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James Justin: Leicester City’s long-term left-back solution?

Leicester City made few signings this summer, with Belgium full-back Timothy Castagne’s arrival from Serie A side Atalanta being one of the more publicised ones. However, players also left, with left-back Ben Chilwell the most high-profile departure, transferring to Chelsea. This left the Foxes with just Austria international Christian Fuchs and young prospect Luke Thomas as left-back options. However, the player who has taken Chilwell’s place is James Justin, who joined from Luton Town in 2019. He had played at left-back for the Hatters previously, so it is not an unfamiliar position for him. In this tactical analysis, we will analyse whether Justin can be Leicester’s new long-term left-back, looking at his strengths and weaknesses on the pitch.

Closing down opposing attackers

The first area we will look at in this scout report is how James Justin closes down his opponents in his own third. This is a vital role for a full-back, because they need to stop balls coming into the box.

James Justin at Leicester City 2020/2021 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

As we can see from this image, Justin is very adept at this. Manchester City have the ball in a wide position, and are looking to cross it into the box. However, Justin matches the run of Kevin De Bruyne, preventing the ball from getting into a dangerous area. This leads to two things. Firstly, it gives his teammates time to mark up the central attackers, and secondly, it means that Manchester City have to devise new tactics to transfer the ball into the box. It also shows Leicester’s good defensive coaching too, because it is easier to stop the ball coming into the box from the wide areas than it is from central positions; this is what Justin is doing here.

James Justin at Leicester City 2020/2021 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

However, he doesn’t just defend well when on his own, as this image shows. This time, he is the secondary defender, on the inside, but is the one who stops Kyle Walker’s cross coming into the box. Therefore, we can see how his natural instinct is to get in the way of the ball, showing his defensive ability. The fact that he positions himself even when not the closest to the ball, anticipating that he will need to block the ball, shows how he is willing to do what is necessary to help out at the back.

He is also part of a well-organised Leicester defence in this image, meaning that Manchester City will find it difficult to get into areas to receive the ball. We can therefore see the part that James Justin plays in his team’s defensive tactics, and it is clear that he can make the left-back role his own.

James Justin at Leicester City 2020/2021 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

However, when the ball is played behind him, he is just as good at closing it down. In this image, former Foxes winger Riyad Mahrez has received the ball in a dangerous area, but Justin has seen this and got back to cut the attack off, forcing Mahrez to take the ball out towards the wing. Therefore, we can add Justin’s ability to see where the danger is to the equation. You can see how Leicester’s other defenders are getting back to help, but, because Justin has closed Mahrez down, they can focus on stopping Manchester City’s other two attackers from offering an easy passing option for the Algeria winger.

James Justin at Leicester City 2020/2021 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

We have looked at how James Justin closes down opponents in his own half, but here we can see how he does it in the attacking areas too. To stop the attack as early as possible, Justin runs towards the opponent with the ball, as is shown by the blue arrow in this image. His pace allows him to make these movements, and it takes time on the ball away from Leicester’s opponents. We can see how the Manchester City player here is facing towards his own goal, and hasn’t had time to turn around and look for a pass forwards. Instead, he now has to play it back towards his own goal, so Justin’s run to close him down has prevented the attack before it has begun.

What has been clear from this section is that James Justin is a key part of his team’s defensive and offensive tactics. We can see how he has the pace necessary to close down opponents in all areas of the pitch, and this is a key part of the left-back role in modern football.

Supporting the attack

However, the modern full-back is not just a defender, but a key part of their team’s attack too. James Justin, therefore, needs to be able to support his team’s attack just as well as he defends. This is where our analysis will now focus.

James Justin at Leicester City 2020/2021 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Here, we can see how his role in the attack is to stay wide on the left wing, keeping the width and making the pitch as big as possible. This makes it harder for opponents to defend against Leicester, and we can see how West Ham United have left Justin open on the wing, able to receive the ball and create a crossing opportunity. Again, Justin’s pace means he can get up and down the wing as needed, and also means he can run behind the opposing defence if that is where the space is; his body position shows you how this is always his first thought when his team have the ball in these situations. Leicester have good passers in their team, and you can see how they have the ball a long way out from the goal area here. Justin’s run has given them a target to find, and getting the ball to him would allow Leicester to cause West Ham problems in their own box.

James Justin at Leicester City 2020/2021 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Indeed, because Justin stays wide when attacking, Leicester can increase their central threat, as we can see in these images. The Foxes’ regular front line is made up of Ayoze Perez, Jamie Vardy and Harvey Barnes, but because two of those play wider on the pitch, it often means that Leicester can’t take many chances, because they have one striker against several opposing defenders. However, with Justin taking up these wide attacking positions, it leaves Barnes and Perez free to tuck inside and support Vardy. Now, we can see how Leicester have gone from having potentially one or two attackers facing Burnley’s defence, to three facing them. The knock-on effect of this is that Burnley have had to become narrower in their defensive structure, leaving the wider spaces open. This has all come from Justin’s positioning, which both offers a passing option and ensures his team can get all their attacking threats into the middle, giving them more of a chance of converting chances.

James Justin at Leicester City 2020/2021 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

 

James Justin at Leicester City 2020/2021 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

The partnership with Barnes and Justin on the left-hand side is another important element of Leicester’s attack. We can see in both images here how one of Barnes and Justin plays very wide, with the other drifting inside slightly to help the central attack. In the first image, Justin is on the outside, and you can see how this has led to Barnes angling his run inside slightly, shown by the red arrow, which offers a passing option to his teammate with the ball. Therefore, we can see again how Justin’s movements help his team to increase their central threat.

