Leicester City have had an exceptional start to the 2019-20 Premier League season, losing just 1 of their opening 7 matches. If it weren’t for the all-star cast and crew of England’s top two teams, the Foxes could very well have found themselves in a similar position to where they were at this time back in 2015-16 when Claudio Ranieri led Leicester to a league title. Brendan Rodgers has done an incredible job since taking over as Leicester manager for Claude Puel back in late February and has turned the Foxes back into one of England’s top sides after a couple of years of nothing more than mid-table success. Here is The Mastermind‘s Tactical Analysis of Leicester City so far in 2019-20 under Brendan Rogers.
SYSTEM OF PLAY: 4-1-4-1
One of Brendan Rodgers’ biggest revelations at Leicester City has been the possession-based style of approach utilizing a 4-1-4-1 Guardiola-esque formation. It is truly amazing how well Rodgers has implemented a possession-based system and style of play in a club that has been rooted in counter-attacking football for the best part of the last decade. Claude Puel tried to implement some of the same principles with his 4-2-3-1 formation, but had much less success than the former Celtic and Liverpool man has had so far.
The Foxes have maintained nearly 55% of possession in their 7 matches so far this season, the fifth highest in the league. This has been a key reason why Rodgers’ men sit third in the table, with 4 wins, 2 draws and 1 loss from 7 matches so far. Brendan Rodgers has a reputation for being an excellent man-manager and his utilization of the 4-1-4-1 is a clear indication of just how well he understands his players and their strengths. When you have a midfielder like 22 year-old Wilfred Ndidi who can dominate the midfield all on his own, it makes perfect sense to advance the other two central midfielders higher up the field. The system of play has also been key in allowing the fullbacks to advance forward, something that has epitomized their success this year.
In this formation Rodgers has also allowed for his young guns to all fly free and he’s given plenty of time to the likes of Hamza Choudhury and Caglar Soyuncu, who were far down the pecking order under Claude Puel. Important players like James Maddison, Youri Tielemans, Harvey Barnes, Ben Chilwell and the aforementioned Wilfred Ndidi are also all under-23, highlighting Rodgers’ excellent trust in young players.Embed from Getty Images
Other than Ndidi, the two fullbacks in Ricardo Pereira and Ben Chilwell have perhaps been the two key figureheads to the formation. Their role will be discussed at length in its own section, but it’s important to note that the fullbacks have contributed to 2 goals and 2 assists between them so far this season. Meanwhile, Youri Tielemans and James Maddison have taken the Premier League by storm this season and along with Ndidi have formed practically the paramount midfield trio in the league. Jamie Vardy’s continued his usual business of scoring goals, but has been supported extremely well by the wide-men of Harvey Barnes and Ayoze Perez. Meanwhile Caglar Soyuncu has seamlessly entered the frame following Harry Maguire’s departure to Manchester United, and Jonny Evans has revitalized his reputation this season. Finally, we cannot forget Leciester’s on-the-field captain Kasper Schmeichel, who has continued to be one of the very best goalkeepers in the Premier League. Brendan Rogers’ 4-1-4-1 formation has worked incredibly well since his arrival at the club and it perfectly demonstrates how well the Irishman is able to know and understand the strengths of his players and respond accordingly.
ATTACK-MINDED FULLBACKSEmbed from Getty Images
One of the paramount reasons for Leicester City’s success so far this season has been the dynamism of Ricardo Pereira and Ben Chilwell. Both players could fit into almost any top-six side and it’s no wonder why Leicester are in such a great position in the table with Chilwell and Ricardo at their disposal. Since Rodgers’ takeover, Chilwell has firmly established himself as England’s first-choice left-back, while simultaneously keeping out a Premier League winner in Christian Fuchs. His ability to defend in 1v1 situations has resembled something of a young Cesar Azpilicueta, while going forwards he’s whipped in crosses and created chances like a young…Christian Fuchs!
Ricardo Pereira meanwhile has used his pace and power to frequently drive forward. The Portuguese fullback has scored 2 goals this season and only James Maddison has completed more take-on’s so far for the Foxes. They have very different styles and strengths, but Chilwell and Ricardo’s influence over Leicester’s success this season cannot be understated.
It seems as though at every opportunity, the Foxes look to get the fullbacks on the ball, highlighted by the fact that they have the first and third most amount of passes and touches per game in the side (second is Soyuncu). In build-up phases, Soyuncu and Evans sit deep, as does Ndidi. This allows Chilwell and Ricardo to get as high and wide as they want and be a necessary part of Leicester’s attack. In possession they have two very different strengths. Chilwell is fantastic at spreading the ball left to right and up and back. His ability to pick out a long-range pass, send Vardy in or whip the perfect delivery into the box is unrivalled at the club. Ricardo on the other hand loves to carry the ball for lengthy periods of time and has already formed a unique understanding with new arrival Ayoze Perez, who often takes up central positions to allow the Portuguese fullback more space out wide.
With the knowledge of Ndidi’s presence in behind and the overall stableness of the Evans-Soyuncu patnership, Chilwell and Ricardo have been allowed to express full freedom in attack. The two defenders have been incredible so far this season in both attack and defense and their role as part of a back-four alongside Caglar Soyuncu and Jonny Evans cannot be understated.
NDIDI’S PRESENCE IN MIDFIELDEmbed from Getty Images
Since his arrival to the Premier League at the start of 2017, no player has made more tackles + interceptions than 22-year old Wilfred Ndidi. The Nigerian midfielder has maintained his incredibly consistent reign at the top of the charts this season, even despite the Foxes’ increase of possession. Ndidi has made an incredible 33 tackles and 23 interceptions in just 6 league matches so far this season – leading the way in both categories. In fact it’s not just the Premier League that Ndidi is dominating with regards to tackles and interceptions. It’s all of Europe…and it’s not even close.
