Leicester City: Can Enzo Maresca guide the Foxes back to the Premier League?

Just seven years after defying the odds to lift the Premier League trophy, Leicester City find themselves returning to the second flight of English football. The Foxes had enjoyed a lengthy hiatus from the EFL Championship, having remained in the Premier League ever since they clinched the second division title at the end of the 2013/14 season. 

Yet declining form over the last few years, combined with the board’s reluctance to strip the club of deadwood, ensures that there will be no Premier League football played at the King Power Stadium for the next twelve months at least.

It’s time to take a look at where things went wrong for the Foxes last term and assess whether they are capable of an immediate return to the top flight under Enzo Maresca’s guidance.

Foxes condemned to the Championship

The Foxes faithful saw the warning signs coming long before relegation was officially confirmed, as Brendan Rodgers’ side lingered at the bottom of the table with just one point from their first five games.

A crumbling performance against Brentford on the opening day of the season should have been a great opportunity to record three points, though Leicester were ultimately forced to settle for a draw after defensive mishaps allowed Brentford to claw themselves back into contention.

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That would be the story of their season, and while a short burst of fine form ahead of the 2022 World Cup saw the Foxes emerge from the relegation zone momentarily, they were quickly cast back into the drop zone.

Brendan Rodgers was finally handed his P45 on April 2, 2023, following a spineless 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace. With just nine matches of the Premier League season remaining, and Leicester still residing in the danger zone, there were concerns that the sacking had been made too late.

Those concerns were proved right, as despite the best efforts of Dean Smith and his managerial colleagues, Leicester’s relegation was confirmed on the final day of the Premier League season. Despite managing a win over West Ham on Filbert Way, Everton picking up three points ensured that the Foxes’ stint in the top flight would come to a rather abrupt end.

Enzo Maresca – the right call?

Leicester City opted not to stick with Dean Smith for their Championship campaign, instead choosing to go with Enzo Maresca – who has assisted Pep Guardiola at Manchester City in recent years. The Italian lacks managerial experience of his own, having taken charge of Parma for 14 matches in 2021 before being sacked for picking up a measly 17 points.

The appointment is certainly a gamble to say the least, but having spent the last year under the watchful eye of Guardiola, there is an air of optimism at the King Power Stadium as fans hope that Maresca will have developed leaps and bounds tactically.

Maresca had spent time at the Etihad Campus before though, as he had overseen the club’s Elite Development Squad for the 2020/21 season. He guided the Citizens to the Premier League 2 title, before leaving for that rather unsuccessful stint in the Italian Serie B.

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Who’s arrived at Seagrave this summer?

Harry Winks was announced as Leicester City’s first signing of the summer transfer window, with the midfielder completing a £10m move to the King Power Stadium to bring an end to a lengthy stint at Spurs. Having graduated from the Tottenham academy, the 27-year-old has made ten appearances for the English national team – and securing his signature marks a real statement of intent from the Foxes.

Conor Coady shocked the footballing world when Leicester City announced that he would be playing for the Foxes in the Championship. The defender signed for Wolves in 2015, leaving only to join Everton on loan for the 2022/23 season – but has now penned a three-year deal in Leicestershire.

Mads Hermansen will offer more depth between the sticks following his arrival in Leicestershire. The Danish international has recently spent time with an iconic former Leicester ‘keeper, Kasper Schmeichel – and will look to establish himself as part of the furniture in a revitalised Foxes defence. It is understood that Brøndy IF received a fee in the region of £6m for the 23-year-old shot-stopper.

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Callum Doyle has signed for Enzo Maresca’s side on loan for the 2023/24 Championship season. Having spent the last campaign at the other end of the M69, Doyle boasts experience in the second division of English football – and has a great working relationship with Maresca, having played for him at Manchester City.

Stephy Mavididi is the latest player to put pen to paper on a deal at the King Power Stadium, with the 25-year-old striker returning to England after spells in Italy and France – most recently with Montpellier in Ligue 1. The transfer fee remains undisclosed.

Who’s left for pastures new?

