Why Leicester’s form at the turn of the millennium will provide Claude Puel with food for thought today

Why Leicester’s form at the turn of the millennium will provide Claude Puel with food for thought today

By a quirk of the fixture computer, Leicester City will open a Premier League campaign at Old Trafford for the second time in the modern era, 20 years after doing so for the first time.

Back on the opening day of the 1998/99 season, Leicester visited a Manchester United side that went on to win the treble that season. Despite being wounded and determined after recently losing the Premier League title to Arsenal, United and the treble they eventually got looked decidedly distant after just 76 minutes.

Emile Heskey and Tony Cottee had given Leicester a two-goal lead by that point, and though goals from Teddy Sheringham and David Beckham salvaged a draw, the Foxes had made a real statement of intent.

The team would finish in tenth place that season, and go all the way to the League Cup final where they met Tottenham. The Foxes lost 1-0, but it would be a different story the year after. Again, the team reached the final, and this time made no mistake, beating Tranmere 2-1 to win the competition for the second time in three years.

 

From Heaven to Hell

 

Ahead of 2000/01, Leicester fans had high hopes after finishing eighth the previous season – the same finish currently forecast by Infogol ahead of 2018/19. Initially, such optimism appeared well-founded. After 14 rounds of the season, Leicester fans were dreaming of great things, with the Foxes winning seven of their matches and sitting in third place.

Inevitably there was a slip, but after 28 games, the Filbert Street outfit still lay in the top six. In a foreshadowing of events to come, Leicester went on to lose nine out of their last 10 matches, finishing in an unexpectedly lowly 13th place. The team seemingly never recovered from that. The next season, the Foxes would win just five league games, going on to be relegated in last place.

Though since trumped by the astonishing title win of 2015/16, the League Cup wins in 1997 and 2000 will forever be remembered as the product of a hard-working team that was capable of special things on its day.

Tim Flowers was an underrated goalkeeper, Matt Elliot was a terrific no-nonsense centre-back, and the midfield trio of Muzzy Izzet, Robbie Savage and Neil Lennon was known for being combative and hard-working. They were usually spearheaded by the experienced Tony Cottee and the fresh-faced Emile Heskey.

 

Twenty years on

 

Encouragingly, the squad of that era draws some comparisons to its present-day counterpart. Kasper Schmeichel is still underrated like Tim Flowers, with the Dane seemingly doomed to forever be compared to his father. This has only ever fuelled him on to perform when all seems lost, and in front of him, Harry Maguire is the type of no-nonsense player (like 1990s Leicester mainstay Matt Elliot) that fans love to see.

Additionally, with players like Demarai Gray, Adrien Silva and Wilfred Ndidi also settled into the squad, the Leicester midfield of 2018 has a lot more flair than its late-90s counterpart, even if some believe that there is still much ‘gelling’ to do.

Though Claude Puel did enough to stabilise the club after a poor start to 2017/18, there remain isolated fears that history could repeat itself.

Few Leicester fans need reminding just how wrong it all went after the club’s title win of 2015/16, and with talismanic striker Jamie Vardy sure to age quite quickly over the next three years, Puel must begin the next phase of his project at the King Power Stadium. The alternative is to risk a reprise of the fatal mistakes made by those in power at the club at the start of this century.

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