WILL CLAUDE PUEL TUR n THE TIDE OF F An OPIN­ION?

Australian Four Four Two - - PREMIER LEAGUE -

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.

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