Ahead of Southampton's trip to the King Power Stadium, we spoke to football writer Rob Tanner of the Leicester Mercury to find out how the Foxes are shaping up for Thursday's Premier League encounter...
How would you sum up Leicester’s season as a whole?
Frustrating. They were in a bit of trouble early in the season, and, they may have changed manager, but no one really felt they were going to be involved in a relegation battle. After Claude Puel came in, they did very well – especially before Christmas, when they got themselves into a really good position to challenge for a European place. The frustration is they’ve let a really good opportunity slip by. Burnley are now nine points clear in seventh, but they went 11 games without a victory and nobody else – Leicester in particular – was able to capitalise. This could’ve been a special season in the cups as well, having got to the quarter-finals in both, losing on penalties and in extra time (Capital One Cup and FA Cup respectively), so it’s a season of what could’ve been.
Wins over Newcastle and Burnley in the last two games would’ve had Leicester on track for a Europa League place. What went wrong to lose both matches?
You could even go back to the Brighton game before that, which they actually won. In all three games, they’ve had poor first halves. They started slowly and lacked intensity. At Brighton, they weren’t punished for it, but against Newcastle and Burnley they certainly were. Leicester always tend to finish strongly – at one stage they were on course to set a new Premier League record for scoring in the last five minutes of games. They’re going behind a lot, and if you do that on a regular basis, sometimes you can’t claw it back.
From a Southampton point of view, is this a good time to play Leicester?
Yes, I’d say so. I think Southampton have shown a lot of fight in their last two games without getting the results. They’ve shown commitment and proved they’re up for the challenge. That was certainly the case when Leicester survived in the ‘Great Escape’ season. City haven’t won at the King Power Stadium for the last four games – drawing three and losing to Newcastle. There’s a bit of frustration amongst the supporters and City haven’t got a massive amount to play for now.
How has Claude Puel fared as manager?
My personal opinion would be not bad, but could’ve been a lot better. When he first came in, he tried to change the style of play and he changed the system. It worked; he got an immediate response and the players embraced it a lot quicker than I thought they would. They got some good results, but in their last 15 games they’ve only picked up four victories. It’s been very inconsistent. I think he’s going to need a lot more time, but you know what the Premier League is like. There are some murmurings amongst fans on social media that they’re not convinced he’s the man to take them forward, which surprises me. In October when he came in, they would’ve taken eighth place in the Premier League, but it does feel like an opportunity missed for Leicester this season.
Are Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez still the main dangers?
Absolutely. Vardy’s in fine goalscoring form, with ten in 12 in all competitions. He’s the main man who leads the line, and when Leicester score, it tends to be him. Mahrez is the creative spark, and, if both of them click on the same day, Leicester are a strong side. If one or the other clicks, they’re a decent side; when neither of them click, the team’s struggling. They have got another player coming back from suspension, Wilfred Ndidi, who’s been a revelation this season. He’s only 21, he’s very combative and athletic, but he can play as well. His return will give Leicester a big boost.
How will Leicester view this fixture?
Whoever they face on home soil, they’re confident of doing well and there’s an expectation around their performance. Against a side who are struggling like Southampton, the fans will expect City to win. If they don’t win, the murmurings, unrest and frustration will grow. They haven’t got a massive amount to play for in terms of the league, but they certainly have in terms of the future. The young players who have come into the side will want to impress Puel, and some of the older players may feel they need to convince him as well, because we’re seeing the lifespan of the title-winning squad come to its natural conclusion. Then there’s Puel himself, who’s got a few doubters in the crowd, and he needs to win them over with a few good performances and victories.