James Maddison is arguably the biggest loss for Leicester City this summer. The England international has finalised a £40m move to Tottenham Hotspur, putting pen to paper on a five-year deal after spending the last five seasons at the King Power Stadium. 

Harvey Barnes has completed a move to Newcastle United, as the English winger looks set to grace European turf this season in the UEFA Champions League. A £38m price tag offers Leicester plenty of cash to re-invest wisely.

Youri Tielemans was widely expected to leave Leicester at the end of the 2022/23 season, regardless of how the Foxes finished. But despite rumours of a potential move to Arsenal, Newcastle or Liverpool, the Belgian has moved across the Midlands – signing for Unai Emery’s Aston Villa on a free transfer. Tielemans’ most memorable moment in a Leicester shirt is undoubtedly his long-range screamer against Chelsea in the FA Cup Final, securing the trophy for the first time in the club’s history.

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Caglar Söyüncü completes his long-awaited move to Atlético de Madrid, signing for los Colchoneros on a free transfer after falling out of favour in Leicestershire last season. The Turkish defender was frozen out of the side for large parts of the campaign, amidst rumours of a disagreement with Brendan Rodgers.

Daniel Amartey played in more than half of Leicester’s Premier League matches last season, but failed to really cement himself as a defender worthy of a spot in the starting eleven. It felt at times as though the Ghanaian was merely there to make up numbers – and he’s left the King Power Stadium in search of regular first-team football at Besiktas.

Ayoze Pérez has made his loan move to Real Betis Balompié permanent, having spent the latter half of the 2022/23 season on loan in Seville. The Spaniard made eight Premier League appearances for City last season, but has pulled the curtains on his career in Leicestershire.

Jonny Evans’ time at the King Power Stadium has seemingly come to an end, with the injury-prone defender now spending his time at Manchester United. The Northern Irishman was included in the traveling squad for the Red Devils’ tour of the United States, having signed on a short-term deal to allow him time to explore his options.

George Hirst has managed just 99 minutes for the Leicester City first team in recent years, having failed to make an appearance since the 2020/21 season. Having spent last season on loan at Ipswich Town, the striker joins the Tractor Boys as they prepare to return to the Championship following a four-year absence.

Tetê has returned to Shakhtar Donetsk following the expiration of his loan contract, having managed just one goal in thirteen Premier League appearances.

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What did we learn from preseason?

In truth, not a lot. Leicester’s preseason campaign began with a slender win over Northampton Town at Sixways, as Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall netted the only goal in front of a 7,000+ strong crowd.

Then, the Foxes welcomed their sister club, OH Leuven, to their impressive Seagrave training complex. Enzo Maresca’s side emerged victorious in a 4-2 win, but Leicester City have now lost Conor Coady through an apparent foot injury. Maresca is yet to issue an update as to when the defender may be able to return to action.

After that win over Belgian opposition, the Foxes headed to Southeast Asia to complete their pre-season tour. With the trip planned before their relegation was confirmed, Enzo Maresca’s side would be facing Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool – slap bang in the middle of the Asian monsoon season.

It was for that very reason that the Spurs fixture was postponed, and then cancelled – leaving Leicester City with just one final fixture as they prepare for a gruelling Championship campaign.

A match against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool saw the Foxes hold on well for the opening half-hour, but three goals in ten minutes before the break – and a fourth in the second half – simply went to show why this pre-season tour was never a good idea.

The Foxes will head into their 46-game Championship season off the back of a defeat to world-class opposition, rather than boosting momentum against an opponent they could have learnt crucial lessons from.

What’s realistic for the Foxes in 2023/24?

Anything less than promotion would be disappointing for Leicester City. Predicting automatic promotion might be a step too far given Enzo Maresca’s inexperience as a manager, but the Foxes certainly have a great core of players that will be able to deliver results week in, week out in the Championship – and hopefully earn an immediate return to the Premier League.

The Foxes will open their campaign with a mouthwatering M69 derby against Coventry City on August 6, with the match broadcast live on Sky Sports. With the Sky Blues having managed to reach the playoffs last season, this will be a clash of two incredibly capable sides desperate to claim the bragging rights.