ream, Tom Cairney and Mitrovic will be intact with innumerable bolstering thanks to Schurrle joining Mitrovic and the much sought after Ryan Sessegnon in a front three.
Keeping the English wonderkid is integral to Fulham’s success in the forthcoming years.
Defensively they might be found wanting in the Premier League and is an area Jokanovic will need to improve upon sharpish or in January. Only Derby conceded more out of the Championship’s top eight. Contrastingly, Fulham scored the second most in the division, behind champions Wolves.
Therefore, I’m making the bold prediction that Fulham will buck the trend and finish in the top half of the Premier League next season, with Wolves closely following.