Believing in the young bucks: Claude Puel and the Leicester City youth

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 19: Kelechi Iheanacho of Leicester City embraces Claude Puel, Manager of Leicester City as he is subbed during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Southampton at The King Power Stadium on April 19, 2018 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LEICESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 19: Kelechi Iheanacho of Leicester City embraces Claude Puel, Manager of Leicester City as he is subbed during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Southampton at The King Power Stadium on April 19, 2018 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images) /

Another lacklustre performance against a lower-placed team has left Leicester City frustrated for another week.

A season that could have led to the Europa League is now one that has been full of disappointment. With all of this, Claude Puel has insisted for patience and playing with youth.

Puel made an immediate splash after being given the wheel to steer the Leicester City ship. In his first eight games, Leicester earned 17 points with five wins, including an impressive 2-1 victory at the King Power against Tottenham Hotspur.

By bringing the Foxes back to prominence, Puel had established himself as the perfect man for Leicester. With the team settled as a mid-table team, Puel began to apply his own philosophy toward players.

Letting the kids play: Demarai Gray and Ben Chilwell

Few managers have cared about the well-being of youthful players than Puel. Upon becoming the manager of the Foxes, the Frenchman put complete faith in his 21-year-old winger Demarai Gray. The English under-21 international saw his playing time skyrocket, as Gray started or substituted in the next 21 games across all competitions.

Gray, who had grown frustrated under his lack of play under Claudio Ranieri and Craig Shakespeare, quickly signed a four-year extension with the Foxes. This belief in youth continued with a controversial yet rewarding decision with Ben Chilwell.

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The Leicester City Academy graduate Ben Chilwell saw his opportunities on the pitch increase after the former Southampton man became took over the reins. Chilwell began to play at multiple positions for the first few months of Puel’s tenure.

However, Chilwell became Puel’s primary choice as left-back in February, when he began to start over 32-year-old veteran Christian Fuchs. Since that decision, Chilwell has developed into a young, rising star and has started in nine of the last ten competitions. Fuchs, on the other hand, has become a veteran presence on the bench, only starting in two of the previous ten competitions.

The graduate, the transfer, and the superstars

Claude Puel’s belief in youth is not limited to just Gray and Chilwell. Another Leicester City Academy graduate, 20-year-old Hamza Choudhury, has become a favourite of the gaffer, becoming a starter during Wilfred Ndidi’s two-game ban. 22-year-old winter transfer signee Fousseni Diabate has become a suitable replacement for Riyad Mahrez.

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Also, 21-year-old Kelechi Iheanacho has become an alternative to Shinji Okazaki in the supporting striker role. Finally, Harry Maguire and Wilfred Ndidi, ages 25 and 21, have established themselves as top players at their position in Europe.

Giving young players a chance has been a consistent part of Puel’s style at Leicester. His trust in youth made him start (or at least bring off the bench) all seven of the above mentioned players against Southampton.

The changing of the guard: Leicester vs. Southampton

The loss to Burnley effectively has ended the Europa League hopes for Leicester City. Due to this, Puel has thought of the remaining five games as the beginning of next season. This also means giving opportunities to younger players, starting with the home contest against Southampton.

In a surprising move, Leicester veterans and regular starters Danny Simpson and Wes Morgan were left on the bench. Furthermore, they were not even used as substitutes. Instead, Puel started Chilwell, Maguire, loanee Aleksandar Dragovic, and utility player Marc Albrighton in defense. This was the first time none of the champion winning defenders appeared in a game. It was also the first time as a Fox that Wes Morgan did not play when he was physically able to.

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Offensively, Puel made changes in hopes of sparking the sluggish Leicester offense. Demarai Gray, whose ability with the ball can both excite and frustrate, replaced “Mr. Consistency” himself, Marc Albrighton. Further, Kelechi Iheanacho started over the injured Shinji Okazaki.

When the time came for substitutes, Puel continued his trend of choosing youth. Fousseni Diabate came in for Iheanacho in the 76th minute and a double change in extra time saw Hamza Choudhury and fellow Leicester Academy graduate Harvey Barnes come in for Demarai Gray and Adrien Silva.

Puel has complete belief in the future of Leicester and the youth of the club. However, just because one believes in something does not always mean it will happen.

The optimism that comes from fielding a young team was a nice to see. Nonetheless, the current trend of sloppy and lackluster play persisted. The Foxes were left with another home draw, tying with relegation bound Southampton 0-0. Patience is key for Puel; however, he must stay vigilant, as the Leicester City Board has never been known for their patience.

Be vigilant of the Leicester Board

There is no doubt about all the good that Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and his Board has done for Leicester City. Since buying the club in August of 2010, Srivaddhanaprabha and co. have revolutionised the Foxes and turned them into a club that is known throughout the world. However, his high expectations are equal to his short patience.

The cut throat tendencies of the Leicester Board are well documented. After an improbable and awe-inspiring campaign that saw the Foxes beat the 5000-1 odds on their way to winning the Premier League, 2016 FIFA World Coach of the Year for Men’s Football winner Claudio Ranieri was sacked. It was only nine months after lifting the Premier League title.

His replacement, Craig Shakespeare, a longtime Leicester assistant who signed a three-year contract as manager, was fired only eight games into the current campaign.

What this is all to say is that Claude Puel must be incredibly careful when he asks the Leicester City faithful for patience. The Foxes are in a transitional phase. Older players like Morgan, Simpson, and Fuchs are approaching the end of their careers. Puel has the right idea of having young players prove themselves in the Premier League as quickly as possible.

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It will be an awkward time for the Foxes – full of frustration and disappointment. However, if everything that Puel says happens, then Leicester will be a young, impressive, and dangerous team. The only problem is, if these results don’t come soon, Puel might be watching the side on television like the rest of us.