Pre-season is now in full swing so in this series of articles we review each friendly match and offer insight as to bargain players, team form, and who’s hot and who’s not. The final friendlies have been played and we assess the performances of Leicester, Chelsea and Crystal Palace.
1st August Leicester 3-2 Birmingham
Leicester XI: Schmeichel, Albrighton (Fuchs), Wasilewski (De Laet), Huth, Chilwell (Moore), Schlupp, King, Drinkwater, Mahrez, Vardy (Okazaki), Ulloa (Kramaric)
Goalscorers: Huth, Drinkwater, Okazaki
Assisters: Albrighton, Mahrez
Leicester finished their respective preseason having managed to avoid defeat throughout. Although no one particular match stood out, all performances provided some type of positive note, while several players contributed to make this possible. To round out preseason, the Foxes were pitted up against Birmingham in a match that the Premiership side had to come behind to earn the victory despite an unfavorable deficit. From the early goings, both teams showed intent, but it was Birmingham that would find the opener. Although both Drinkwater and Vardy had opportunities to get on the scoresheet early, but it was a Birmingham direct free kick effort that put the Foxes down 1-0. Though only a minute later things grew worse for Leicester as a simple dribble down the wing, and then a cut into the area, sliced through the defense. It was Gray of Birmingham that carried out the attack and he finished strongly into the top corner. Claudio Ranieri made some tweaks at halftime and it seemed to make a world of a difference. Slowly, Leicester clawed back, first from Huth’s headed goal delivered by Albrighton from a corner. Then with just inside a quarter of an hour to go, Mahrez hit the post on a free kick attempt, allowing Drinkwater to put away the rebound. And finally, to continue with the theme of contribution across the board, it was Okazaki that put Leicester ahead with what ended up becoming the winning goal inside of the last ten minutes, as the striker scored on a diving header from a Mahrez cross. A spirited comeback was on display and many players including Mahrez, Drinkwater, and Vardy, to name a few, all put in good shifts.
Now that preseason is about wrapped up, it safe to say a few questions may be asked of Leicester’s defending prospects entering the new season. As each match passed, it seemed like the Foxes were just a hair off from keeping their first clean sheet, but every game a single moment diminished those hopes. Looking past recent preseason form, Leicester’s fixtures are still rather promising, reserving consideration still for defenders such as Wassilewski, or Huth. Albrighton is an interesting prospect in his own respect. Having been deployed as a side back several times this preseason, he is still a midfielder in FPL. This may or may not dampen his value as he was still able to stretch high up the pitch on overlaps and earned multiple assists from crosses, as well as from corner kick duties. Perhaps a viable fifth midfielder option. Scheimchel still represents the most security at the back in between the sticks, and if Leicester can quickly get on a good defensive run, at only 4.5, Scheimchel should be heavily considered.
Going forward, Okazaki and Vardy both had impressive preseason, leaving Ulloa possibly on the fringes for consistent starting action. Mahrez and Drinkwater have made the most impact in attack out of Leicester’s midfielders (excluding Albrighton), suggesting that either could be used for rotational purposes depending on what type of budget is being worked with. Mahrez is probably the standout midfielder due to his free kick duties, while Vardy looks likely to improve upon on last season’s exploits and carry the majority of goalscoring duties.
2nd August Chelsea 0-1 Arsenal (Community Shield)
Chelsea starting XI (4-2-3-1): Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (Moses), Azpilicueta (Zouma); Matic, Ramires (Oscar); Willian, Fabregas, Hazard; Remy (Falcao)
The Blues ended what was perhaps a surprising, yet disappointing preseason by losing to Arsenal in the Community Shield. The loss to the Gunners confirmed that Chelsea would enter the new campaign winless in preseason. Throughout the match, it seemed as if Arsenal were taking a page out of Chelsea’s book and squeezing large numbers of men behind the ball and relying on solid defensive organization and positioning. Having conceded in the first half to brilliant low drive from Oxlade-Chamberlain, Chelsea were forced to then go on the offensive, to which they were met by a compact Arsenal defense on numerous occasions. Although clear-cut chances were far from abundant, Chelsea had chances to score. Loic Remy struggled to make a defining impact in the place of Diego Costa who had been sidelined due to a minor injury, leaving other players to create opportunities. Hazard was fairly quiet and one of the best chances that fell to him, he struck over the crossbar. It was more of the same from other players, missing chances that represented legitimate opportunities to score, such as when Ramires misguided his header from a close range effort. Overall, many of Chelsea’s creative players including Fabregas and Willian failed to generate defense-slicing buildups, and were unable to breakdown Arsenal fully throughout the entire ninety minutes.
