After living out a sporting fairytale, Leicester City now must go through a nightmare in order to make it back to the top flight of English football.
Seven years after completing the most improbable story of winning the Premier League, Leicester City were relegated on the final day of the 2022/23 season, despite a 2-1 victory over West Ham United.
Of the last nine sides to drop down from the top flight, four bounced back at the first time of asking and all bar one of them were promoted after a second bite of the cherry – that statistic gives Foxes’ fans cause for optimism.
Last Season: 18th (Premier League)
Top Scorer: Harvey Barnes (13)
Transfers In: Harry Winks – Tottenham Hotspur (£9.9m), Conor Coady – Wolves (£7.5m), Stephy Mavididi – Montpellier (£6.4m), Mads Hermansen – Brondby (£6m), Callum Doyle – Manchester City (loan)
Transfers Out: James Maddison – Tottenham Hotspur (£40m), Harvey Barnes – Newcastle United (£39m), George Hirst – Ipswich Town (£1.5m), Youri Tielemans – released, Caglar Soyuncu – released, Daniel Amartey – released, Ayoze Perez – released, Jonny Evans – released, Nampalys Mendy – released, Ryan Bertrand – released, Tete – end of loan
First Game: Coventry City (H)
After their relegation from the top flight, Leicester City begin a new journey under Enzo Maresca and the Italian has inherited an excellent squad despite the departures of Youri Tielemans, James Maddison, Caglar Soyuncu and Harvey Barnes to name a few.
There remains question marks around Maresca, who has worked under Pep Guardiola, and the only evidence we have of his managerial prowess was an ill-fated spell at Parma which ended three months into a three-year deal. To be fair, hiring a Pep Guardiola assistant or ‘disciple’ has worked for Arsenal and Burnley in Mikel Arteta and Vincent Kompany, so the Leicester owners will be hoping that Maresca can flourish in similar style.
However, there remains plenty of Premier League quality within the ranks including the likes of Ricardo Pereira, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, Patson Daka and Kelechi Iheanacho, and I’m expecting the Foxes to emerge victorious in a battle royale with fellow heavyweights Leeds United, Southampton and Sunderland to go straight back up to top tier at the first time of asking.
Furthermore, the additions of Harry Winks and Conor Coady provide top-flight experience as well as leadership in two areas of the pitch that have been depleted in quality with the departures of Maddison and Soyuncu. Mads Hermansen is a goalkeeper in his peak years, and Callum Doyle is a potential future England international, so Leicester’s recruitment has been on the mark during this transfer window.
Jamie Vardy still remains a potent threat at 36 years of age, despite not having the pace of yesteryear, and is decent shout to finish top goalscorer at 10/1. The England international returns to the second tier with 136 top flight goals under his belt and his experience could prove vital in leading the Foxes back to the big time.
Harry Souttar lost his place in the Leicester starting XI towards the back end of last season, but the Australian should thrive in a league as physical as the Championship. Alongside him will be the likes of Wout Faes and Jannik Vestegaard — neither of whom covered themselves in glory last season — but they are centre-backs with international caps.
Looking at this squad, there’s simply too much know-how and ability in this team for them not to go back up to the Premier League as champions. If a few more signings are made – purely for squad depth – then I think it could be difficult for anyone to catch them.