Craig Shakespeare’s Leicester rediscover the counter-attacking skills Claudio Ranieri used to win Prem last term
SunSport's Analyst Danny Higginbotham says Foxes are sitting deeper, so Danny Drinkwater and Jamie Vardy can thrive again
CRAIG SHAKESPEARE has returned Leicester to what made them a success last season: Playing a game of patience.
There was a lot of talk during their horror run that the champs had been found out. Rivals had a plan to counter the side that won the league last season.
And that explained why they were struggling to repeat their title-winning heroics.
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That’s not true. It’s much simpler, as has been proven by the fact Shakespeare has won all five league games in charge since taking over from Claudio Ranieri.
Ranieri had lost sight of what made Leicester successful.
What worked for the Foxes last season was sitting deep and playing on the counter-attack.
They were happy to let their opponents have the ball.
People say Leicester scored against the run of play last season. Not so. It was planned. They were content to play that way.
Look at their average position map against Manchester United in February when they lost 3-0.
United would be the ideal opponents to sit deep against.
But Leicester were really high up the pitch, as you can see from the positions of Robert Huth (No 6) and Wes Morgan (No 5) on pitch map A.
The two centre-halves set the tone for the team and there was a domino effect, meaning the midfield was higher up and, in turn, so was Jamie Vardy (No 9).
This limits the space the striker can run into — which is his main strength.
One reason Huth and Morgan may have moved up is a lack of understanding with holding midfielder, No 25 Onyinye Ndidi, over who is picking up the opposition No 10.
But the higher Leicester line meant United got in behind Huth and Morgan, leaving the centre-halves in a foot race with the forwards. There was only going to be one winner there as the Foxes duo lack pace.
United Leicestered Leicester.
Now look at pitch map B from Tuesday when they beat Sunderland 2-0. The back four is so much deeper and it is centre-halves Huth and Yohan Benalouane (No 29) setting the tone.
And given they were playing the rock-bottom team, you might have expected them to be higher — or they would have been if they had been playing the Ranieri way from this season.
I get the feeling Shakespeare has simply said: “Listen lads, just drop ten yards deeper.”
It may also come down to a better understanding with Ndidi that has developed over time.
But it is mainly the team’s starting position. They are so deep there is no space behind and if the ball goes over the top, Kasper Schmeichel can get it.
The knock-on effect is that the midfield drops and Vardy drops — as you can see — meaning he has space to run into, to chase Danny Drinkwater’s lofted passes.
It is back to basics. Giving up the ball and playing to their strengths.
In Shakespeare’s five Prem games, Leicester have had more possession than their rivals once.
They had 54 per cent against Sunderland but 48 versus Stoke, 41 versus West Ham, 49 against Hull and 30 in their Liverpool clash. In that time they have won five, conceded four and scored 13.
Against United they only had 32 per cent of the ball. That is OK if you sit in but, if you play high, it is asking for trouble.
Leicester sat deep against Sevilla in the Champions League and it worked. They will do more of the same against Atletico Madrid next week.
Why Ranieri didn’t see it I don’t know. Did he want to make them more progressive? Was it pride? Maybe. But it clearly wasn’t working.
His best result this season was a 4-2 win over Manchester City in December. They had 22 per cent possession and sat deep. It was a glimpse of the old Leicester.
The Foxes are a match for anyone if they play their way: let the opposition come on, be patient and pick them off.
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