Leicester City were on-course for only the second-most remarkable Premier League season in their history when football was paused.
Brendan Rodgers’ swashbuckling young side were five points clear of fourth-place Chelsea. If the Foxes can hold on in the final nine games, UEFA Champions League football is theirs.
Few sides have thrilled the same way Leicester have this term. Spearheaded by Jamie Vardy once more, young stars James Maddison, Youri Tielemans, Harvey Barnes and Ben Chilwell show there’s a bright future ahead.
With some smart recruitment – and holding their nerve in the face of inevitable interest in their players – the Foxes could break down the door to the top six.
The inevitable ‘prize’ of excelling in the Premier League is that the vultures begin to circle. Leicester are not immune. Centre-back Çağlar Söyüncü has taken a year to settle but is showing why the Foxes paid Freiburg a reported £19million two summers ago.
The Citizens are also at the head of the queue to sign left-back Ben Chilwell. While the 23-year-old hasn’t been at his best this term, City need a new No.3 and Chilwell fits the bill. Chelsea are also keen on the Leicester academy product.
Further forward, all eyes will be on Maddison when the transfer window re-opens. The playmaker seems to be in direct competition with Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish for the right to be England and Manchester United‘s next No.10.
Maddison is currently winning that battle and United have been quoted as much as £80million for the former Norwich City attacker.
Several senior players will become free agents this summer. Third-choice keeper Eldin Jakupović could stick around, along with Wes Morgan and Christian Fuchs. Nampalys Mendy will move on while Ryan Bennett has scarcely had a chance since signing on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Islam Slimani, Adrien Silva, Fousseni Diabaté, Rachid Ghezzal and Andy King are out on loan with little hope of winning a first-team spot next term.
Key areas to strengthen
Much will hinge on whether City can hold onto their star names this summer. If Chilwell or Söyüncü leave they will have to recruit ready-made replacements. However, even if they remain, centre-back and left-back could do with some attention.
It’s almost certain both will be snapped up by bigger clubs eventually. Leicester have replaced star players before – think N’Golo Kanté, Riyad Mahrez and Danny Drinkwater. They must do so again.
At 36, captain Morgan is a totemic figure in the dressing room but a last-resort on the field. If Wolves loanee Bennett departs too, Leicester have to sign another central defender – unless Filip Benković, currently on loan at Bristol City, is ready to step up.
A hero of the title-winning side of 2015/16, Fuchs’ days as first-choice are behind him. The loveable Austrian turned 34 in March and while an able deputy, he is comfortable in his understudy role. He could also move to the US to be with his family.
Further forward, it’s a similar story for Maddison. The Foxes’ No.10 has been majestic at times. Yet City boss Rodgers must be ready for life without him. That said, Leicester only sell on their terms.
Finally, Vardy’s remarkable record of availability shows no sign of changing. Kelechi Iheanacho is his only striking rival and though the Nigerian scored a flurry of goals earlier in the year, he is not the man to deputise for Vardy on a long-term basis.
If Chilwell is to leave Leicester, Atalanta left-back Robin Gosens has been touted as a potential replacement. The 25-year-old is a threat going forward and has shone in the UEFA Champions League for the Bergamo-based side.
Another player Rodgers knows well is Celtic defender Kristoffer Ajer. The Norwegian worked under the Leicester manager to great effect in Scotland and is a stylish ball-playing defender. However, Real Madrid are keen on the 22-year-old, according to Mundo Deportivo.
Red Bull Salzburg’s Dominik Szoboszlai could be seen as a replacement for Maddison. Reports claim the Foxes have joined host of clubs, including Arsenal, Chelsea, Juventus and Internazionale, in the race for the 19-year-old schemer.
Up front, Sardar Azmoun has been linked by Area Napoli. Rodgers tried to sign the ‘Iranian Messi’ while in charge at Celtic Park. Now the Zenit St. Petersburg striker is also a target for Arsenal, Everton, Wolves, West Ham United and Napoli.
Someone else Rodgers knows well from his time in the Scottish Premiership is Rangers‘ Alfredo Morelos. ‘El Bufalo’ is hot-headed – earning seven dismissals in less than three years north of the border – but a lethal goalscorer who has out-grown Scottish football.
The Colombian has been the subject of ‘extensive checks’ from Leicester ahead of a possible bid, according to Football Insider. Plenty of teams are keen on the 23-year-old though.