We spoke to SB Nation’s Fosse Posse, a Leicester blog about how their team is doing this season.
RBM: In lieu of the standard "what happened this season" question you must be getting tired of, tell us instead what has changed on the field, especially since it's mostly the same personnel.
FP: You're already halfway there. It's what HASN'T changed on the field this season that has caused the Foxes problems despite having almost all of the same players that lifted the Premier League trophy back in May. That being said however, losing N'Golo Kante to Chelsea is one of the biggest reasons we haven't been able to regain our title-winning form, and our midfield has been a complete liability at most times this season without him. He's a one-of-a-kind player, and I don't say that lightly.
Daniel Amartey and Andy King have failed to fill the void beside Danny Drinkwater, who hasn't shown last season's quality that left him on the fringes of England's Euro 2016 squad. Nampalys Mendy's lengthy injury in the second game of the season against Arsenal really complicated things, as he was expected to fill the vacant hole in central midfield.
The 4-4-2 counter-attacking style fit Leicester exceptionally well last season by playing route one football through the midfield from a turnover (often won by Kante) to hit Vardy on the chase or by swinging in crosses from Riyad Mahrez, Marc Albrighton and Christian Fuchs to the head of Shinji Okazaki. Ranieri didn't have to live up to his 'Tinkerman' nickname and change the squad or the tactics because he got the same result almost every match.
Leicester were one of the healthiest sides in the league last season, and when players like Jamie Vardy were suspended we had Leonardo Ulloa come in beside Okazaki as another target in the air. Ranieri could make small, necessary changes but the attacking philosophy remained the same.
But now teams in the Premier League have figured Leicester out and are playing a deep defensive line and closing down the likes of Drinkwater and Mahrez before they can find the long ball or quick pass. Ranieri kept pushing the same 4-4-2 every match to no avail, but the switch to a 4-2-3-1 against West Ham was a welcomed change and got us a win. Leicester and Ranieri are beginning to realize, a little later than anticipated, that what won them the title last season isn't gonna fly this time around.
RBM: How has the Champions League experience been? Have the fans enjoyed the European away days? How far are you expecting (hoping) to get?
Can I say surreal? That seems like the best way to put it. I remember when the Group Stage draw started I still couldn't believe were in Pot 1, let alone in the draw itself. Leicester walked away with a group they knew was winnable and had a lot of great away days like Copenhagen and Bruges. That 1-0 win at the King Power against Porto was a special day that no Foxes fan will forget.
We knew the European powerhouses that we could've drawn in the Round of 16 but got three-time defending Europa League champions Sevilla. I absolutely hate calling that a winnable tie, but you take what you can get when you're in the Champions League. You're also breathing a sign of relief when you avoid the likes of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in that same pot.
I think a lot of Leicester fans had their expectations set pretty low and were just hoping to get some big clubs for the spectacle or even drop down to the Europa League, but when you're this far in it's best to roll the dice and go for it. If Leicester can win the Premier League, why not Europe? When's the next time the Foxes will be in the Champions League?
I'm honestly thinking we somehow manage our way past European veterans Sevilla before bowing out in the Quarter-Finals after giving it a good go against whoever we get, like a Barcelona or a PSG.
RBM: What are Claudio Ranieri's priorities this season? Is the Cup a higher priority than the Premier League?
Not a chance. Leicester have already struggled this season domestically from the added weight of the Champions League, so more fixtures isn't in the club's best interests. There's bigger fish to fry. We rolled out a heavily-rotated squad in a 4-2 loss to Chelsea in the EFL Cup back in September, including 75% of our regular back-line. I'm not expecting much different. There's a month or so left for Leicester to help its position in the Premier League before setting its sights back on Europe, where the priority will stay until we either win or are eliminated.
RBM: The January transfer window is here. What are some of the needs in the squad? Who are some of the players you have been linked with?
Our biggest one became official on Tuesday with Wilfred Ndidi signing from Belgian side KRC Genk on a 5-and-half-year contract. It's a major boost to our midfield, where we've been futile for most of the season. Robbie Brady at Norwich is a name that won't go away, and with the Canaries falling out of the playoff places in the Championship a lot of clubs are stepping up for the Republic of Ireland international. We could use a competent second-string center back to Robert Huth and captain Wes Morgan, and Burnley's Michael Keane and Sassuolo's Francesco Acerbi have been thrown around with the latter being labeled as unavailable in January.
RBM: Speaking of transfers, who is Wilfred Ndidi? Where does he fit in the side? Do you think he'll play this Saturday?
I'm really excited about this one, and the feeling is the same from everyone at the Fosse Posse and the whole Leicester community. He joins a group of Foxes defensive midfield signings in the past year with Amartey and Mendy that shows the bright future this club has in the position.
He's relentless in defence, is great in the air and draws comparisons to, you guessed it, N'Golo Kante. Those are big shoes to fill in Leicester. He'll slot in beside Danny Drinkwater and help hold down the defensive third for the Foxes. He can also get forward and score the occasional goal. Did I mention he's also only 20 years old? I still think we'll see Mendy get the start, but a bench appearance for Ndidi is something that I think is likely.
RBM: How do you see the game going this weekend? Formations, tactics, LC's starting XI?
With priorities being what they are for Leicester and the inevitable squad rotation we'll face, I expect an experimental side to roll out for the Foxes on Saturday that mirrors our previous EFL Cup lineup against Chelsea. Slimani and Mahrez are away for the Africa Cup of Nations, so I'll expect to see Demarai Gray in the lineup and a rare start for Leonardo Ulloa or the under-used Ahmed Musa.
Ghana was also nice enough to leave us Jeffrey Schlupp, who is one of those players that has the skill to devastate opponents but never lives up to the hype. He's been rumored to be leaving but I've heard reports that Ranieri still has him in his long-term plans. I'd like to see the return of the 4-2-3-1 we won with against the Hammers a few weeks back but not having Mahrez complicates things, calling for the return of the old faithful 4-4-2.
The walking yellow card that is Marcin Wasilewski could rotate in for Huth with Luis Hernandez and the promising Ben Chilwell coming in at full back. At this point I'm expecting Kasper Schmeichel to start every match in goal until the end of the season.
I can see Leicester surprisingly winning their first away match of the season, squeeking out a 2-1 win. Ulloa header and Vardy in the final 10 minutes.
Expected Starting XI: Schmeichel; Hernandez, Wasilewski, Morgan (c), Chilwell; Schlupp, Drinkwater, Mendy, Gray; Musa, Ulloa
Our thanks to Jamie from Fosse Posse for joining us!