Leicester City’s rise this season has defied the odds (all 5,000/1 of them), and it is a clear statement to giants like Arsenal FC, Chelsea FC, Manchester City, and Manchester United, that football is not all about money.
Not only have the Foxes proved that money isn’t everything, but they have also showed the world of football that star power and individual brilliance cannot match up to hard work and good team chemistry. However, no matter how well they have played, nobody would have expected them to be five points clear at the top of the Premier League table in February. This has taken all of Leicester’s naysayers aback.
Less fixture congestion an advantage for Leicester?
Now, with 13 games to go in the league, the Foxes cannot be ruled out of the fight for the top spot by any stretch of imagination. To add to that, most of their fellow title contenders are also fighting in other competitions. The best example in this case is Manchester City, who are fighting for the Premier League, the Champions League, the FA Cup, and the League Cup. Even Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal FC are playing in European and domestic (league and cup) competitions.
This means that while Leicester would just have to play 13 more matches this season, their title rivals Arsenal (24), Tottenham Hotspur (26), and Manchester City (25) may have to play around double the number of games, if they go all the way in the Cup and European competitions.
One thing that makes the dark clouds hover over Claudio Ranieri’s men though, is the fact that Leicester have have some pretty big games coming up in Premier League — games that they may make or break their title challenge. This run of tough games started off with Manchester City, who the Foxes comprehensively beat 3-1, but they now face a tough travel to the Emirates to face Arsenal.
Also, Leicester’s last three games of the season are against Manchester United (A), Everton (H), and Chelsea FC (A), which makes their task all the more difficult.
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The Multidimensional Foxes
However there is a reason why Ranieri’s men look like they can do the unthinkable this season, and that is simple — the multidimensional nature of Leicester’s play. We had discussed in an earlier column how Leicester City have revived the 4-4-2 formation in the Premier League. This time however, we take a look at the different dimensions of their 4-4-2, that has helped them keep up their incredible performance.
The low possession game
One thing that Leicester absolutely do not rely upon is possession of the ball. The team that has kept the highest amount of possession in Europe this season has unsurprisingly been Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich, with an average of 71.6 per cent of the ball.
Leicester on the other hand are not even close to being one of the top possession keeping sides in the Premier League. In fact, with an average of 40.9 per cent of the ball, the Foxes are the third worst Premier League team in terms of possession. They are essentially a team that likes to play on the counter attack, and hit their opposition with pace.
Usually when a team plays on the counter attack, they are often found out by their opponents, and they soon need to change their style of play. That is not the case with Leicester however, as they have gone marching from one victory to another this season.
Yes, Leiceester City have some of the fastest players in the Premier League, and they attack their opponents more with pace, rather than with guile, to score their goals.
But there is more to them than just that. The most common form of attack by Leicester City is to play Jamie Vardy through against a defence playing a high line. The 29-year-old gets behind the defence with his pace, and the rest is history.
Vardy’s first goal against Liverpool FC earlier this month reiterated the fact that the Foxes are a real threat when they use the vision of the likes of Riyad Mahrezz and N’Golo Kante to play Vardy through behind the defence.
That is not the only way Leicester City like to attack on the counter though. A lot of teams tend to drop off when they come up against counterattacking sides, so as not to give pacey forwards like Jamie Vardy the space to run on to the passes and score the goal.
However, Ranieri seems to have found an answer for that too. When defences drop off against Leicester, they face another threat from players a bit further down the pitch than Vardy.
The likes of Riyad Mahrez, Shinji Okazaki, and N’Golo Kante are very good technical players, who love to run into spaces, and make their feet do all the talking. When the defenders fall back to negate Vardy’s pace, these three get the space to work their magic on the ball.
Riyad Mahrez’s goal against Manchester City and Jamie Vardy’s second goal against Liverpool FC are ample examples of that. In the first case, we see the two Manchester City centrebacks falling back, when Kante gets on the ball, around the half way line. This gives him enough space to play it forward to Mahrez, who works his magic to dribble past a sliding Nicolas Otamendi, and cut in to score with his weaker right foot.
This dual threat from their attacks could put the opposition defenders in quite a quandry while defending against Leicester City.
The Foxes proved in the Manchester City match that they also have a third dimension to their game, with the presence of the likes of Robert Huth and Wes Morgan in their team. The two big and strong defenders give Leicester some tooth from the aerial set pieces, especially when there’s a dead ball expert like Christian Fuchs to deliver the corners and the indirect free kicks.
A sum of all parts
All in all, Leicester City may not have the star power that some of the other title challengers have got in their team, but Claudio Ranieri has been able to build them up into a team that plays as a cohesive unit, where every player concentrates on doing their particular job properly.
While the likes of Vardy, Mahrez, and Kante seem to be running away with all the praise, one cannot rule out the work put in by the likes of Danny Drinkwater, Marc Albrighton, and Shinji Okazaki. It is the whole team that works in tandem, complementing each other, that has clicked for Leicester City. Football is a team sport, and the Foxes have proven that the sum of all parts is greater than any individual spark.