If widespread newspaper gossip is to be believed, Leicester City’s Premier League title-winning team is on the verge of being dismantled.
After Arsenal activated the £20m release clause of star striker Jamie Vardy last week, the Foxes are also fretting on the short-term futures of PFA Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez (another reported Gunners target) and midfield lynchpin N’Golo Kante (Paris Saint-Germain today became the latest club to be attributed an interest in the Frenchman).
In the unlikely event of the entire trio departing, the difficulty involved with Leicester’s task to regain the top-tier crown – an eventuality currently priced at 20/1 – will be heightened significantly, but even if their worst fears are realised, their 2016/17 needn’t be a write off. All they have to do is copy the blueprint set out by the specialists in squad restructuring.
Few teams have seen stars move on to more high-profile pastures in recent seasons than Southampton, yet the Saints haven’t allowed these setbacks to stand in the way of progression.
Following stellar 2013/14 campaigns, Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers all left St Mary’s, then 12 months on they lost Nathaniel Clyne and Morgan Schneiderlin, while the same summer saw Toby Alderweireld renege on a non-binding agreement to make his loan from Atletico Madrid permanent once a more glamorous option entered the race for his signature.
With the exception of Chambers, who wasn’t a first-team staple anyway, a direct replacement was drafted in for every star man sold.
But, interestingly, in both their sale-heavy summers, Saints consistently attempted to add more firepower to the team.
In the months that preceded 2014/15, they lost Lambert, top scorer of the previous season with 13 league goals, to Liverpool. It was a relatively sizeable total that Pelle – an ageing foreign striker who had never previously experienced the Premier League prior to his St Mary’s switch – could not guarantee to replace.
In addition to the chiseled Italian, they signed forwards Shane Long and Sadio Mane to share the onion-bag-bulging burden. Between them they notched 27 times across the campaign.
All main attacking assets were hung onto ahead of the 2015/16 edition, but Ronald Koeman still sought to bring in more players with a nose for the net. He recruited Juanmi in the summer, then signed Charlie Austin in January.
These two weren’t as prolific as their predecessors (indeed, they started just five games between them for a variety of reasons), but Southampton’s intentions were obvious.
Incidentally, Saints scored 59 league goals last time around, after managing 54 in the two campaigns before that.
So if Leicester are to lose their coveted triumvirate this summer, replacing each player man-for-man is essential, before sniffing out two more would-be goal-getters to ensure the scoring workload is spread.