Brendan Rodgers' Tactical Tinkering Has Helped Leicester Make Great Premier League Start

04 November 2020 05:30

At the time of time of writing Brendan Rodgers' Leicester City sit second in the Premier League table having recently secured away wins over Manchester City, Arsenal and most recently, Leeds United.

Even under normal circumstances, these feats would warrant the Northern Irishman being lavished with praise. However, these are not normal circumstances - making the Foxes incredible start to the campaign nothing short of miraculous.

Ever since their opening day win against West Brom - when Wilfred Ndidi was forced to fill in at centre-back - Leicester have been hit with wave after wave of injuries. During their stunning 4-1 win over Leeds on Monday night, no less than six first team players were missing.

Jamie Vardy scored in Leicester's 4-1 win over Leeds recently | Michael Regan/Getty Images

Daniel Amartey, Timothy Castagne, Jonny Evans, Ricardo Pereira, Caglar Soyuncu and the aforementioned Ndidi were all unavailable against the Whites, while James Maddison and Jamie Vardy have both experienced time on the sidelines previously this term.

These fitness problems have thrown up countless selection dilemmas and Rodgers has consistently played his hand very well, even with the spectre of Thursday night Europa League games looming over the King Power Stadium. A few eyebrows were raised when he brought Amartey back from the wilderness to play against City, likewise when Christian Fuchs was fielded at centre-back against Leeds, but both players rose to the challenge brilliantly.

These personnel problems have also made Rodgers raise his game tactically. During his Swansea and Liverpool days, the 47-year-old's lack of pragmatism was often his undoing. Fervently devoted to his free flowing style of play, his side's held onto possession but often failed to make this dominance pay.

There were undoubted tactical missteps last season as well, but Rodgers deserves real credit for the subtle tinkering that has facilitated Leicester's exemplary away record.

Against City, Arsenal and Leeds, Leicester have lined up in a nominal 3-4-3 which has mutated into a 5-4-1 out of possession. Last season, the Foxes sought to dominate possession - even during many tough away fixtures. This time around, they have been content to soak up pressure, safe in the knowledge that Barnes and Vardy offer them sufficient threat on the counter.

While Leicester began to look bereft of ideas towards the end of last season, recently they have been clinical in transition. They outscored their xG by 2.4 against City, by 2.6 at Burnley and also outperformed their expected goals against West Brom and Leeds.

In most cases, this has been down to their lethal counter attacking which has become more refined from last season. During their spectacular 5-2 win over Pep Guardiola's Citizens, they averaged 28% possession, compared to 38% in the same fixture during the 2019/2020 campaign - a game they lost 3-1.

This trend was echoed against Mikel Arteta's Arsenal side. Leicester had just 43% possession during their 1-0 smash and grab win, a huge decrease from the 61% they enjoyed in the same fixture back in July.

Mikel Arteta complained about Rodgers' negative tactics after his Arsenal side were bested by the Foxes | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Leeds was the same with the Foxes recording 33%. This would have been their joint lowest possession last season and it came against a newly promoted side - perhaps the most stark evidence of Rodgers' new found willingness to surrender the ball to the opposition.

Although this new tactical system has been key in Leicester's excellent start to the season, the surprisingly good performances from some of the Foxes' squad players has also been important.

None more so than Nampalys Mendy, the once forgotten defensive midfielder that has thrived during these tricky away encounters. Averaging a stunning 91.1% pass completion rate to start the season, he may not be as combative as the sorely missed Ndidi but his neat and tidy play in front of the defence has added calmness to the Leicester side.

Mendy's compatriot Wesley Fofana has also impressed, being named in90min's Team of the Month for October. Purchased for a hefty fee just before the transfer window slammed shut, it was expected that the 19-year-old would be slowly eased into the first team.