Leicester City Finding Form Again

At the end of last season, Leicester City well and truly caved in. Despite being in the top four of the Premier League for most of the 2019/20 campaign, the Foxes won just two of the final nine games – a run that cost them what seemed to be an inevitable Champions League place. It was a remarkable collapse for a side that looked to be one of the stronger and more consistent on show. Yet, amidst the immense frustration, manager Brendan Rodgers saw the positives.

“We finished in the second-highest league position in the club’s Premier League history,” he said following their final-day defeat to Manchester United. “It takes us into Europe and I’m really excited by that. It’s that next step for this squad. We’ve arrived a bit earlier than what we thought but the boys have had a very good season. I can’t fault their effort and spirit. Next year it’s about ambition, improving the quality and this experience will serve us really well.”

Table-Toppers Leicester City Finding Form Again

How They Got to the Top

Deep down, Rodgers will have known how big an opportunity his side missed to secure a place alongside Europe’s elite but he also realised that this is a side that is going places. And the last thing he would have wanted is the disappointment of his side’s post-lockdown form to negatively affect their start to the 2020/21 campaign.

So far, Rodgers has been successful in doing so. Going into the second international break of the season, Leicester sit top of the Premier League, one point above Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool. Such brilliant form may be considered the norm now for the Foxes, given the impact of Rodgers since he took over, yet the barriers they have had to overcome makes their consistency even more impressive.

So how have they done it?

Smart Recruitment

There have been several key factors behind Leicester regaining their consistency of last season but one of the biggest and most influential has been their activity in the transfer market. Despite losing left-back Ben Chilwell to Chelsea for £45 million, they have re-invested that money wisely.

Versatile full-back Timothy Castagne, who starred for Atalanta in their strong Champions League run last season, was purchased for £21.5 million and has been impressive ever since his arrival. He produced a man-of-the-match performance in the opening weekend win over West Bromwich Albion and has given been reliable defensively as well as a threat in attack – no Premier League full-back has provided more assists this season.

Leicester’s other big summer addition, centre-half Wesley Fofana, has been just as excellent, filling in with calm and assured displays in place of the injured Çağlar Söyüncü. “We knew he (Fofana) was a top player for someone so young, and when we spoke to people out there and seeing all the clips, you could see he has anticipation as a defender, he has speed, he has aggression, he defends forward, so all the attributes we like here,” Rodgers told reporters after Leicester’s 1-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday.

“I think the surprising thing is that if you look at the seven games he’s played and the level of the teams we’ve played, and the consistent run of games, how he’s coped with that. He’s absolutely colossal for a young guy.” Leicester have conceded only two league goals with Fofana on the pitch so far this season.

Strong Squad Depth Helping Overcome Injuries 

A big reason why Leicester’s start to the season has been so impressive is that they have been with injuries to key players. Full-back Ricardo Pereira, one of the star performers from last season, has been missing with a knee injury, while the outstanding Wilfred Ndidi has not featured since September.

Both players were vital to Leicester’s 2019/20 campaign and the stats prove it. According to WhoScored.com, Pereira made 4.3 tackles per game, while Ndidi averaged four – no players in the Premier League managed more. In addition, Ndidi ranked second for interceptions per game (2.5), while Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson (both 32), and Lucas Digne (23) are the only defenders to have created more big chances since the start of the 2018/19 season than Pereira (15).

This, combined with the loss of another key player in Soyuncu meant that Leicester have been without the backbone of their side. Yet it is a sign of how far Rodgers has taken this side that they have not been affected by it. Nampalys Mendy has done a fine job in Ndidi’s place, providing excellent protection with his combative tackling and impressive composure on the ball – only seven Premier League midfielders have made more passes this season than the Frenchman’s 467, which have come at a superb accuracy of 91.6 per cent.

While the arrival of Castagne has added quality and depth to Leciester’s defence, it has been the performances of James Justin and Christian Fuchs, which have stood out. Twenty-two-year-old Justin, who arrived from Luton Town last year, has played every minute in the Premier League this season and has been a mark of consistency, both at right-back and left-back – only eight full-backs have made more interceptions (9), while the 22-year-old has made 13 clearances and 12 tackles so far. Fuchs, meanwhile, has been excellent in the last three league matches in which he has featured, rewarding Rodgers for showing faith in the summer by extending his contract by a further year.

Furthermore, midfielder Dennis Praet, winger Harvey Barnes and the versatile Marc Albrighton have also put in impressive performances when called upon. The depth that Rodgers has at his disposal means that Leicester can now handle injuries to key players and are able to cope with the demands of European football. This is a squad that can go the distance.

Rock-Solid Defence 

Despite a change in personnel, Leicester have remained as one of the strongest defensive teams this season, conceding just nine times – the joint-fewest in the Premier League. Their defensive stability is built on tireless work off the ball, particularly from the midfield, which provides an excellent shield for the back four – only five teams have made more tackles than their tally of 132.

In addition, Leicester’s defence has been excellent in snuffing out potentially dangerous opposition attacks. They rank second in the Premier League for total interceptions (96) and eighth total clearances (146), with centre-halves Fofana and Jonny Evans providing a reliable and stable partnership through excellent reading of situations, and Mendy offering admirable cover in front of them. The form of Kasper Schmeichel, too, has been vital, with the Dane making 22 saves – only five goalkeepers have made more this season.

Vardy’s Consistency

It is no secret that to compete at the top end of the Premier League, a top striker is a must and Leicester have that in Jamie Vardy. In four of the last five full seasons in the top flight, the 33-year-old has scored 18 goals or more and it is no surprise to see him joint-top of the scoring charts once again with eight goals to his name so far.

Vardy has many traits that make him a top striker but a key one is the quality of his finishing. Of players to have scored over three Premier League goals this season, he averages the fewest minutes per goal of anyone by a distance, according to BBC Sport. Vardy also has the joint-highest conversion of shots into goals (57%) and the highest percentage of shots hitting the target (86%). At the moment, he is as lethal as anyone and it is having an effect on the team. Despite ranking 14th for total shots, Leicester have scored 18 goals so far this season – only Chelsea and Tottenham have more.

Flexible Rodgers Tactics

Finally, a real key component to Leicester’s strong start to the season has been Rodgers himself. He has had receptiveness to change formations and personnel depending on the opposition. For example, in the 5-2 win at Manchester City, the Foxes boss switched to a back five and looked to hit the home side on the counter-attack after absorbing their inevitable pressure.

“We knew we weren’t going to have too much of the ball so we set up to infuriate them and make sure the likes of Rodri got as little of the ball,” Vardy told reporters after the match. “We weren’t worried, they got a great goal but we knew if we stuck to our plan we’d have chances. We got them and stuck them away.”

The striker also outlined the different role Rodgers gave him. “Sometimes he asks me to stay away from the ball, today it was different. Drop in and do a man-marking job on Rodri. I didn’t have much on the ball but it was great to get a win.”

When Leicester have played against weaker opposition, Rodgers has gone for a more attacking approach, usually siding with either a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-2-3-1. This has given them more options going forward, a move that makes sense seeing as they have more of the ball in these games. As a result, the likes of Youri Tielemans, Praet, Barnes, and Maddison have thrived with the extra license to create more chances.

Rodgers’ flexibility as a manager and tactician has been instrumental in Leicester becoming a side adapting to different situations and opposition teams. As a result, they are winning games more consistently and are now serious contenders in the race for Champions League football once again.

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