When looking back on Chelsea’s preseason, inconsistent is a word that comes to mind. The Blues were inconsistent in many aspects, including their pressing intensity, their passing build up, their creative outlets, and most of all, their defending. Simple errors were present in many matches at the back, leading to poorly conceded goals, while many times Chelsea simply lacked dynamicism and energy. It has been noticed that some players, like Hazard, have been notorious slow-starters, but Chelsea could have perhaps hoped for more from their other talented players. At the moment, Costa still will be the first choice striker barring any other injury concerns despite his lack of clinical finishing in preseason. Chances were there, and it would seem like it will only be a matter of time before Costa starts bagging up goals. In the midfield, Hazard still remains an obvious option, albeit very expensive, once the Belgian gets his motor running there’ll be no turning back. The question will be if he starts with a bang like in 2012-2013, or stutters slightly out of the gates like in other seasons. If not keen on Hazard, Fabregas would seem to be the next best option, with the Spaniard offering close to the same guarantee of being “untouchable” in Mourinho’s side, like Hazard. Willian and Oscar are two other attackers that have proven to be somewhat streaky in past years, and with gametime not an assurance every week, it is probably wiser to invest in either of Fabregas or Hazard.
Preseason clean sheets were not commonplace for Chelsea. As mentioned before, basic errors were committed early on that led to conceded goals. But we still must remember, this is a Jose Mourinho team and this is still Chelsea. Regardless of poor showings in preseason, having at least one Chelsea defender is important, and quite risky if without. Courtois still looks to be firmly in control in between the posts despite the arrival of Begovic from Stoke, making the Belgian a viable goalkeeping option. Ivanovic comes along with a monumental price tag of 7.0, but along with that price comes a constant goal threat. Terry and Cahill look to be locked in the middle, while Azpilicueta looks to be decently secure at left back. Though if any Chelsea defender faces rotation risk, it would be Azpilicueta who offers any hint of uncertainty.
3rd August Crystal Palace 0-1 Dagenham and Redbridge
Crystal Palace XI: McCarthy, Kelly, Hangeland (O’Dwyer), Croll, Scales, Dymond, Lee (Bissaka), Kaikai (Breimyr), Bamford, Wickham (Anderson), Campbell (Gray, Allassani)
In a tightly contested affair, Alan Pardew opted to field a lesser experienced eleven men, with many youngsters given the opportunity to start. Major recent signing Connor Wickham was handed the start and it was the young striker who came close on a number of chances to get his side on the scoresheet. Unfortunately, his chances lacked a bit a match of sharpness, with his efforts oftentimes being forced right at the goalkeeper or the shots were simply short of power. The match overall was fairly dull with no big excitements to speak of. Talented Palace youngster Kaikai also had the opportunity to score but skied his free kick over the crossbar. Ultimately, it was Dagenham that would find an opener first, and that goal would become the winner, being scored in the seventy-fifth minute. There was not a whole lot to examine in this match from an FPL perspective due to the lower number of true first team starters that were afforded playing time.
Palace underwent a rather short preseason, with many important players used sparingly. Heading into the new campaign, the striker position will mainly be contested by Campbell and Murray, but with Campbell recent knock, along with Pardew’s attraction toward Murray, it may be Murray who controls the role from kickoff this weekend. Dwight Gayle began preseason off strongly, but slowly faded back into the pack for Palace with the likes of Puncheon and Bolassie firmly stamped down as starters on either wing. When looking at new signings, Wickham and Cabaye are two huge acquisitions. Wickham has every opportunity to up-seat Murray and Campbell in the lone striker spot in Palace’s 4-2-3-1 setup, while Cabaye should be a lock to start in the number ten role behind whichever striker is deployed up top. If looking for a mid-priced midfielder Bolassie certainly has the potential to be a difference maker in a side that may struggle to consistently score goals.
Dann offers plenty of goalscoring threat from the centerback position by demonstrating his set piece prowess. Ward, who is usually positioned at right back, also should warrant some consideration being price at 4.5. But Palace have a difficult run of games after the their opening week against Norwich, and when taking into account preseason results, it may be sensible to steer clear of the Eagles’s defense.