The shock Premier League champions kick off their International Champions Cup campaign against Celtic on Saturday with a number of questions to answer ahead of the 2016-17 season
Leicester City are not accustomed to losing, not any more.
Stars were born in a 2015-16 season that saw the Foxes lift their first-ever Premier League title. Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante all shot to fame as the world were both shocked and enamoured by the ultimate surprise package.
But that kind of global exposure comes at a price – bigger, more financially powerful teams want your players.
Yes, team spirit and sheer work ethic played a huge part as Claudio Ranieri led his side to the title, but how many points would have been lost without their now big-name stars?
Leicester have done exceedingly well this summer to hold on to most of their key figures. Vardy has turned down a move to Arsenal in favour of staying at the King Power, while captain and defensive rock Wes Morgan has also put pen to paper on a new deal.
“Riyad [Mahrez] will stay,” Ranieri said last week following Kante’s £30 million switch to Chelsea, eager to ease fans’ fears of an exodus.
“Everybody here is happy, no other players will leave. The most important thing is to maintain the group, the spirit and the humility.”
Oddly enough, it’s that sentiment that makes one wonder whether the International Champions Cup has come too quickly for Leicester.
The Foxes have had only one pre-season clash leading up to the tournament, a 2-1 comeback win over recently promoted League One side Oxford United, and skipper Morgan has already raised issues of fitness and tactics.
“The players are getting their fitness back and the manager is testing different systems to have a look at everyone,” the captain said. “It’s important to make sure everyone gets a good look and gets a run out. The main thing was to get some work into our legs.”
If Leicester are to maintain their momentum, they will need to get in shape – and find a shape – very quickly.
Scottish champions Celtic are first on the list at the ICC – certainly not the strongest team at the tournament, but a team that have enjoyed a long pre-season. They face Leicester off the back of a 2-1 friendly victory over Bundesliga big boys Wolfsburg and a reassuring second-leg comeback win in their Champions League qualifier against Lincoln Red Imps. The Bhoys are beginning to look sharp.
Perhaps the half-fit Premier League champions could brush aside their Scottish counterparts – but what about their following ICC opponents Paris Saint-Germain? What about Barcelona? Ranieri finds himself in a tricky situation.
The Italian will be buoyed by the performance of new striker Ahmed Musa – who has compared himself to the currently sidelined Jamie Vardy – with the former CSKA man having looked sprightly against Oxford.
The loss of Kante, however, remains a worry.
On paper, new signing Nampalys Mendy looks a perfect replacement for his fellow Frenchman. Despite being roughly the same age, same height, and once referred to as a “carbon copy” of defensive midfield legend Claude Makelele, Ranieri maintains the only thing Mendy has in common with Kante is his playing position.
So with the Tinkerman looking set to continue his tinkering into the ICC, one big question remains: if Leicester fail to convince against some of the best teams in the world with their first foray into the Champions League on the horizon, will they lose their momentum entirely?
Few, not least those who have committed their futures to the club, will want to see the fairytale end so soon.
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