Upwardly mobile Foxes are excelling in defence and midfield

          Leicester are building from the back

          2019/10/04 17:52
          By Sam Bevan

          Since winning the league in 2015/16, Leicester City have had four different managers, with current incumbent Brendan Rodgers now guiding the Foxes to their best Premier League start since they pulled off the impossible. 

          With the Foxes flying, Playmaker dives into the defensive steel and midfield excellence that have underpinned their strong start to this campaign.

          Defensive priorities

          One of Rodgers' main aims at Leicester will undoubtedly be to convert  “raw” talent into tried-and-tested Premier League quality, as he did with the Liverpool side that came agonisingly close to winning the 2013/14 title.

          Back in 2013/14, Rodgers' approach focused on harnessing the attacking whirlwind of Sterling, Sturridge and Suarez; however, so far at Leicester, the Ulsterman's success has been built on a turnaround in defensive performances.

          The sale of England international Harry Maguire to Manchester United for around £80 million looked likely to derail the Foxes’ progression this season given that a direct replacement was not made.

          However, Rodgers has bravely given Maguire’s position to 23-year-old Caglar Soyuncu, who has so far excelled in the role. The Turkish international is calm on the ball and has already made the 4th most passes (464) of any centre back in the Premier League this season, with an impressive 88% pass accuracy. 

          Despite a string of difficult fixtures at the start of the season, Leicester have remained a solid defensive unit: only conceding five goals in the opening seven games of the season. It's not just this term either; the Foxes showed this type of quality in the remainder of the 2018/19 campaign, after Rodgers replaced Claude Puel in February.

          In fact, since his tenure began, Rodgers’ side has only conceded 14 goals in the 17 league matches they’ve played. Compare this to Puel’s last 17 games in charge during which the Foxes conceded 23 goals, four of them in the 4-1 drubbing at home to Crystal Palace, which ultimately led to Puel’s demise.

          Dig a little deeper into Leicester’s defensive statistics this season and it's easy to see why they are in their current position. They have made the highest number of defensive challenges (651) in the Premier League, a stat that may feed into another they top: chances creating from counter-attacks (113). These two stats show that Leicester are as primed to exploit the pace and intensity of Jamie Vardy as they were under Claudio Ranieri back in 2015/16 - the 32-year-old striker visibly loving life under Rodgers. 

          All of these quality defensive statistics feed into the key one: they concede on average only 8.7 shots per game. Leicester also rank 2nd for the most tackles made (273), with Ricardo Pereira and Wilfred Ndidi both ranking within the 'Top Three' of average tackles made per game. 

          Midfield mastery

          Rodgers has opted to keep faith with the emerging midfield talents that impressed last season.

          First off, Rodgers managed to convince Belgian midfielder, Youri Tielemans, into signing on a permanent basis. A fan favourite in the second half of last season when on loan, Tielemans returning put out a statement of intent, as there were reportedly a string of other Premier League clubs chasing his signature.  

          A modern midfielder with both defensive and offensive qualities, Tielemans' performance in Leicester's surprise win against Spurs last season showcased exactly why his signing has been pivotal for the Foxes. In that game, he provided four key passes, in addition to making four ball recoveries and seven total challenges, and his ability to help the Midlanders win midfield battles in the top flight has been crucial this season.

          Another key midfield performer has been England international, James Maddison. 

          Maddison joined Leicester from Norwich City in the 2018 summer transfer window, after being the spark in what was a poor overall season for the Canaries in 2017/18. Since joining, Maddison has arguably been Leicester’s stand out player, winning their 'Young Player of the Year' award at the Foxes' end of season awards.

          Maddison and Tielemans provide Leicester with a perfect balance as a progressive midfield two - with Nigerian Ndidi giving them the defensive platform they need to go and worry other teams. The Tielemans/Maddison midfield pairing is currently contributing 3.4 key passes per game and their performances are key to Leicester's recent success.

          Attacking wing backs

          The growing trend, in terms of the modern full back, is for players who can attack with quality. The best full-backs in world football today are very progressive: the likes of Joshua Kimmich, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson all running up stats that put many attacking midfielders to shame. After contributing to Kieran Tierney's rapid development at Celtic, the pioneering Rodgers is unsurprisingly following this trend with his deployment of Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira at Leicester. 

          Pereira’s impressive form has earned him a recall to the Portuguese national side, while Chilwell is on his way to establishing himself as England's first choice left-back.

          The pair average 75.6 and 61.4 passes per game respectively as well as contributing heavily at the back, making a combined 41 tackles in the Premier League this season.

          In an attacking sense, their stats are also far from shabby. The Pereira/Chilwell combo has made 10 key passes, as well as contributing two goals and an assist. The drive Pereira shows off the right and the quality of Chilwell's delivery have given Leicester potency out wide and, importantly, also helped Rodgers bed in Harvey Barnes and Demarai Gray in the more advanced wide positions. 

          Both Barnes and Gray possess undoubted talent, but both are in the process of establishing themselves as Premier League players - Pereira and Chilwell's consistency and offensive attributes are, in many ways, aiding the development of the wingers ahead of them. 

          All told, Leicester’s defensive and midfield performances are the envy of other teams chasing a spot in the top six - and if they continue to shine in this regard, and Vardy continues to score goals, there is every chance the Foxes can finish within the European places for only the second time in their history. 



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