The search for middle ground – a Leicester City season preview

In a footballing world of absolutes, the ambiguities of Leicester City do not sit neatly.

The Foxes begin the campaign with fans divided over the strength of the squad, management, tactics, the new shirt and just about everything else.

Soon the talking will be over and the league table will begin to tell its own story, albeit a hotly contested one.

Just how much time is needed to judge a side? Even the verdict on Leicester’s return of 68 points from 46 games last year is not settled.

For some, a playoff place represented vindication for a manger having to cut costs. Nigel Pearson’s three full seasons in charge have brought a League One title and two Championship playoff berths.

Others see a side that scraped into the top six by the narrowest of margins with a record low points total for the playoffs. A team that just two months previously had looked destined for automatic promotion.

The cause of the malaise is still in doubt too. Was a youthful squad simply unable to sustain the high level of performance throughout the camapign? Or was it one of several other possible causes offered in the finest traditions of post hoc ergo propter hoc: a loss of momentum following mass changes in the FA Cup; a mysterious lower limb injury to Chris Wood; or some unsubstantiated falling out behind the scenes?

The way it all ended has made it difficult to move on from last season. A sluggish transfer window has hardly helped. One in, two out. With little further movement expected.

The debate around pre-season has centred, surprisingly, on tactics. The Foxes have started several pre-season outings in a 3-5-2, a formation coming back into fashion after being so well used by Hull and Watford last season.

It’s a system with limitations, especially against sides who play a lone striker (or as Middlesborough did at the King Power Stadium last season, none at all) but having an option like that will not support the arguments of those who suggest Nigel Pearson has no ‘Plan B’.

Pre-season itself has offered little real insight. A 0-3 loss at the hands of Monaco might have been City’s biggest defeat in a friendly since a 5-1 thumping at the hands of Lillestrøm in 2005, but it hardly matters.

Instead, the burden of Financial Fair Play will be the topic that persists long after games at Leamington, Port Vale, York and Northampton have been forgotten.

In no particular order Lloyd Dyer, Paul Gallagher, Andy King, Kasper Schmeichel, Neil Danns, Sean St Ledger, David Nugent and Paul Konchesky remain on contracts signed in an era when Leicester truly were big spenders.

No-one outside the club really knows if the departures of Jermaine Beckford and Richie Wellens will be enough to tip the balance sheet into compliance with new limits on club losses.

What remains clear, though, is that losses on the pitch must be kept to a minimum as Leicester City begin what will be their tenth and hopefully last season outside the top flight.

Six years after Milan Mandaric set out on a three year plan to reach the Premier League, and three years after Sven-Goran Eriksson told reporters promotion would come hopefully that season and if not, “definitely next year” – Leicester fans are tired of waiting.

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