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Leicester fire starting gun

LONDON — Three months and six days after their glittering coronation as Premier League champions, Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City launch the new season with a trip to promoted Hull today.

The novelty of their 5,000-1 triumph is still to wear off, but Leicester are already looking to the future.

Midfield lynchpin N’Golo Kante and transfer mastermind Steve Walsh have both left, but the club have signed several new recruits and Ranieri is determined to ensure they do not fall off the map.

“We’re building and slowly getting better. It’s important to forget last season and build our squad,” said the Italian, who has signed a new four-year contract.

“I am very curious. All the world is curious (about) what will happen with Leicester. I am very curious to see where we finish.

Ranieri could hand league debuts to several players today.

Nampalys Mendy, Kante’s replacement, and £16.6 million (RM87 million) record signing Ahmed Musa are among those in contention.

Ranieri’s men had a mixed pre-season, losing heavily to Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona, but Manchester United needed a late Zlatan Ibrahimovic goal to beat them in last Sunday’s Community Shield.

Leicester’s odds of retaining the title are 33-1 and with United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool all strengthening, they are tipped to fall out of the Champions League places.

In any case, they could scarcely have asked for better opening day opposition than crisis club Hull.

Steve Bruce resigned as manager three weeks ago, reportedly in frustration over the club’s lack of transfer activity, and Hull approach the campaign with a threadbare squad that does not feature one senior signing.

It has been all change at Everton, where Ronald Koeman has succeeded Roberto Martinez as manager and Wales captain Ashley William has come in to replace the Manchester City-bound John Stones.

Stones could make his debut against Sunderland today, when Pep Guardiola leads City in a competitive fixture for the first time.

The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach splashed around £150 million in the transfer market, but Stones and Spanish winger Nolito are likely to be the only new recruits to feature.

There is an expectation that the season will be defined by the resumption of the rivalry between Guardiola and his former Real Madrid nemesis Jose Mourinho, who takes Manchester United to Bournemouth.

The first heavyweight clash of the season is tomorrow, when Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool visit Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal.
— AFP