30 days ago
Leicester City are the visitors to Carrow Road on Saturday, so canaries.co.uk caught up with reporter Jordan Blackwell, who covers the club for the Leicester Mercury.
He spoke about the Foxes’ top four ambitions, the suspension of Ayoze Perez, summer recruitment and James Maddison’s progress at the King Power Stadium.
canaries.co.uk: Last season, Leicester just missed out on the top four but won the FA Cup. This season they’ve won the Community Shield and had a mixed start to the Premier League. How do you think it’s going overall?
JB: If you assess it just based on the last game, not particularly well, but if you consider how it’s been since Brendan Rodgers took charge, Leicester are probably enjoying the best spell in their history really. Last season was the second best season in the club’s history.
They’ve got an excellent squad with lots of high quality players. The past couple of seasons have just maybe had that feeling of disappointment at the end that they’ve not finished in the top four because they’ve spent so much time there.
It’s been very successful and the mood is a good one despite the most recent result on Monday.
canaries.co.uk: Is it a realistic ambition to get into the top four? The big clubs at the moment are spending lots of money on some of the best players in the world.
JB: Yeah, it’s tricky because it felt like Leicester were kind of punching above their weight to finish where they did last season, to even challenge these teams and get close to them. They’ve all gone out and spent 70, 80, 90 million on the world’s best players.
It’s going to be difficult. I think if they manage to keep players fit which, even a couple of weeks into the season, they’re not particularly managing with Wesley Fofana breaking his leg in the final pre-season game.
They are a match for anyone. They beat Manchester United and Chelsea on route to the FA Cup win last season and beat all of the top six in at least one game last season. They’re a very good team. I do think a top four bid will again just be slightly beyond them.
canaries.co.uk: It’s not just a fitness issue but discipline as well with Ayoze Perez getting sent off in the previous game. Will he be a big miss and who might come in to replace him?
JB: It’s a tricky one. I don’t think he’ll be too big of a miss. I think he’s a decent player but that’s kind of the one position where Leicester are looking to strengthen over the final few days of the transfer window - the right wing position.
There are a few options. Marc Albrighton is probably the most natural fit to fill in there. It’s a possibility that Ricardo Pereira, who's been very good so far this season, could be pushed forward from right-back onto the wing.
Timothy Castagne could fill in at right-back so there are a few options. There are more attacking options they could potentially go for, like playing James Maddison out wide and then maybe bring in another striker to play alongside Jamie Vardy.
I think Marc Albrighton will get the nod.
canaries.co.uk: What have you made of the signings so far such as Patson Daka, Ryan Bertrand, and Jannik Vestergaard, and what recruitment still needs to be done apart from on the right wing?
JB: It’s very typical Leicester business because they’re players who you’ve maybe not heard of that aren’t big names but could very well become them. Boubakary Soumare won the title in France, he’s a 32-year-old box-to-box midfielder who seems a very smart signing.
He brings something that Leicester didn’t have. They’ve got a true backup now for both Youri Tielemans and Wilfred Ndidi because he’s kind of a hybrid of the two. If Ndidi’s not fit, he can play that role. If Tielemans is not fit, he can play that role, which is really important.
Daka got 34 goals last season and whatever league you’re playing in, that’s pretty good going.
They’re not big stars yet. The Bertrand signing is an interesting one because Leicester tend to buy players young that they can then sell on or at least have an increase in value, but Bertrand was the oldest outfield player they’ve signed since Esteban Cambiasso in 2014.
They’d lost a bit of experience with Wes Morgan retiring and Christian Fuchs moving to America. They were two of the title winners in defence so they brought Vestergaard as well; probably a signing they wouldn’t have made had Fofana not broken his leg.
Then they have the bad luck of buying a player because of injuries and then him getting injured.
The right wing area is the standout position where Leicester need a player. They signed Cengiz Ünder on loan last season but he didn’t quite produce the level of performance that Rodgers wanted so he went back to AS Roma.
They’re looking in that position again but have so far not found anyone and Rodgers said in his press conference on Thursday that they might need to sell players before being able to bring somebody in.
For the first time since they won the title, Leicester have not sold one of their big players in the summer, which is an achievement in itself, to keep hold of the best players who want to stay, but it does mean they don’t have the funds to go out and properly bolster the squad as they would like to.
"Maddison is in an extremely competitive position for the England squad"
canaries.co.uk: Maddison is one they’ll want to keep hold of and Norwich fans like to keep an eye on his progress. How do you assess how he’s getting on and is it a big season for him to try to get into Gareth Southgate’s thoughts?
JB: Yeah, I think so. He was really unfortunate in that he was producing the best form of his career, certainly of his Leicester career, two months before he got injured from December until February.
He was looking a threat every game, improved his goal scoring ability and spoke in a post-match interview about how he’d sat down with one of the club analysts and Rodgers on where he could improve his goalscoring.
Immediately he did that and he was getting into the box more regularly. He was picking up things inside the box and scoring or assisting in nearly every game.
Then, he got the recurrence of this hip injury in February, came back in April and it just felt like he was still catching up with himself. It didn’t feel like he was ever at 100 percent. He was in and out of the team.
I still think he’s a really important player for Leicester. He does something that no other player does, the way he receives the ball in the pockets of space and moves his body to create space for himself is really good.
He’s one of the best passers and creative players that Leicester have, but it’s about being fit enough to prove that consistently and not go missing in games.
That’s the job for him to get into the England squad because he’s in an extremely competitive position where the likes of Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Mason Mount are all producing regularly and I don’t think Southgate is ever going to take all four of them to a World Cup.
He’s got a real battle on his hands to show that he’s more consistent than one of those three.