Why Leicester should bring Okazaki into the team over festive fixtures

Why Leicester should bring Okazaki into the team over festive fixtures

Leicester City face Manchester United in one of four games between now and the first of the year in all competitions with the foxes looking to put their League Cup exit at the hands of Manchester City behind them and build on their current position of 8th in the Premier League. With so many fixtures being played, squad rotation has become vital for every manager looking to keep their squad fit and fresh – One man that has been part of this rotation at Leicester City is Japanese forward Shinji Okazaki. Despite starting the loss to Manchester City midweek, Okazaki could prove to come in handy if given the same chance in the coming weeks.

Under Claude Puel, Leicester have typically lined up with a 4-4-1-1 formation which served them well in the beginning as they picked up 17 points out of a possible 24 heading into last weekends game against Crystal Palace. The foxes were defeated 3-0 in a game which also saw Wilfried Ndidi sent off, as signs of tiredness began to show in the squad. The creative No 10 role has been given to Riyad Mahrez who has performed well in that period, however even before Ndidi received his marching orders the midfield was getting dominated and found it hard to cope with the pace of Crystal Palace on the counter-attack. On this day Mahrez was off form and as a result, Jamie Vardy was left isolated and did not see much of the ball that game.

This is the downside to the 4-4-1-1 formation – if your creative midfielder has an off day or a low work-rate your central midfielders and defenders take even more strain once the ball is lost, especially in the middle of the field which happened often against Crystal Palace. For the busy fixtures ahead, Claude Puel should seriously consider bringing in Shinji Okazaki and revert back to a 4-4-2 formation. One of the advantages of this formation is that the defence/midfield do not need to delay getting the ball upfield as they have a striker in two different channels of the pitch, enabling them to lob a ball in behind the defence for either striker to chase, as opposed to trying to force a pass to Riyad Mahrez who was being man marked by both of Palace’s central midfielders or hitting a hopeless pass and asking Jamie Vardy to create something out of nothing on every occasion.

The other advantage of this formation is the increased pressure that will be applied on the opposition back-line as the two strikers shift to their respective sides when the opposition are knocking the ball around in their half of the pitch. This added pressure will result in panic and forcing the opposition to make mistakes, making it easier for the foxes to win the ball back and regroup or hit back straight away on the counter. Leicester have two of the most hardworking forwards in the league in Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki – which is why they will suit this formation so well. One trait that both strikers have, although admittedly Okazaki does it more than Vardy, is drop back and help his side regain the ball. This is usually achieved by one striker dropping to follow one of the opposition midfielders in possession and force a mistake whilst the other stays on the shoulder of the defenders looking for the through ball to latch onto and go to goal.

Okazaki has good stats so far this season as he has featured 15 times this season and scored 6 goals whilst averaging a shot accuracy of 76%, which shows that when given a chance on goal he is dangerous. Testament to his trait of dropping back and helping the midfielders, he has won 12 tackles and 13 headed duels so far this season as he is always looking to help his side get back in possession.

Given how the rest of the squad is well balanced and Puel having many options at his disposal, a small change like this could be quite effective for Leicester City in their quest to finish as high up the table as possible come the end of the season.