Saturday 28 June 2014
Leicester City's decade-long pathway back into English football's top flight experienced bumpy terrain, but after several wrong turns, the Foxes eventually found their way under the calm guidance of Nigel Pearson.
Winners of last season's Championship, Leicester City supporters are hopeful their hardworking side will do them justice in the 2014/15 Barclays Premier League.
Our tactics expert Adrian Clarke outlines what we might expect to see from Pearson's men…
Failing to start just six matches all season between them, Leicester City's success was built around goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, centre-back Wes Morgan, midfielder Danny Drinkwater and striker David Nugent. This solid backbone provides the foundation for the rest of the side to flourish.
Former Manchester United midfielder Drinkwater, 24, is especially important. Leicester's Player of the Year recently signed a new four-year contract and will provide box-to-box leadership and quality in the engine room. Getting on the ball to make an average of 66 passes per match (more than anyone else in the Championship) he is a player that can defend and attack in equal measure. In the top flight, he will need to show discipline too. If he can keep the side ticking over in a controlled manner, his manager will be delighted.
Regarded as one of Europe's brightest young goalkeeping talents, Schmeichel is expected to shine on the big stage, while ahead of him the skipper Morgan is guaranteed to supply leadership and inspiration. An old-fashioned centre-half, he will head, block and clear to his heart's content, after spending most of his career in the Championship, only time will tell whether he has the talent to thrive at this level.
Leading the forward line is former England international David Nugent, who has breathed new life into his career at the King Power Stadium. Scoring 20 goals, and teeing up 12 assists last term, he was the third-highest scorer and assist-maker in the league last season. The striker's all-round game will be an invaluable weapon for the Foxes next term.
|Leicester's key men in 2013/14 league campaign
|Kasper Schmeichel||46||18 clean sheets|
||3.8 tackles won per match, 63% aerial duels won|
|Danny Drinkwater||45 (2)
||Seven goals, 82.6% pass-success rate|
||20 goals and 12 assists
Liverpool's legendary manager Bill Shankly once said, "Football is a simple game based on the giving and taking of passes, of controlling the ball and of making yourself available to receive a pass." It is a mantra Pearson's Leicester City side used to good effect on their relentless march towards the Championship title.
Nobody in the division hit fewer long balls than the Foxes, whose aim is to control possession inside the opposition half, and probe patiently until an opportunity to be incisive presents itself. Last season, no one in the division spent more time with the ball at their feet inside a rival team’s half than the 32% enjoyed by Leicester.
"Football is a simple game based on the giving and taking of passes, of controlling the ball and of making yourself available to receive a pass"
Tactically, Pearson does not try to be fancy or clever. He did experiment with a back three early on last term but his preferred system was a regulation 4-4-2, with two all-round midfielders holding, pace on the flanks, and a strong man/lively man combination up front. If Jamie Vardy, the lively man, was absent he would switch to a standard 4-3-3, with two quick players either side of Nugent.
It would be brave of the Foxes' manager to start with two up front in difficult away matches in the Barclays Premier League, so instead we might see a 4-5-1 of sorts take shape as an alternative. Whichever way they line up, the Blues will put solidity and organisation first.
To date, Matthew Upson and Mark Albrighton have both been signed to add vital experience to the squad. This is where they are likely to fit into Pearson's XI…
Bags of pace
Under no illusions that they will be pegged back inside their own half without the ball for long periods in the Barclays Premier League, watch out for Leicester as a counter-attacking force.
Scoring three times from rapid breakaways in the Championship, and posing a serious threat whenever they made those quick transitions from defence to attack, Pearson has the right players and formation to strike with that kind of ploy.
Algerian international Riyad Mahrez, Frenchman Antony Knockaert, and new signing Marc Albrighton all have pace in abundance, even though they have lost the quicksilver Lloyd Dyer to Watford.
As well as boasting a turn of foot, Mahrez and Knockaert also supply end product, and in 2013/14 both men were always in the thick of the action inside the final third.
|Leicester's wingers in 2013/14|
|Winger||Successful dribbles||Key passes||Shots||Assists||Goals|
|Anthony Knockaert||1.2 per match||2.1 per match||2.7 per match||5||5|
|Riyad Mahrez||1.6 per match||1.8 per match||2.7 per match||4||3|
Front man Jamie Vardy is another player who is capable of unsettling rival defences with sharp, penetrative running power. A former non-league star with Fleetwood Town, the 27-year-old wants to burst in behind back lines at every opportunity, and his intuitive link-up play with Nugent is another feature to watch. Together, as well as the goals they scored, the duo helped win several of the side's 14 penalty kicks in 2013/14.
There is a good deal to admire about Nigel Pearson's uncomplicated tactical approach, and his players seem to revel in the simplicity of his man management. Their team spirit is fantastic.
Just 15 players started 10 or more Championship matches last season for the Foxes, but when they suffer an inevitable wobble or two in the top flight, that consistency of team selection will be severely put to the test. Can they stick together and remain a tight knit unit? Or will cracks begin to appear?
Confident in possession, solid down the middle, and with a sprinkling of flair on the flanks, Leicester City are well equipped to handle the Barclays Premier League.
If they are able to add a little more depth and quality to the squad this summer, Foxes fans will have reason to feel optimistic.