The first half of this EPL season saw Leicester City build their gameplay around a stunning attacking approach, but their defence is slowly coming out to the fore now. After a fourth 1-0 victory in five games against Crystal Palace on Saturday, here’s a look at Leicester’s tactics and what worked for them.
Leicester’s table domination during Christmas can be attributed to a record of 37 goals in 17 games. Jamie Vardy’s record-breaking scoring run had propelled them to unthinkable heights, but when the goals started drying up for the 29-year-old it was widely anticipated the magic would fade and the Foxes would start to slide.
Their defensive record did not offer any solace either. Leicester had conceded 24 times in those 17 games — the same number as relegation-threatened Swansea. Three months later, Premier League viewers have become accustomed to seeing them at the top — and the Foxes are just seven games away from making history with a title challenge that is rapidly gathering momentum.
Leicester remain a deadly force on the counter-attack. Despite the drop-off in goals scored, however, Leicester’s results have remained consistent, while their lead at the top of the table continues to grow.
A run of four shut-outs in five games has highlighted their defensive resilience in recent weeks, but the stinginess has been apparent for months. With help from midfielder N’Golo Kante, a first-choice back five of Kasper Schmeichel, Danny Simpson, Robert Huth, Wes Morgan and Christian Fuchs has only been breached seven times.
Having found defensive shut-outs so hard to come by at the start of the campaign, Leicester have now kept nine in their last 13 games. In the same period, no other Premier League side has managed more than seven. That in itself is a huge deal for the Foxes, who ought to be renamed the ‘Flying’ Foxes for their brilliant season.
Leicester have also had to adapt to their opponents’ attempts to nullify their goalscoring threat. The Foxes thrived in the first half of the season by ceding possession to their rivals, waiting for mistakes and springing forward on the counter-attack, but since their 2-1 defeat to Arsenal the likes of Norwich and West Brom have played them at their own game.
The Foxes have therefore averaged 53.4 per cent possession in the last five games compared to 40.5 per cent earlier in the season. The enforced change of approach has resulted in fewer opportunities for Ranieri’s attackers to get in behind, but their defensive solidity has made the difference at the other end.
Leicester are now within touching distance of one of the most extraordinary achievements in football history, and while Mahrez and Vardy are likely to battle it out for the player of the year gong, they are certainly not the only individuals who are due a considerable share of the credit.