WILL CLAUDE PUEL TUR n THE TIDE OF F An OPINION?
And it started so well, too. After taking over from Craig Shakespeare in October, Claude Puel (above) won five of his first eight matches as Leicester manager and had Foxes fans dreaming of another European tour. Even in mid-January, amid patchy form, they were primed in 7th place. Then it all went wrong.
Leicester won only three of their final 14 Premier League games and wound up in 9th, seven points behind Burnley. A restless home crowd saw their team triumph only once between January 20 and May 9 – against Championship side Sheffield United – and, facing Chelsea, watched them throw away a berth in the FA Cup semi-finals.
Worryingly, the former champions didn’t score more than once in any of those eight home matches. Players who appeared sharp and liberated in Puel’s early days suddenly looked unable to cope with their manager’s demands for control and speedy build-up. Leicester were far from the livewire counter-attacking force that won the Premier League in 2015-16.
But as Claudio Ranieri’s second season proved, the Foxes couldn’t rely on that more reactive style forever. After Shakespeare’s botched succession, Leicester needed a genuine long-term planner – a manager with the thankless task of reshaping a successful and strong-willed team. Puel’s job has been unenviable in that sense, though there are positive signs that he will turn the tide.
The former Southampton manager was criticised in some quarters for adopting a style that his players couldn’t handle, but the close-season has given him the first real chance to bring in new stars who can. The Frenchman made only one signing in January, namely midfielder Fousseni Diabate, so this summer is Puel’s big opportunity to craft a team in his vision – one that threatens on multiple fronts instead of being so reliant on the individual brilliance of Jamie Vardy and, in particular, the now-departed Riyad Mahrez.
That’s why Puel was so keen to bring in Portuguese wing-back Ricardo Pereira, who is the first right-back Leicester have signed since Danny Simpson four years ago. Jonny Evans has been snapped up for a bargain $6 million, while James Maddison – a $40m arrival from Norwich – could be the lock-picker that Leicester desperately lacked last season. On paper, there’s a lot to like about the Foxes ahead of 2018-19. With a little patience, Puel could be onto something exciting.