Leicester City 2019/20: Season Preview – scout report
As of right now, nothing tops the 2015/16 season for Leicester City fans. Winning the league was truly one of the greatest sport shocks in history, and the memories during the title run will live long in the memory of Leicester City fans for years to come. Since then, the team have unable to sustain the surprise success, with midtable finishes the three years following the league win. It isn’t a matter of expectation, no one expects Leicester City to emulate what they did in 2015/16.
It’s a matter of convincing fans that the best is still yet to come, despite the fairy tale season three years ago. This is something that Brendan Rodgers promised Leicester City fans when he was first appointed, and he enters the 2019/20 season having only been at the helm of the club for four months. This tactical analysis will look at what Rodgers can achieve by looking at his tactic style and the personnel he has available to him.
A New Era
Rodgers was appointed in late February 2019 after an uninspiring eighteen months with Claude Puel in charge. Leicester City would be Rodgers’ third stint in the league, having guided Swansea to the Premier League, and having almost brought back the much anticipated Premier League trophy to Liverpool in the 2013/14 season. With Leicester he brings those experiences, as well as the winning mentality he gained from Celtic, having won seven trophies in his three-year stint. He is known for his exciting football, something the fans at the King Power have long yearned for since their title win.
Leicester City’s Formation under Rodgers
Rodgers has mostly set up Leicester City in a 4-1-4-1 shape. Tactically, Rodgers has a distinct style in terms of the way he wants his teams to play. In possession, Rodgers likes to have his team build out from the back, and play a quick passing game into the oppositions half. Out of possession, he demands to press in order to win the ball back as quickly as possible.
Rodgers’ attack at Leicester City is very fluid while in possession. When in possession of the ball, the two wide players, usually Harvey Barnes and Demarai Gray, position themselves wide, forcing the opposition’s defensive line to cover more ground. Usually, the fullback covering Leicester City’s wide player will go wide as well; this creates gaps in the defensive line, and spaces for Leicester City to go through on goal.
Chances Created From Open Play
Leicester City’s attack demands short passes in order to not allow the opposition time to compose themselves defensively. Rodgers’ team selection has shown that he is willing to use youth; players that are quick and agile who can play how he prefers. Rodgers’ team often starts from the defence and follows a basic build-up play. Passing it quickly through the opposition, until reaching the final third.
Once in the final third, they have several ways in which they attempt to get shots on goal. The first is to continue with the quick passes until the opposition cannot keep up and an easy chance near the goal presents itself.
The second is through crosses into the box. Once receiving the ball, a wide player will look up and cross into the box. Often Vardy, Leicester City’s main goal-scoring threat, will already be in the box; he is often trying to get into a good position to score. However, multiple runners will also come in from midfield, attempting to get on the end of the cross.
The third is through creative players who have the vision and the skillset to pull off difficult passes and create chances. James Maddison is Leicester City’s most creative player, creating the most chances for his teammates. With seven assists in 2018/19, Maddison likes to play in between the lines, giving himself time and space to create.
Set Pieces and Throw-ins
Rodgers has clearly also implemented set-piece plays. Under Puel, set pieces were usually aimed at Maguire, sometimes aimlessly in hopes that he could get on the end of the ball. Having a player that is 194 centimetres tall (6’4” in feet) like Maguire does help of course, but it is clear that routines have been worked on the training ground to create more goal-scoring opportunities.
Often what Leicester City will attempt to do is isolate one of their own players, whether it be Maguire or someone else. Regardless as to whether it is a free-kick, a corner kick, or a throw-in, Leicester City will do this by attempting to drag the opposition’s players towards the ball, and then quickly release it to an unmarked teammate. Once again, these plays rely on young, agile, and quick-thinking players.
Under Puel, Leicester City’s defensive shape was much more compact than it was now; they mostly relied on absorbing the pressure and counter attacks to help them win games. Under Rodgers, Leicester City defend completely different without the ball. Rodgers has his players preform a man-oriented press to try and win the ball back. Instead of having multiple players press the ball carrier, only one player usually marks the opposition player who has the ball. The rest have a man in which they cover. The man-oriented press puts the Leicester City players right up against their opponents, leaving them in prime position to win the ball back or win the second ball if the opposition is passing through them.