The second image shows his spatial awareness, both of where he is and where his teammates are on the pitch, and this is another strength that he can bring to the left-back position. Barnes has the ball on the wing and is looking to run outside Burnley defender Phil Bardsley. This would make it very easy for the Clarets to then track his run and force him towards the corner flag. However, Justin’s run between the two outside defenders means Bardsley is caught in two minds, unsure of whether to cut off Barnes or Justin. The run through also offers Barnes the short passing option, should he look to be running out of space to move the ball too. Therefore, we can see another way that Justin helps his team in attack.

James Justin at Leicester City 2020/2021 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

The final image in this section shows another way that Justin uses his spatial awareness to help his team. Here, in the late stages of the game against Burnley, Timothy Castagne has the ball on the right-hand side of the pitch, with Burnley defending narrowly to stop the Foxes getting into the box. However, Justin has seen this, and has come inside from the wing, positioning himself on the outside of the defence. From this position, he ensures that, if Castagne plays the ball across and it misses Jamie Vardy in the middle, Justin can pick it up and shoot at goal. He scored a goal in this game from a similar position, which shows just how important his movements into this area are, and also how effective he is as an attacking, goalscoring left-back, which is what Leicester are looking for now Chilwell has left.

Aerial weaknesses

So far, this scout report has looked at James Justin’s strengths in defensive and attacking situations. However, there is one area where he can still improve his game. If we look at the image below, we can see how he is not as good aerially as he is when the ball is on the ground.

James Justin at Leicester City 2020/2021 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Manchester City have put a corner into the box here, which Justin has looked to clear from his area. However, he doesn’t clear it far enough, and Mahrez, in the yellow circle, runs forwards to pick it up and score. Justin was under pressure in this situation, but, if he is going to nail down a place in Leicester’s team this season, he needs to work on this aspect of his game. All defenders, by trade, need to be good in the air, but it is an area Justin definitely lacks in.

James Justin at Leicester City 2020/2021 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

We can see the same thing here. This time, the ball has been crossed in, and Justin is the player in the middle looking to clear it from his area. However, again, he doesn’t clear it well enough, and Manchester City can pick it up and shoot at goal. Unfortunately, with him clearing these balls, there is always a chance at the moment that Leicester will concede a simple goal. What he needs to do is to either clear the ball further, head it in a different direction, or put it behind for a corner, with a “safety first” attitude. All of these would improve his aerial ability and confidence in these situations.

It is not just in his box that he seems to lack confidence when the ball is in the air.

James Justin at Leicester City 2020/2021 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Here, Burnley have a thrown-in, and Justin is in an advanced position, marking an opposing player. When the ball is thrown in this direction, Justin doesn’t make an attempt to head the ball, and instead waits for it to come to ground before making a challenge. This gives time to the opponent to win the ball and look where to play it to, but if Justin can work on his aerial game, then he can apply more pressure and take this time away, meaning he would help his team even more than he already does.

What we have seen in this section is that, whilst James Justin has many strengths, and clearly likes playing in the left-back position, what he lacks is an aerial presence. As a full-back, it isn’t essential that he is good in the air, as most of the things he does will be with his feet, but it would help him to become a more complete defender, and would give him something else to add to his defensive arsenal.

Data comparison

To really see if James Justin is a suitable replacement for Chilwell in the Leicester side, we need to make a direct comparison between the pair. In the table below, we have looked at Chilwell’s statistics from 2019/2020, and Justin’s from 2020/2021 so far.

James Justin at Leicester City 2020/2021 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

The first interesting point to make is how, having played a lot fewer games, Justin has already topped Chilwell’s statistics in a number of areas in an average match duration. The areas where Leicester will mostly need him to contribute will be in defensive duels, closing down opponents, and he has already won, on average, 71.9% of these, compared to Chilwell’s 60.1%, which backs up what we analysed earlier about his awareness of where the threat is coming from when Leicester’s opponents have the ball. Given Leicester rely on their full-backs getting up the pitch and crossing balls into the box, meaning their attackers can tuck inside and support the striker, it is important that Justin has a good crossing accuracy; he has made 35% of his crosses, whilst Chilwell only made 29.3% of his last season. It is also interesting that Justin makes more interceptions than Chilwell, which shows that Justin has a greater spatial awareness, able to anticipate where the ball will go, and getting himself in the right position early to stop attacks.

The two areas where Leicester have lost a bit of strength are in the percentage of shots on target, with Justin having 25% compared to Chilwell’s 34.8%, and aerial duels won, with Justin having 48.9%, compared to Chilwell’s 65%. We have already seen how aerial play is where Justin needs to improve, and the difference of 16.1% here highlights this, but the shots on target values show that Justin will not be as proficient in the box as Chilwell was. However, given his crossing accuracy was higher, it is more likely that we will see Justin making more crosses, especially as he tends to keep tighter to the line in the final third. This in turn will help Leicester’s attack, so it isn’t a major negative for the Foxes.

Conclusion

This tactical analysis has sought to answer the question of whether James Justin can be Leicester City’s long-term left-back replacement for Chilwell. To answer this, we have looked at three different areas of his game, seeing where he is stronger, and where he still needs to improve. The verdict of this tactical analysis is that he can be Chilwell’s replacement in the team, because he brings all the qualities that Chilwell had, barring aerial duels, and adds a lot of what Chilwell didn’t have as well. Given that new signing Timothy Castagne and Portugal’s Ricardo Pereira will likely be competing for the right-back position this season, and the obvious need for a new left-back, it seems very likely that Justin will be seen by Foxes manager Brendan Rodgers as Chilwell’s long-term replacement.