With the Premier League title only two points away and a first-ever Champions League berth already secure, Leicester City will enter the 2016-17 season as the team traditional Premier League powerhouses want to topple and the one Premier League cellar-dwellers want to replicate.
By all accounts the season that the Foxes have had this year was extraordinary – it’s not often a team overcomes 5,000-to-1 odds to win anything, let alone the biggest prize in the world’s most prestigious football league. And yet, it seems laughable to many that the Foxes could replicate their success next season with teams like Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United set to rebound in a big way under new management.
To that statement I must pose this question: Why can’t Leicester City challenge for the title next year?
Even in the increasingly likely event they lose underrated midfield star N’Golo Kante in the summer transfer window, the majority of the core group of players will remain intact. Jamie Vardy, Kasper Schmeichel, and Wes Morgan aren’t going anywhere for a while and the newly-crowned PFA Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez has already made it clear that he intends to return to King Power Stadium next year.
We take for granted that teams like Chelsea, Liverpool, Man United, Man City, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur will all regroup and leave Leicester City in the dust next season – some by virtue of new management and others by virtue of more resources spent on players.
To that reasoning I must pose another question: Why are we assuming that?
Of the two new highly touted coaches joining the two previous Premier League title winners, Antonio Conte (Chelsea) and Pep Guardiola (Man City), neither one of them has ever coached English football. And as Jurgen Klopp, Louis van Gaal, and Jose Mourinho have learned all too well, having success at a huge club in Germany or Spain then joining an English club with near-unlimited resources is still no guarantee that they’ll turn everything around immediately, much less with a title.
Arsenal will always be a contender just on their talent alone, yet even though they beat Leicester City – not once, but twice – they still lost to such “powerhouses” as Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion. Even the Arsenal fanbase is polarized as to how they feel about the team’s long-term future under manager ARsene Wenger – and that doesn’t bode well for the club.
Liverpool will likely be Premier League title favorites going into next season, but that’s assuming that: A) Jurgen Klopp gets all of the players he wants, B) Said players have an easy transition to English football, C) The team becomes mentally strong enough to avoid to the kinds of meltdowns they suffered against Newcastle, Swansea, Watford and Southampton. By comparison to Liverpool, Claudio Ranieri already has A, B and C checked off, and if the ownership is hungry for another title, he’ll send a few more players Ranieri’s way to give him a luxury of talent.
Which of course leaves Tottenham Hotspur, the team hot on Leicester City’s tail and boasting the league’s best striker, best group of midfielders and best scoring defence by a wide margin. They should contend once again for the title – heck, mathematically they’re still contending for one right now – but aren’t they just as likely to fall back to earth as the Foxes?
With the exception of their age, the Spurs stars have had just as much of an unexpected rise to glory as Leicester City – and even that has only been good enough for 69 points in 35 matches – a mere 11 points better than this time last year despite allowing half as many goals this year. If cutting the goals allowed total in half makes a team just 11 points better, then the Spurs need to find their magic formula for winning the big games, because 22 out of 38 will not cut it next year either.
Leicester had the good fortune of being the best team among the non-traditional powerhouse clubs in a year when those clubs were either too weak or embroiled in too much internal chaos to stop them in their tracks. But that doesn’t mean they’re a fluke – and it doesn’t mean they can’t become another giant of English football.
I’ll ask once more: Why. exactly, can’t Leicester compete for the title and establish themselves as a powerhouse… next year?
Follow Jonathan Machlin on Twitter @jtmlovessports