The reason Rodgers implements this press is it forces opponents in a small space where they cannot get out. This results in them either mindlessly passing the ball, not at all threatening the goal, or long balls.
If the opposition are able to negate the press and pass through it until their in Leicester City’s half, the Foxes drop into a defensive shape, usually a 5-4-1. To ensure that the defensive line maintains shape and is not disoriented by the oppositions movement, Rodgers has Wilfred Ndidi maintain a free role position in the backline. While the centre backs maintain their position in the box, and the fullbacks cover the wide areas, Ndidi tracks late runners from midfield, overlapping fullbacks, and any movement that would otherwise break Leicester City’s defensive line.
Ayoze Pérez was confirmed as a Leicester City player earlier this month, and he will be a great addition to Leicester City’s attack. One of Perez’s strengths is his versatility; he can play anywhere across the frontline. While it is unlikely that he displaces Vardy as the starting striker, as a thirty-two-year-old, Vardy’s minutes and fitness needs to be managed. Perez would be a great option coming off the bench for Vardy, or if he’s already on the pitch when Vardy is substituted off, he can easily slot into that striker role.
Pérez will most likely be playing behind Vardy though, either out wide, or centrally. He is comfortable on the ball averaging three dribbles per game and three key passes per game. In an uber defensive Newcastle side, he registered twelve goals and two assists. His main role will be to relieve Vardy of the goal scoring pressure, sharing the load so goals come from different areas of the pitch. His shooting accuracy of over 50%, with twenty-eight shots on target, from the 2018/19 season will only improve under Rodgers’ attacking play.
While it is still not for certain, it looks like Harry Maguire may be on his way out of the club. Maguire is a massively important figure for Leicester City. The England international is an undisputed starter in central defence for the Foxes, and is coming off a strong 2018/19 season and a strong World Cup showing. In a day and age where managers want to build out from the back but struggle because of the lack of confidence on the ball from central defenders, Maguire comes in with great technical ability. He often brings the ball forward, looking to start the attack, and is usually self-assured when pressed by the opposition’s forwards. Defensively, Leicester City rely on him to win aerial duels in the box and win tackles and interceptions. A very strong and self-assured centre back, who obviously has Premier League experience, it is not a surprise the two Manchester clubs are reportedly interested.
If Maguire does leave Leicester City this transfer window, a replacement must be bought. Whoever is brought in will have to be accustomed to Rodgers’ style of play, which may take some time. In Leicester’s pursuit for league finishes that puts them in European competitions, every single league game is important. Said new signing will have to bed in quickly so all can go smoothly.
Can Leicester City break into the Top Six?
Leicester City will be looking to finish once again in the top half of the table, ideally in seventh. Their competition for a seventh-place finish will most likely be Wolverhampton Wanderers, Everton, and West Ham United. Wolves, who are Leicester City’s strongest challenger will have Europa qualifiers; last season saw Burnley’s league form suffer greatly because of the added fixtures, by the end of the season, they were in a relegation battle. Bar any major injuries, Leicester City should be looking to finish at least in seventh place and play in the Europa League qualifiers.
The big question is if they can go one step further, and finish in the top six. Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester United all seem at disarray for different reasons. While it may seem like the perfect chance for someone besides the ‘big six’ to finish higher, the point gap is still quite large for Leicester City to make up.
Manchester United finished with sixty-six points; the first half of the season in which they were managed by José Mourinho saw them constantly underperform with trouble on and off the pitch. Once Ole Gunnar Solskjær came in, results improved for a few game weeks, but eventually, the poor form continued and ultimately finished the season off with eight points in nine games. Manchester United had one of their worst seasons in recent history, yet still managed to finish 14 points ahead of Leicester City. Based on this tactical analysis, I reckon the Foxes will improve as the players have had a few months to get used to Brendan Rodgers’ playstyle; but a finish in the top six is a battle I do not see them winning.
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