Preparations for Brendan Rodgers’ first transfer window as Leicester City manager are well and truly underway with the recruitment of Newcastle United forward Ayoze Perez.
In a cruel twist of fate for the Toon Army, the Magpies have not only lost the evergreen and much-loved Rafa Benitez, but also their top goalscorer from the 2018/19 season.
Perez has parted company from St James’ Park after half a decade on Tyneside, in which the Spaniard established himself as a deadly proposition in the final third, with his attacking exploits yielding 48 goals and 17 assists across 195 appearances.
The £30m fee the Foxes couriered up the A1 to the North East seems an excessive figure for a player who certainly has the potential to be an elite-level performer but has thus far proved too inconsistent to reach that benchmark.
But under the paternalistic tutelage and astute coaching methods of Rodgers, a tactician who has an eye for the aesthetics of the game, and a penchant for developing talent, Perez could take his game to new heights at the King Power Stadium.
And so, it is shaping up for an exciting summer in the East Midlands with Perez just one of many signings expected to be made by Rodgers, but with the players heavily linked and the addition of their new Spanish attacker, how could this current Foxes incarnation look come August 11?
With expectations high that Youri Tielemans will become the club’s third summer signing for a club-record fee, Rodgers will be adding an indispensable piece to his jigsaw – of Leicester midfielders to play 10+ matches last season, the Belgian registered the most successful passes per 90 minutes (44.96). The 22-year-old metronome is quite simply essential to the Northern Irishman’s forward-thinking approach.
In this 4-2-3-1 formation, so often utilised by Rodgers, he will have a perfect blend between experience and youth; aggression and elegance; pace and technique. Wilfred Ndidi will form the much-vaunted creator-destroyer midfield acquaintanceship with Tielemans, with the duo looking to forge an effective tandem that stabilises the side.
With Tielemans’ innate passing range, and Ndidi’s anchorage – having made the most recoveries of any outfield player in the league last season (324), registered the most successful tackles (99), and won the second-most duels (327) – Leicester will have an exuberant foundation in which to build on further up the pitch.
Perez will be pushed out wide to accommodate James Maddison through the middle, who made the No. 10 role his own last term with the most chances created of any player (100), while Harvey Barnes will take up the left-wing berth having made an impression in the second-half of the season upon his return from a temporary stint with West Bromwich Albion.
Only Jamie Vardy, who will operate in his habitual centre-forward role here, registered double digits for goals scored in the league last season, so Perez’s outlay will be key this time around; and considering eight of his 12 goals came from the right wing for Newcastle in 2018/19, his deployment out wide will add, not only creativity, but a much-needed goalscoring pedigree from midfield.
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If Rodgers’ predecessor, Claude Puel, embraced a more pragmatic and defensively organised approach during his tenure, then the Foxes’ current coach espouses a more inventive and free-flowing brand. But, whereas the two managers perhaps clash stylistically, their approach to nurturing up-and-coming talent is certainly comparable.
Much like Puel, who had no qualms providing young players a platform to thrive (such as Demarai Gray and Ben Chilwell), Rodgers also has a penchant for cultivating talented tyros and blooding in promising starlets.
And it is in this formation that the Foxes’ fledglings could be given more room to showcase their worth’s and develop their skills. With Hamza Choudhury coming in for Ndidi to provide Tielemans the requisite tenacity in central midfield, this partnership could prove an equally imperious axis to the one in Brendan’s Balance.
Further forward Maddison retains his trequartista role, while Gray and Barnes are tasked with causing mayhem on the bylines; the former will be positioned on the right as an inside forward, able to cut in and advance between the lines, while the latter will function as a traditional winger, though also with a license to drift inside in order to create space for the onrushing full-backs.
Speaking of which, Chilwell could find himself on the left with 21-year-old summer recruit James Justin on right, adding to this very young, but exceptionally talented, line-up.
Finally, Rodgers may be tempted to give the ageing legs of Vardy a rest – though they certainly showed no signs of waning last term – and position Perez up front. Rodgers was forced to sit back and watch as the former Spain Under-21 international scored the only goal of the game in a 1-0 win for Newcastle back in April, so he may look to maximise Perez’s ‘fox in the box’ threat by providing his latest recruit the No 9 slot.
Vardy is certainly the embodiment of an over-the-top poacher, but in Perez, Rodgers will have a more creative outlet, with the 25-year-old capable of dropping back in an almost false No. 9 role, giving the former Liverpool manager a whole new dimension.
Perez registered more touches in the opposition box throughout 2018/19 than any Leicester midfielder (140) – 52 more than Maddison who took on the most for the Foxes (88) – so his poacher’s instinct could certainly be accentuated here.
Should a deal involving Harry Maguire to one of the Manchester clubs materialise, then Rodgers could find himself with a particularly handsome transfer kitty to play around with this summer, and that could include the acquisition of one or two further midfield signings.
The Foxes have previously been credited with an interest in Man Utd’s Andreas Pereira, a peripheral figure who just signed a new long-term deal, who may yet be shipped out on loan.
The Belgium-born Brazil international is on the fringes of a breakthrough at Old Trafford but could leave his parent club for 2019/20 in order to gain valuable first-team experience, and Leicester could do far worse than show an interest in his temporary services.
United may look to use Pereira as a bargaining chip in their negotiations with Leicester for Maguire, and well, a Tielemans-Pereira partnership certainly looks a mouthwatering prospect.
Further forward Leicester are also said to be one of the clubs interested in Harry Wilson, with reports suggesting the £20m-rated winger could leave Liverpool with the belief he will be unable to supplant either Sadio Mane or Mohamed Salah – and he could prove a frightening goalscoring winger under Rodgers’ watch.
The 46-year-old could well decide to give Perez a role in the advanced playmaker role, operating almost as a shadow striker, looking to provide Vardy support in the 18-yard area, while Maddison – who played 11 matches out wide on the left last term – will be the deadly inside forward, either whipping dangerous crosses into the box or unleashing from range.