Pre-season is the optimism capital of the season, where no one has played a game yet and everyone is unbeaten. And after last season, why can’t anyone win the league – the phrase ‘doing a Leicester’ is in the air.
But if everyone believes this is their season, it’s starting to feel like English football’s aristocrats are putting their thumbs on the scales of fairness again and re-establishing their dominance.
As Claudio Ranieri says, if Leicester were 5000/1 to win the Premier League last season, they really should be 6000/1 to win it this season. But what were the odds not just for Leicester to win the league, but to win it by ten points?
It was an unrivalled success and one that more than likely won’t be repeated. But in a way that’s a good thing. Leicester are the only champions in modern football who can actually enjoy the fact they’re the champions, without having the expectations and pressure to retain their title.
Football has become a river; a never ending, self-perpetuating flow where one season bleeds into the next. Big corporate ‘clubs’ look to win trophies not for the glory of victory, but to fulfil their obligations and extract more money out of sponsors and fans.
Not so with Leicester – ok, well maybe a little bit so – but for Leicester there’s no pressure to win anything. Just like their wasn’t last year. Like a recent graduate, the Foxes can use that nifty new title after their names: Leicester City, Premier League Champions. Leicester City, PLC….
A successful season will be one where the adventure is enjoyable. There’s no pressure, and the Champions League will be a novelty; the next phase of the Leicester City story. If they remember to live in the moment, enjoyment will be the taste of success.
But of course, that doesn’t mean they can’t progress. The league is surely beyond them – and in any case, they’ve already won it, so why bother trying there again? But Ranieri’s Leicester didn’t win the cup competitions, so why not prioritise more silverware, and in much more winnable competitions?
The league is a once in a lifetime achievement, but Leicester have never won the FA Cup or a European competition either – could this be the year? Even another League Cup victory to add to the trophy cabinet would be huge.
There was no Yoko Ono, but Leicester are still in significant danger of breaking up the band. The challenge will be to actually build a better squad rather than filling holes left by departees.
N’Golo Kante is a big loss, but surely it’s better to get rid of a player who no longer wants to be there. If Riyad Mahrez leaves, it’ll be tough to take, but Ahmed Musa and Nampalys Mendy look like astute signings who suit the happy-go-lucky approach the Champions will have this season.
If he stays, it’ll be Riyad Mahrez. He showed last season what a great player he is, but the challenge after a great season is always to keep the same level for the next season. It’s not a given that Mahrez rises to the challenge, but the great players always do. Don’t be surprised if his creativity, trickiness and pace could terrify Europe this season.
It’s hard to think of a Leicester player who underwhelmed last season, but perhaps that’s because the underwhelming players simply didn’t get a game. Demarai Gray came into the club in January, when it’s always hard to settle into a new club and hit the ground running, especially when such a fixed starting eleven is performing miracles on the pitch.
August heralds a new season, and it’s a chance for Gray to make his mark on that starting XI this season. With clubs like Crystal Palce linked with £30m moves, every club in the country can improve on what they already have. Leicester themselves will get big money from their Champions League campaign, too, and can replace anyone they feel isn’t up to standard.
Could this be a season where Gray makes his mark on the Premier League? Or will it be a disappointing season that halts the meteoric rise for a while?