Nobody quite knows what to expect from Leicester City this season, as Craig Shakespeare looks to stamp his mark at the King Power Stadium.
When we play them: December 30 (home); September 23 (away)
Last season: Won 4-1 (home); Lost 3-1 (away)
Relegation was genuinely on the cards at one point, but we saw their old quality shine through when they needed it, with key players upping their game.
A stability has now returned to the club, and with shrewd summer signings such as Harry Maguire and Kelechi Iheanacho secured, they should be well clear of safety this time.
When Leicester click, they are a very tricky proposition, and the wonderful team spirit that existed during that memorable title triumph is still there.
The Foxes won’t have enough to get close to the top six, but if new signings thrive and influential figures find consistency, they could be among the best of the rest.
Certain doubts still remain about just how good they and Shakespeare are, however, and a bad start is not out of the question.
Players IN: Sam Hughes, Harry Maguire, Vicente Iborra, Eldin Jakupovic, Kelechi Iheanacho
Players OUT: Marcin Wasilewski, Michael Cain, David Domej, Brandon Fox, Cedric Kipre, Matty Miles, Kairo Mitchell, Ron-Robert Zieler
Best XI: Schmeichel; Simpson, Morgan, Maguire, Fuchs; Mahrez, Ndidi, Drinkwater, Albrighton; Iheanacho, Vardy
How optimistic or pessimistic are you for the new season, and why?
Quite optimistic, but with more tempered expectations compared with this time last year.
Last season’s underwhelming recruitment was one of the key reasons behind our slip into the relegation dogfight, with the best part of £70 million spent on poor signings.
This time around, however, it does look like we have learnt from our mistakes in that department.
Two recruits from relegated Hull City joined early in pre-season—Harry Maguire will offer serious competition to the dependable Robert Huth and Wes Morgan, and Eldin Jakupovic is a very solid backup to Kasper Schmeichel.
Former Sevilla captain Vicente Iborra provides versatility, class and a physical presence in the key central area and in Kelechi Iheanacho, Leicester have pulled off a bit of a coup.
With these additions to the squad in mind, our main aim in the short-term must be to hold on to Riyad Mahrez and Danny Drinkwater—if we can do that then our position looks rather encouraging indeed.
I would say the only potential negative is the start Leicester have been given. Inside the first two months we play Liverpool, Arsenal, Man United and Chelsea, with some tricky games against newly promoted Brighton and Huddersfield thrown into the mix.
Shakespeare will be desperate to hit the ground running, but these games represent a real hurdle.
What are your aims for the season?
As cliched as it sounds, the last two seasons have been a genuine rollercoaster, and while that has obviously been utterly terrific to experience, I think the club need a season of stability.
The long-term plan for the club must surely be to compete for European places once again, and a season of reconciliation would go a long way in achieving that by setting the foundation to kick on once again.
With the squad that we possess, we should realistically be aiming for the top half, and with no European football to serve as a distraction, this is more than possible.
Anything else that’s new for you this summer?
The big unknown quantity in our ranks is definitely Shakespeare. He has been at the club for many years now, but this will be his first full season as manager of the club.
If he can replicate the form he showed as interim manager in the second half of last season, we can hope for a successful season.
I am also hoping some of our promising young players will be given more opportunities this year.
Demarai Gray, Ben Chilwell and Iheanacho are all excellent prospects who got limited Premier League minutes last season—all three have the potential to improve dramatically if given the opportunity.
King Power Stadium
Away fans’ pubs: The Counting House in Freemen’s Common has a nice mix of both home and away fans, and is on the way to the ground. The same applies to the Soaring Eagle Spur Steak and Grill, which is located over the road from the stadium itself.
How do you rate Liverpool’s chances heading into the season?
Despite a perceived lack of activity in the transfer market, I think this season represents Liverpool’s best chance of silverware for a number of years.
The added demands of European football will add another hurdle, but this should not distract from what is at Jurgen Klopp’s disposal—namely an abundance of attacking talent.
Klopp has been at the club long enough now to have the vast majority of the players completely at ease with his methods, and with further quality added into the final third in the form of Mohamed Salah, Liverpool should be considered genuine title contenders.
Who do you see as the Reds’ three key men?
The obvious candidate is Coutinho—it is no wonder that he is attracting Barcelona’s interest. His movement, passing ability and knack for scoring goal-of-the-season contenders means he would be a key player for most sides.
Roberto Firmino is another key cog in Klopp’s system in the attacking third, and his versatility is a further asset when playing as a false nine.
I rate Gini Wijnaldum highly, although his contributions are sometimes overshadowed by his more illustrious colleagues.
He excels at doing the simple things effectively, and with so much fluidity in front of him, his stability is key. He also pops up with goals from midfield, often in the big games.
TIA’s Leicester Predicted Finish: 13th
Where Jamie says Leicester will finish: Despite a tricky start I think there’s enough strength in depth to take ninth spot this year.
Where Jamie says Liverpool will finish: Third. I rate them as serious contenders, but with Man City, Chelsea, Man Utd and Arsenal all making big moves in the transfer market, the competition is as fierce as it has ever been.