But it isn’t just his ability to win the ball back that makes Ndidi so special for Leicester City. His positional awareness and on-the-ball presence has been higher than a Jorginho level this season, and his short passing game has contributed massively to starting attacks for the likes of Maddison and Tielemans. Ndidi has incredible concentration and his role in build-up phases has allowed the two fullbacks to push higher up the field and the two danger men in Tielemans and Maddison to also do their best work further forward. James Maddison is probably the best player of all in this incredible Leicester City side, but he wouldn’t be capable of accomplishing what he has so far this season without Ndidi in behind winning the ball back at every turn. Tall and muscular, he’s also been a massive presence in the air for the foxes and even chipped in with two goals, both coming from crosses into the box.
At just 22-years of age, Wilfred Ndidi has managed to become one of the most complete midfielders in the Premier League and he is perhaps the key figure in Rodgers’ 4-1-4-1 system.
FORWARD THINKINGEmbed from Getty Images
Bouncing between disciplined progressive possession and quick counter attacks, Rodgers’ 4-1-4-1 system has remained just as fluid as you would expect from a formation popularized by Pep Guardiola. With Jamie Vardy, the Foxes can play any way they want. They can go direct with long-balls high up the field for him to run onto, or with his underrated ability on the ball, the British striker can link up with others and be part of the important build-up play in attack. What has been perhaps so key to their success in comparison to previous seasons has been that they haven’t needed to rely on Jamie Vardy for goals. He’s been ruthless on all accounts, now with 5 goals in 7 matches (85 Premier League goals in total). But he’s had less than 2 shots per game, lower than James Maddison (3.3) and Youri Tielemans (2.6). It’s been those two midfielders that have contributed to the bulk of Leicester’s attacks. James Maddison has succeeded with his on-the-ball movement in creating space for himself and others, while Youri Tielemans has had much success with his off-the-ball movement and ability to pick up important shooting positions from range. Harvey Barnes is another player that always seems to come up with moments of brilliance whenever he’s in the side.
The Foxes have consistently been a forward-thinking side this season, even against the stubborn Manchester United, their only defeat of the season thus far. Led primarily by their four midfielders and of course, Jamie Vardy, they’ve scored 13 goals – the fifth highest in the league. Importantly, only one of those 13 goals has come from a counter-attack – that classic Jamie Vardy finish against Sheffield United.
The others, almost exclusively from impressive spells of possession and open play. Their impressive attacking prowess has been epitomized by their ability to create overlaods in wide areas through overlapping and underlapping runs of the fullbacks, while the triangle passing of the midfield trio, Ayoze Perez, and Jamie Vardy has led to much confusion for the opposition. With so many different players who can score and assist goals, Leicester’s opposition will be having a hard time all season long keeping track of the Foxes in attack.
Furthermore, the balance of the front three has been incredible to watch. Harvey Barnes loves to drive forward and power his way through the opposition defense, while Ayoze Perez has much more elegance about him and his flair and tricks have led to a beautiful partnership with Jamie Vardy, who underratedly has a lot of both aspects to his game. Whenever Maddison has played out wide and Choudhury has come into the side instead, the British partnership of Vardy and Maddison has continued to flourish. Their ability to create chances for one another can be seen every single game and Vardy should enjoy this partnership while it lasts because it won’t be long before the former Norwich midfielder makes a Harry Maguire-esque multi-million dollar move to a bigger club. For now, the two players are linking up incredibly well and leading Leicester’s charge towards a top four finish.
SOYUNCU’S SEAMLESS TRANSITIONEmbed from Getty Images
Many Foxes fans would have had fears going into this season that Leicester would be short at the back without their ball-playing centre-half Harry Maguire. However, 23-year old Turkish defender Caglar Soyuncu has had a seamless transition into Rodgers’ best eleven. He’s become a player that the Leicester manager simply cannot leave out of the side, highlighted not only by his Maguire-level on-the-ball presence but his ability to defend in 1v1 situations. He’s won 18 tackles so far this season, the third most of any player in his team and his defensive awareness alongside Jonny Evans has proven to be something Leicester City can no longer afford to go without. He’s also proven to have an eye for a pass, whether it be short and sweet or long and even sweeter. His assist on Jamie Vardy’s counter attacking goal against Sheffield United was truly something incredible, just one example of his important on-the-ball presence for the Foxes thus far. Like James Maddison, if the Turkish defender carries on playing the way he is right now, it won’t be long before he’s swooped up by one of Europe’s elite clubs. For now, Caglar Soyuncu should enjoy his time with Leicester City as they look to climb all the way to the top of the table.
CONCLUSIONEmbed from Getty Images
Leicester City have enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top of the table since Brendan Rodgers’ takeover at the club. His introduction of a possession-based 4-1-4-1 system has revolutionized the side and given credence for young players to strut their stuff and show off their talent. Key figureheads like Jamie Vardy and Kasper Schmeichel haven’t needed to adapt their game under Rodgers, but they’ve continued to do what they do best in a team of fantastic players who are constantly improving all around them. James Maddison and Youri Tielemans have formed a formidable partnership in central midfield, Ayoze Perez and Caglar Soyuncu have transitioned seamlessly into the side and the fullbacks of Ricardo Pereira and Ben Chilwell have been vital in all aspects of the game. But none of their accomplishments would be made possible without Wilfred Ndidi, who Brendan Rodgers has essentially built this 4-1-4-1 formation around. Brendan Rodgers has been exceptional since joining Leicester and so have his players. Even though they sit third in the table right now, you can’t help but get the feeling that from here things can only go up for the Foxes.
Thanks for reading and see you soon!
You might also enjoy -> 4-3-3 vs. 4-1-4-1: Tactical Flexibility.