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Leicester City: BTSport.com's Premier League 2019/20 season preview

After a difficult 2018/19 campaign, the Brendan Rodgers revolution is well underway at the King Power. With a full pre-season now under his belt, the former Liverpool and Celtic boss will be looking to bring the good times back to the 2016 Premier League winners.

Last season's Premier League finish: 9th - (W15 D7 L16 - F51 A48 - Pts 52)

Last season's top scorer: Jamie Vardy - 18

To win the league*: 300/1

First five fixtures: Wolves (H), Chelsea (A), Sheffield United (A), Bournemouth (H), Manchester United (A)

Predicted finish (BTSport.com writers' combined prediction): 7th

Predicted finish by The Script9th

Transfers in: Youri Tielemans - Monaco (£40m), Ayoze Perez - Newcastle (£30m), James Justin - Luton Town (£8m), Ali Reghba - Bohemians (undisclosed), Dennis Praet - Sampdoria (£18m), George Hirst - OH Leuven (undisclosed), Vontae Daley-Campbell - Arsenal (undisclosed), Mitchell Clark - Aston Villa (free)

Transfers out: Danny Simpson, Davide Lorenzo (both released), Shinji Okazaki - Malaga (free), Daniel Iversen - Rotherham (loan), Lamine Kaba Sherif - Accrington (free), Elliott Moore - Oxford (undisclosed), Harry Maguire - Manchester United (£80m), Callum Elder - Hull (undisclosed), Layton Ndukwu - Southend (loan)

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Read on for BTSport.com's in-depth Leicester season preview, or check out more from our exclusive series:

Arsenal | Aston Villa | Bournemouth | Brighton | Burnley | Chelsea | Crystal Palace | EvertonLiverpool | Man City | Man Utd | Newcastle | Norwich | Sheff Utd | Southampton | Tottenham | Watford | West Ham | Wolves

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Reasons to be optimistic

There were extenuating circumstances for Leicester in 2018/19. The campaign paled into insignificance after the tragic death of their owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha in a helicopter crash, shortly after leaving the King Power Stadium pitch following the October draw with West Ham. 

Then-manager Claude Puel described the seven days that followed as “the hardest week of everyone’s lives”. Remarkably, Leicester refused to crumble and emerged from the season in a creditable ninth place, having replaced Puel with Brendan Rodgers in late February.

That resilience will surely serve Leicester well as they prepare for a new dawn in the first full season under the stewardship of Srivaddhanaprabha’s son Aiyawatt and with Rodgers in the dugout.

Rodgers abandoned the opportunity to steer Celtic to a domestic 'treble treble' in Scotland to join Leicester and it’s a decision that could pay dividends. By the time Leicester host Wolves on the opening day, the ex-Liverpool coach will have spent almost six months in the job and will have a full pre-season under his belt.

Leicester fans will be encouraged by Rodgers’ first ten games in charge, which saw six victories, including a 3-0 thrashing of Arsenal, one of the sides they’ll be vying with for the top six next season.

A glance at Rodgers’ squad suggests Leicester have the talent to mount a serious assault on the established hierarchy ahead of them. 

James Maddison is set to take another step forward, Kasper Schmeichel is a stalwart in goal, Ben Chilwell is arguably the best left-back in the division and Jamie Vardy remains one of the league’s most lethal finishers. 

Leicester have strengthened an already strong squad with some impressive additions this summer. Ayoze Perez has arrived from Newcastle for £30m, attacking midfielder Dennis Praet joins from Sampdoria and promising full back James Justin signs from Luton.

Best of all, Leicester secured a permanent deal for Youri Tielemans - the midfielder who starred after joining on loan last season. The Foxes now boast a side that will have Chelsea and Arsenal looking upon enviously. A top-six finish is well within reach for the 2016 Premier League winners.

Reasons to be fearful​ 

The battle for the top six in this season’s Premier League looks set to be the most ferocious one yet, with Wolves, West Ham, Leicester, Everton and Watford looking to reel in the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United.

If Leicester are to come out on top in the rat race they’ll need to arrest the poor runs that derailed them last season – albeit while contending with tragedy. Five defeats and one draw between January and February saw Puel sacked amid reports that the Frenchman lost the dressing room. 

It’s an accusation that has been levelled at Leicester’s players before, following the dismissals of Premier League-winning coach Claudio Ranieri and his replacement Craig Shakespeare. The signs are positive that the squad have taken to Rodgers but a few bad results and that could change.

The form of Vardy remains crucial to Leicester’s fortunes. The forward netted 18 Premier League goals last season, 35% of the Foxes’ total. Only Glenn Murray at Brighton contributed a higher proportion of his team’s overall tally.

Rodgers will hope to lessen his side’s dependency on Vardy’s goals and the signing of Perez is designed to remedy that after Kelechi Iheanacho’s struggles as second fiddle. The four-man midfield system that Rodgers has adopted also requires traditional wingers, an area in which Leicester remain light beyond Demarai Gray and Marc Albrighton. 

