Leicester City achieved something almost unimaginable last season and will approach their new campaign with confidence. With pace up front and solidity at the back, they will prove a tough nut to crack for most domestic opponents again this year. But as they are now a Champions League club, exertions in Europe could damage their hopes of remaining at the top of English football. The Foxes are happy for opponents to have the lion’s share of possession. With veterans Wes Morgan and Robert Huth at the back, they rely on defensive prowess to repel more cultured attacking play. The pace of Vardy and creative spark of Riyad Mahrez make them a threat on the break. A tactic that saw them win the Premier League with relative ease.
Manager: Claudio Ranieri
Once a renowned ‘Tinker Man’, Ranieri went against type and expectations by fielding an unchanged side as often as possible last season. This was key to Leicester’s Premier League triumph and he has vowed to stick with his best eleven for this pre-season clash. Ranieri is one of the most experienced managers in the league but may find his job more difficult this term. His luck held out last season with a relative lack of injuries and the continued form of Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy. Added commitments in Europe and the absence of midfield linchpin N’Golo Kante will make a successful defence of their Premier League title seem more daunting.
Barcelona 4-2 Leicester City
Paris Saint-Germain 4-0 Leicester City
Celtic 1-1 Leicester City (Leicester win 6-5 on penalties)
Danny Drinkwater faces a big test at the heart of midfield this season as he seeks to replace the influence of Kante. A full summer of rest should give him the energy to begin this task at Wembley on Sunday. He is likely to find help from new signing Nampalys Mendy. His intelligent reading of the game should provide useful cover to the back four, in the absence of the strong tackling of Kante. Ahmed Musa is another new arrival who will use Sunday’s match to stake a claim for a place in Ranieri’s starting eleven. The combined pace and finishing of Vardy and Musa (who hit 42 goals for CSKA Moscow last season) will stretch even the best of defences.
Key Player: Jamie Vardy
Leicester’s unprecedented title win was the product of a whole team of career-defining performances. Their togetherness and work rate overshadowing almost all individual moments. Yet Jamie Vardy stood out as their star man for much of the season. Emboldened by low expectations, Vardy showed no fear to become a talismanic presence leading the Foxes from the front. His pace and tenacity caused problems for all opponents last year as he bagged 24 goals including against Manchester United at the King Power stadium. His run of 11 consecutive league goals was enough to encourage Arsene Wenger to enquire about the forward this summer, only to be ultimately disappointed when he signed a new long-term contract with the Foxes. His pace and clinical finishing will cause United problems should they play a high back line. New signing Eric Bailly will have to make sure he does his homework should he start the match. But Chris Smalling will hope his pace can negate the threat of his England teammate.
Leicester has struggled so far in pre-season and N’golo Kante will be a huge miss in midfield. With Huth suspended, the Foxes are likely to give new signing Luis Hernandez his first start in central defence. He may face a baptism of fire against a rejuvenated Manchester United who will look to the finishing and aerial power of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the creativity of Henrik Mkhitaryan to unlock a sturdy defence. Jose Mourinho does not seem to know the meaning of the word Friendly and has made it clear to his squad that these last games before the start of the season should be taken seriously. If Leicester decides to go 4-4-2 to offer a debut to Ahmed Musa, we could see an open and attacking contest. With the new-found firepower and confidence in the United ranks, it looks like Leicester could be in for another tough day.
Leicester City 1-2 Manchester United