It has been almost four years since Leicester City defied all odds and shocked football fans all around the world. In the 2015/16 Premier League season, they finished at the top of the table winning the league by 10 points. Prior to this, they knocked out Sevilla in the last 16 of the Champions League, succeeding to the quarter-finals and narrowly losing to Atlético Madrid. This tactical analysis will discuss the changes in their statistics and what influenced these improvements towards the end of the season.
After all the success, it finally ended for Leicester as they finished 12th in the league the following year. The last three seasons they have been finishing in and around mid-table. Meanwhile, they are currently placed ninth in the league this season and have shown improvement from previous season’s standings.
Statistics show that towards the end of the 2018/19 season, many parts of Leicester’s game have been improved. A recent increase in possession duration and an increase in their average goal scoring rate has been achieved respectively.
The increase in average possession duration for Leicester City
From Leicester’s last 14 matches to now, their average possession duration has increased massively. They have ended many of their games with more possession than the opposition since then. Near the start of the season, they kept possession for an average of 7.84 seconds and were ranked 16th for the longest duration of possession. They are now ranked fifth and their average duration in possession has increased to 11.9 seconds which is a massive improvement. So what has influenced this change and how has it benefited them?
The appointment of Brendan Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers was appointed in March replacing Claude Puel and we have already seen a change in their style of play. One of Rodgers’s main attributes is his tactical flexibility, having set up different formations for Swansea, Liverpool and recently Celtic. He adapts the formation to his player’s strengths and has mainly set his new side up in the 4-1-4-1 formation since arriving at the King Power Stadium.
Since the change in Leicester’s possession duration, they have been using the 4-1-4-1 formation most frequently at 44% of the time. They had been using the 4-2-3-1 52% of the time and the 4-1-4-1 only 5% of the time previously. This tells us that the new formation has played a key role in maintaining possession for longer periods of time.
This formation is well balanced and creates effective opportunities for a counter attack. In Leicester City’s most recent game, the 4-1-4-1 was used to be creative in the final third with James Maddison and Youri Tielemans playing as the two attacking midfielders whilst Wilfried Ndidi played a deeper role in defensive midfield. The two wingers, Marc Albrighton and Demarai Gray made runs in behind the West Ham defence. This dragged the opposing full-backs out of position, leaving more space to play through the middle.
When space was left in West Ham’s defence, Leicester was effective at creating goalscoring opportunities using through balls from the midfield to either the wingers or the lone striker, Jamie Vardy. One of the attacking midfielders played in between the lines, resulting in a through ball to a forward or a shot at goal when receiving the ball.
Leicester in possession
This increase in possession duration improved when Youri Tielemans and Harvey Barnes were starting in the team more regularly. Before the increase occurred, Tielemans had not played any minutes and Barnes had only played 9.4% of available minutes. Both players now play an average of 84.4% and 83.3% of available minutes. This tells us that these two midfielders have made a big impact on maintaining possession for longer for The Foxes. Tielemans has an average pass accuracy rate of 86% per game. In his last outing, he ended the with a 96% pass accuracy rate. Having this passing ability is an important factor in keeping possession for a period of time.
With the two new midfielders playing more regularly each game, two players had to lose a spot in the starting line up. Marc Albrighton had played 76.3% of available minutes and Nampalys Mendy played an average of 94% respectively. The two midfielders’ game time has decreased dramatically since the change. Albrighton has now dropped to 7.5% and Mendy has decreased to 17.4%. This tells us that Tielemans and Barnes are more suited to a possession-based system under new manager Brendan Rodgers as they have been influential on the increase of possession duration.
With five midfielders in their new formation, there is always a passing option which makes it easier to keep possession of the ball. The two wingers often play narrower when maintaining possession of the ball to act as an extra short passing option. When on the counter-attack, the wingers push back out wide to get in behind the defence.
Leicester back to goal-scoring ways
From Leicester’s last 19 games, they have increased their goal scoring rate and have an xG (expected goals) of 1.37. In their previous six matches, they have scored at a rate of 2.17 goals per match and are scoring at a higher rate than Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United did last season. The graph below shows there xG in a recent game against Huddersfield.
Leicester have one of the best full back partnerships this season in Ben Chillwell and Ricardo Pereira. They have great physical and technical ability and show solidity in both defending and attacking. Their ability to get forward and make overlapping runs on the flanks is excellent. Therefore the opposition can find it difficult to defend against the power and pace from the pairing. The image below shows Pereira getting forward and dribbling past three players to get into a crossing position. Many of there goals have come from the flanks due to the attacking full-backs. It is clear that this has played a part in the increase in Leicester’s goal scoring rate.
Most of Leicester’s attacks have come from the right-hand side of the pitch. This is due to Pereira’s attacking ability in which he plays very high up the pitch alongside Demarai Gray. The image below shows a map which highlights where most attacks come from throughout the game.
As analysed above, Leicester has improved in different areas of their game from the start of the season to present. The new manager in Brendan Rodgers has definitely been an influence on this. Furthermore, new players have been playing more often and a new formation has been introduced. An improvement of their possession duration and chances at goal is a great way to end the season. If they start next season the way they have finished this season, they could certainly become the best team outside of the top six. Looking for a return to glory, we could possibly see a push for a Europa League spot next season.