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Pogba, Man United silence the noise vs. Leicester

Manchester United

Leicester have Maguire model away kit

The Toe Poke
 By Ben Jacobs

Leicester in dreamland as Prem winners embark on Champions League

Leicester City are the defending Premier League champions. And that sentence still takes some getting used to.

Now, they're the team to beat and Claudio Ranieri's men must balance a title defence with Champions League football. Dare the Foxes dream again? Here's a look ahead to an intriguing 2016-17. 

At a glance

Leicester City embark on the most exciting season in their 132-year history. The Foxes will make their Champions League debut, defend the most astonishing of Premier League titles and can perhaps add to the fairy tale in 2016-17.

Quick predictions

Premier League: ​7th
FA Cup: Quarterfinals
League Cup: Semifinals
Champions League: Round of 16

Transfer business

Leicester's most important piece of business remains keeping Jamie Vardy and (so far) Riyad Mahrez. Vardy rejected Arsenal while Mahrez is also being hotly pursued by the Gunners. If the Algerian signs a new deal between now and the close of the transfer window, Leicester will celebrate almost as hard as when they won the title.

With an eye on the Champions League, Ranieri has added depth. Goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler, interception machine Luis Hernandez, Nampalys Mendy, promising Poland winger Bartosz Kapustka and record £15 million signing Ahmed Musa all add quality and numbers.

Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez
Jamie Vardy is staying put while Leicester hope to keep hold of Riyad Mahrez.

Key questions

The question is whether last season was an unprecedented fluke or if Leicester are genuine title (or at least European) contenders. The first few games will provide clues. Following the season opener with Hull, Leicester must face Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham before November. The latter four fixtures are also all away.

Elsewhere, the Foxes must also work out what their best formation is. The addition of Musa and Mendy, plus the departure of N'Golo Kante, leaves Ranieri with a few selection and formation headaches. Musa, Mahrez and Vardy probably can't all start together in a 4-4-2, not without Mahrez being shackled.

Musa and Vardy also don't really offer a target away from home yet it would also be strange to bench City's record signing in favour of Shinji Okazaki every week. That said, Ranieri wasn't afraid to leave out Leonardo Ulloa or Andrej Kramaric, City's other two big-money signings, last term. Another option is a 4-3-3. Musa and Danny Drinkwater would welcome a third central midfielder to fill the void Kante has left, but three forwards (Mahrez, Musa, Vardy) would be a bold call, especially on the road.

Potential pitfalls

There's plenty predicting the fairy tale will turn into a nightmare, which is harsh and a touch odd given City are definitely stronger on paper than 12 months ago. Leicester's first target must be 40 points, though. The biggest pitfall will be getting ahead of themselves, hence why staving off relegation is the primary goal.

The Champions League will be a phenomenal experience, but balancing Europe's premier European competition with the demands of the Premier League could prove tricky. Thankfully, though, after every group stage game the Foxes have a home fixture,which is a huge stroke of luck.

Claudio Ranieri has said that ensuring Premier League survival is his first aim this season.

One to watch 

Musa could have a standout debut season in the Premier League. The Nigerian joined from CSKA Moscow and showed precisely what he can do with a brace against Barcelona in Leicester's spirited 4-2 International Champions Cup loss in Stockholm.

Musa is probably a slither quicker than Vardy, extremely direct and won't pay Premier League defenders even the slightest bit of respect. Teams will gear themselves to stop Vardy and Mahrez, but Musa just may prove City's secret weapon this season. If he weighs in with 10-15 goals and Vardy and Mahrez stay hot, Leicester could find themselves with another Premier League title.

Ben Jacobs is ESPN FC's Leicester City blogger. Follow him on Twitter @JacobsBen.


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