No one was more gutted than Leicester fans when the Premier League season was brought to a grinding, yet much needed halt back in March. Except maybe Liverpool supporters.
Aside from Aston Villa’s smash and grab victory in the Carabao Cup semi final, things couldn’t have gone much better for the Foxes. Brendan Rodgers’ side are currently sat comfortably in third place and boast possibly the most exciting, young squad in the country.
The bombastic overlapping runs of Ricardo Pereira and Ben Chilwell, combined with the bubbling creativity of Youri Tielemans and James Maddison are stitched together neatly by the ever reliable Wilfred Ndidi in defensive midfield, while up front Jamie Vardy was threatening to post the best scoring numbers of his career.
Though the extent of Leicester’s success this season has been somewhat of a shock, none of the aforementioned players’ fine form has come out of the blue. They were already highly regarded back in August. Far more surprising has been Leicester stumbling across such a perfect centre-back partnership in Caglar Soyuncu and Jonny Evans.
The departure of Foxes star Harry Maguire to Manchester United was the transfer saga of the summer and, although the obscene £85m fee that was eventually thrashed out represented extraordinary business for City, there were more than a few pre-season nerves going into their King Power Stadium curtain raiser against Wolves.
Maguire had missed just seven games over two Premier League campaigns for the Foxes and although the general consensus – among fans at least – was that Evans had performed better after the former Hull City man’s dramatic World Cup escapades, his departure meant a slab headed hole needed plugging.
The anxiety would prove to be misguided as although Leicester had made some frantic last minute enquiries for James Tarkowski, Lewis Dunk and Nathan Ake, the answer to their defensive problems had been sitting on the bench for a year.
2018 deadline day arrival Soyuncu’s performance against Wolves was composed and dominant, setting the tone for his incredible season. It wasn’t long until Manchester City started circling, though thankfully for Rodgers their interest came to nothing.
Now, there is talk of Leicester re-starting contract negotiations with the Turkey international, and if they are smart they will give him exactly what he wants.
Of course, Soyuncu is a good player. Anyone can see that.
His approach may be abstract on occasion but for every Cruyff turn inside his own 18-yard box there are hundreds of examples of textbook, bread and butter defensive work. An analysis of all the classic metrics used to measure defensive efficiency show Soyuncu to be a remarkably well rounded player.
This season, he ranks in the top 35 for aerial duels won, the top 30 for blocks and the top 12 for catching strikers offside per 90 minutes. Soyuncu is also a vital cog in the Rodgers machine in possession.
Foxes midfielders look to him when they’re being pressed, knowing he can retain the ball under intense pressure, and this is reflected by the fact that only seven players have had more touches than him in the Premier League this term.
So yes, he’s certainly a very good footballer but his contract situation would additionally act as a warning shot to the Foxes’ rivals that they are not just a flash in the pan. A source told 90min in April that Leicester have ambitions to be an established top six club and want to tie down their core players to long-term contracts as soon as possible.
Significant progress was already made in this regard back in December when Rodgers rebuffed Arsenal’s advances. The rejection showed the Northern Irishman’s belief that the east Midlands club had top four potential – or at least had brighter prospects than the Gunners – even if the saga may have been manipulated by Rodgers to secure himself a lucrative new contract. Not that the former figure of fun in certain footballing circles doesn’t deserve one.
Soyuncu’s re-signing would go a long way to cementing Leicester’s place as serious European contenders of the future. As the astronomical fees dropped for Virgil van Dijk and Maguire in recent years demonstrate, Premier League centre backs are an expensive commodity and tying one as talented as this down for foreseeable future is a vital step in the Foxes’ road to long lasting success.