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After two straight fifth finishes, Leicester returns to Premier League action this month looking to break their streak of frustrating season finales. Though last season's league disappointment came with the more than ample consolation prize of the first FA Cup win in the lifetime of many of their supporters. Five years on from their remarkable title triumph, Leicester are firmly established among the upper echelon of English clubs but can they take the sizeable step that is required to make them Champions League regulars? Check out our bold predictions for the upcoming season, and make sure to check out the rest of our Premier League bold predictions

Leicester take Champions League race deep again

A familiar ending to their 2020-21 Premier League campaign -- pipped to a top four finish in the final hours of the season -- threatens to overshadow the reality of the season as a whole for Brendan Rodgers' side. Yes what matters is how the table looks after 38 games have been played, but that does not mean that the broader sweep of the season should be forgotten. 

The reality is that for the vast majority of it, 36 out of 38 weeks to be precise, Leicester were a top four team. Extend that out to the previous season and it is 69 of 76. Pick any week ending table at random from over the past two years and the chances are you will see Leicester inside the top four. There was nothing false about those standings. Since the start of the 2019-20 season the Foxes have had the Premier League's third best goal difference, its fifth most expected goals (xG) and a solid defense that ranked top four in successful tackle percentage, duels won and recoveries per game.

That is not quite enough to convince you to pick them to top four, largely because in each of those seasons there were mitigating circumstances to explain why a Champions League qualification berth opened up. In 2019-20 much of the so called big six were in flux with Manchester United taking half a season to get going. Similarly last year Liverpool suffered the sort of targeted injury crisis following which a top four finish is a rather impressive achievement. And when these teams falter Leicester place themselves to capitalize. If Chelsea's midfield falls apart, if a manager loses the dressing room, expect the Foxes to be snapping on their heels.

Vardy's final season as a regular starter

Certainly this feels like a prediction that may spectacularly backfire -- almost since the day Leicester raised the 2016 Premier League title there have been those waiting for age to catch up with Vardy, a striker whose greatest attribute has always been his blistering pace. But over that time, any down run has been followed by a forceful return to scoring and it is only as recently as the 2019-20 season he was lifting the Golden Boot after another 20-plus goal season.

But there are signs that as his 35th birthday looms he may not be the force he has been. Last season brought 15 Premier League goals but only four of them came in 2021 and eight of them were scored from the penalty spot. Obviously these goals count for just as much as those scored from open play, but the fact remains that Vardy only managed to convert seven of 62 shots taken while the ball was live.

Jamie Vardy's non penalty shots in the 2020-21 Premier League. The size of each bubble reflects the xG value of the shot TruMedia

The No.9 has never been the most ruthless of finishers, his great talent has been getting into positions rather than putting the ball into the net at an above average rate, but the fact that he turned open play shooting positions worth 11.21 xG into a postshot value of 8.38 xG after he hit the ball is of concern. There were an awful lot of missed chances. That might just be a slump, but as age increases every bit of a slump caries with it the threat that it might be the beginning of the end. Then there is the fact he is not getting into those scoring positions as frequently. Over the past three seasons his non penalty xG per 90 minutes has gone from 0.48 to 0.46 to 0.41. All of those are good returns but suggest a trend.

His scoring difficulties did, however, bring signs of a player adapting their game even in its final years. He may not have been scoring but Vardy had as many assists in 2020-21 (nine) as in the two previous seasons combined. If he could not use his explosive pace to get to goal, he could move defenders out of the way to create space for Kelechi Iheanacho. He might do the same for Patson Daka, though the explosive pace of the new signing suggests Leicester view him more as Vardy's successor than his partner.

Ndidi or Tielemans move on next summer

It is curious that silly season seems to have passed Leicester by this summer, Arsenal's pursuit of James Maddison aside. Perhaps that is simply because potential buying clubs know how hard it is to extricate star players from the King Power Stadium. Right now Maddison's price tag is around the $100 million mark and that is for a player that Rodgers was prepared to rotate with Ayoze Perez at stages of the season. What would they want for Youri Tielemans or Wilfred Ndidi, two of the best midfielders in the Premier League with their prime years possibly still ahead of them?

Whatever that price, you suspect that a major club in England or Europe -- should their finances improve over the coming 12 months -- will eventually convince themselves that it is worth paying. Scoring the winner in the FA Cup final was the crowning moment of an outstanding season for Tielemans, who has developed into the sort of progressive deep midfielder that every top club desires. Last season only Ashley Westwood (yes, Burnley's Ashley Westwood. Numbers may not lie but they sure can be confusing sometimes) made more passes into the attacking third than the Belgian whilst no player could better his tally of starting 12 possessions that would end in a goal. Only Rodri of Manchester City matches that.

Describing his partner Ndidi as a ball winner rather feels like underselling him, but what is certain is he is one of the best in the division at getting possession back for his team. In 2020-21 his 96 tackles were the fourth highest in the league to go alongside the eighth most interceptions and the 11th most ball recoveries per 90 minutes. If you need someone to get the ball back for you there are few options better than the 24 year old. He is a player Manchester United are crying out for and whilst there is a natural reluctance from neutral observers to break up such a fine young side on their current trajectory both Ndidi and Tielemans look destined to go to the highest of levels.

Bold predictions

  • Premier League finish: 5th
  • Top scorer: Jamie Vardy
  • Player of the season: Wilfred Ndidi
  • Something unexpected: A deep run in the Europa League -- perhaps not something that should be unexpected but the Foxes did seem to take their eye off the European prize last season.