Claudio Ranieri was one of the most underwhelming appointment of all coaches who were appointed in the summer, so much so that he was not given a shout when teams’ prospects were being discussed. This has everything to do with his ‘underwhelming’ campaign at the helm of Chelsea, portrayed as the torch bearer of the incoming Russian money that was to change the face of English football forever. This supposed lack of achievement at Stamford Bridge consisted of Ranieri leading the club to their best ever Premier League finish (at the time) of runners-up and a campaign which lasted deep into the Champions League; indeed up to the semi-finals.
The ‘Tinker-man’ has not really been a failure as shouted in every street corner, but instead he has been somewhat of a journey man, with The Foxes being his sixteenth club. Described as a ruinous manager who leaves destruction in his wake is simply not true. If Mourinho does in fact have a ‘third season syndrome’, then Ranieri has a two year staccato virus in his immune system; the longest he has been at a club is four years, with this duration occurring at both Chelsea and Fiorentina.
He is not a revolutionary of the game like Arrigo Sacchi but neither is he a Harry Redknapp as painted in the media. His sides play functional football that works, no frills or edge of the seat stuff. The Italian’s teams down the years seem to have encouraged a relaxed approach – sit back, make a cuppa, read a novel, watch them score via a set piece and snatch a one goal margin win. That is why I have been nonplussed by the intensity of football that Leicester City have thrust upon us this season. Is it a case of the Nigel Pearson storm blowing over or is it isolated to the ‘Tinker-man’ effect?
Leicester city have averaged a measly 36% of ball possession so far and yet they sit 2nd in the league standings, ahead of teams like Manchester United and Arsenal who hog possession and seek to suffocate their opponents via death by football. They have scored eleven goals; a figure which equals Manchester City’s efforts and almost doubles The Red Devils’ tally. With their significant deficit in average possession, what exactly are Leicester City doing sandwiched between the two eminent clubs of the last five years?
Squawka suggest that up to this point, Leicester City have been involved in 48 defensive actions and they win an average of 49% of the duels they take part in. While I am not a statistics freak or a number cruncher at heart, the raw data tells us that they work extremely hard on the defensive side of their game. This in turn creates a launch pad for their wily front three of Riyad Mahrez, Shinji Okazaki and Jamie Vardy to wreak havoc, something which they have done with aplomb. Leicester’s attacking trio are quite possible the most hard-working front three in world football and defend from the front excellently. While they do not press as aggressively as Bayern Munich or Pep’s Catalan troops from a few years back, they employ a rather conservative attacking and middle third press, but in their defensive third it is rather fiery and the opposition is never allowed to settle on the ball. They disrupt many a club’s passing rhythm, meaning teams rarely actually reach The Foxes’ rather moderately talented rearguard. Ranieri has figured out exceptionally quickly how to accentuate the strengths of his modest team; namely by exploiting his forwards’ speed on the counter attack and their willingness to defend from the front, repelling attacks right from the doormat.
There are four categories of players at Leicester City. Firstly, they have Premier League veterans like Robert Huth, Danny Simpson and Marc Albrighton on their books – solid but unspectacular. The second category are the extremely wise purchases like Riyad Mahrez and N’golo Kante who will surely fetch an eye-watering amount at some point down the road but are still extremely capable of doing a job currently. Additionally, they have experienced foreign stars with solid careers behind them but were not needed at their top tier clubs any more, notably the excellent midfield general Gokhan Inler and Christian Fuchs who will surely take the club up a peg or two. The last category is the core squad that earned them promotion, including the likes of captain Wes Morgan, Jamie Vardy and Kasper Schmeichel. Claudio Ranieri has managed to get them functioning like a well-oiled machine and the sum of the parts are certainly greater than the whole. Leicester City’s men all play for each other, recognize each other’s strengths and cover them effectively.
It is a fact that the position Leicester City occupy currently is not a fluke as; since a certain point last season to the current standings, they have collected the most number of points in the league. Nigel Pearson set them up properly in the second half of the last campaign and since that point, they have been like a machine chugging along at a relentless rate, picking up points against all comers. The general feeling is that just like Southampton, they will drop off in the end and lose momentum. While they are certain to go through a tough period, what Leicester City have demonstrated so far is that there many different ways to win football matches and they are doing it admirably. Watching them break forward with such speed and purpose is a beautiful on the eye and in my view, their possession statistics are surely not be a true reflection on just how fascinating the KP Stadium outfit have become.
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