While Leicester have been compensated handsomely, the departure of Harry Maguire still leaves a gaping hole in the centre of their defence. It's an area where Rodgers' sides have traditionally struggled.

It’s weaknesses like these that explain why Leicester are still available at 4/1 with bet365 to finish in the top six next season - behind both Wolves and Everton.

Key man: James Maddison

Even in a midfield as talented as Leicester’s, James Maddison stands out. Wilfried Ndidi, Tielemans, Nampalys Mendy and Hamza Choudhury make up Rodgers’ primary options in the middle of the park but none of them can create like Maddison.

The 22-year-old made the step up to the Premier League seamlessly last season, not just adjusting but thriving in the top flight. His form even earned a call-up to Gareth Southgate’s England squad and he is surely destined to make his senior debut this coming campaign.

“He’s an incredible player,” Pep Guardiola said of Maddison ahead of Manchester City’s clash with Leicester in May.
No player in the division created more than the 100 chances Maddison laid on for his Leicester team-mates in 2018/19.

Perez will relish playing alongside his new team-mate after watching Maddison lay chance after chance on a plate for Vardy.

Maddison is an intelligent creator who angles his runs to find pockets of space and play one-twos with his team-mates to forge openings. An outstanding display in the 3-0 home victory over Arsenal in April, including a sublime assist for Tielemans’ opener, was a perfect illustration of his abilities.

The former Norwich City man is also lethal with a dead ball. With three of his seven Premier League goals coming via free-kicks, Maddison became the first Premier League player since Philippe Coutinho in 2016/17 to reach that total.

Rodgers has played either a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-4-1-1 since taking over and Maddison featured mostly as a number ten or from the left in those ten matches. The Leicester coach is set to make the Englishman a focal point of his system in 2019/20 and a further season of progression - including a first Three Lions cap - looks firmly on the cards.

The manager: Brendan Rodgers

‘YOU TRADED IMMORTALITY FOR MEDIOCRITY’ read the banner unfurled in Celtic’s away end at Hearts on 27 February in their first game following Rodgers’ departure to Leicester.

Rodgers won seven trophies at Celtic Park and set the club on course for the eventual ‘treble-treble’, a third consecutive year of Premiership, Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup glory. But when the Leicester job became available, Rodgers jumped at the chance to return south of the border.

The Northern Irishman is an occasional figure of fun for the unorthodox soundbites he sometimes offers in interviews and press conferences. Asked who inspires him, Rodgers once replied: “My biggest mentor is myself because I’ve had to study and that’s been my biggest influence.”

But delusions of grandeur aside, Rodgers remains a quality coach. Recent success in Scotland means he enters the campaign as the most decorated of the nine British managers in the division.

Leicester and Rodgers are a good fit. The club have shown ambition in the transfer market to back their manager and want to establish themselves among the top six.

Rodgers is determined to prove he can thrive in the Premier League and that the title challenge he sustained as Liverpool boss in 2013/14 was no fluke.

His predecessor, Puel, was criticised for a lack of charisma and for failing to inspire the dressing room. Rodgers, though, is famed for his one-on-one man-management, described by former Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard as the “best of any coach I’ve worked with".

The 46-year-old already looks to have won over the fanbase with the enouraging end to last season and the feeling around the King Power is that 2019/20 is a campaign bubbling with potential for Leicester.

Fans' view - Chris Forryan - Leicester Till I Die 

"Last season was hard for us for obvious reasons. It’s testament to our players and for the power of football in general that we managed to come through that.

"We started with high hopes and I have sympathy with what Puel was trying to do. He was given a hot potato in trying to rebuild the title-winning team. He didn’t get much of a chance but on the other hand he didn’t help himself.

"You can’t build a new team when the current team is disintegrating, it’s like building a new building on old foundations. The fans didn’t bond with him because he wasn’t charismatic.

"Had the helicopter crash not happened and we hadn’t beaten Manchester City and Chelsea over the Christmas period, Puel would have gone even earlier.

"Expectations remain high since we won the Premier League. Realistically we won’t do it again, but as former champions we do expect to be higher up the table.

"Rodgers was the right appointment and I was happy as Larry when he arrived. We needed someone to come in and continue what Puel had started.

"The fact he came right away was the right thing to do because it showed us his commitment. He gave up the 'treble-treble' and it gave him ten competitive games to see how the players perform. The crowd were behind him from the start and they never were with Puel.

"We need to kick on now. Seventh and a European place would be lovely. It’s what every club outside the top six has got to aim for and if we are in the middle league, the Europa League is what we’ve got to aim for. But if the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal struggle then you never know – fifth or sixth isn’t outside the range of possibility.

"There’s a lot more optimism ahead of this season because Puel just didn’t create that buzz. Now Rodgers has us on the edge of our seat. He’s had ten games and now a whole pre-season. Let’s see if he can carry that winning mentality into the new season."

*All odds correct with bet365 at time of writing

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