The mention of Leicester City FC indubitably brings vivid memories to mind. Particularly those of the 2015-16 Premier League season. A fairytale run for the Foxes who played their hearts out throughout the season, creating a rainbow and finding the fabled pot of gold at its end as they lifted the coveted league trophy in what went down as one of the greatest sporting stories in history. It is but natural that after defying 5000-1 odds and accomplishing a feat of such magnitude, there remains little scope for further ascension.
In the seasons that followed, Leicester were a shadow of their former selves finishing 12th in 2017 and 9th in the two campaigns after that. This sadly meant that their image of being among the best teams in the league was rapidly diminishing. Until now…
Brendan ‘Revelation’ Rodgers
The appointment of Brendan Rodgers in February of 2019 has sparked new life into the Foxes. The former Liverpool boss replaced Claude Puel after Leicester endured a low point too many. They finished 9th at the end of the campaign after Rodgers took over and headed into the summer with their new coach at the helm. And boy have they turned it around.
At the time of writing, Leicester are sitting second in the Premier League table, a point clear of reigning champions Manchester City. Their run so far has been remarkable owing to many reasons – a wonderful gelling between the squad, smart transfers, and immense tactical improvements; in particular, a pristine new defensive system being some of them. During his Liverpool tenure, the most notable weak links in Brendan Rodgers’ game were his team’s defensive struggles which were a huge reason for the 2014 Premier League title slipping from their hands. However, these struggles have largely been exterminated so far this season, which finally brings us to the man this piece concerns: One Mr. Caglar Söyüncü.
The Making of Caglar Söyüncü: The Tough Turk
Born in Izmir, Turkey on 23rd May 1996, Caglar Söyüncü developed a keen interest in football from a very early age. In the metropolitan city of Izmir, education was not just about the study of ancient antiques and other remains of wars from the Roman and Ottoman empires. Caglar’s childhood hobby blossomed into a passionate desire to play football professionally, a dream supported whole-heartedly by his parents Mr. and Mrs. Ömer Söyüncü.
Caglar was enrolled into the local Menemen Belediyespor academy where funnily enough, he would be deployed as a striker. Not too surprising given every kid who aspires to be a footballer wants to score goals. After 6 years with Menemen Belediyespor, he had a successful trial with local club Bucaspor and began playing in the regional football league of Izmir. Here is where he eventually dropped back to midfield and then to center-back where his talents were best suited and would be utilized henceforth.
After playing in the Turkish amateur leagues and graduating from the Gümüsorduspor academy, he was signed into the senior team of Altinordu, playing in the Turkish second division.
Strength to Strength
In July 2016, Söyüncü signed for SC Freiburg who had just been promoted to the Bundesliga. It was a big step up for the young Turk but he felt it was the optimal choice for his footballing future.
At Freiburg, he showcased his aggressive and no-nonsense defensive style. Aside from his long wavy hair and stern facial expression, his approach to defending also bears somewhat of a resemblance to a certain Carles Puyol. He became a prominent figure in the Freiburg backline and swiftly turned heads after being called up to the Turkish national team. His rise to prominence quickly caught the attention of clubs like Manchester City, Roma, Arsenal, and Leicester among others. In August 2018, Leicester finally managed to bring him to the King Power Stadium and both parties have not looked back since.
More Than Just a Maguire Replacement
Harry Maguire, who enjoyed a great summer at the 2018 World Cup in Russia was naturally an undisputed starter for the Foxes throughout the 18-19 season. This meant Söyüncü would have very limited game time in his first season in the Premier League, making just 6 appearances for the club.
However, after Harry Maguire left for Manchester United, becoming football’s most expensive defender, Brendan Rodgers decided to put his faith in the Turk. Even though he could have easily taken the 80 or so million pounds to the market for a big-name center back, Rodgers incorporated Caglar into the team. A show of faith that has been richly rewarded.
In fact, Söyüncü so far has statistically outperformed his English counterpart, playing a key role in Leicester boasting the second-best defensive record in the league. Based on per 90 data available from the first 11 matchweeks, Söyüncü has conceded 0.73 goals per game compared to Maguire’s 1. He has also won more tackles per game (1.8 :0.36), completed more interceptions (1.6 : 1.5) and made more clearances (5.5 : 4.1). Neither of the two can be called error-prone but Söyüncü definitely has more to improve in that regard since he is more of a risk-taker in possession. But it is worth noting that despite being three years younger than Maguire, he has shown an impressive amount of maturity.
Mentally Aware and Tactically Astute
Söyüncü is very agile for a center half, reads the game very well, is adept at 1v1s, possesses great strength and is a terrific aerially. His aggressive style became very apparent at Freiburg where he was a core part of the German side’s back 3 in the 2017-18 season. He also showed his versatility as he was able to slot into the right or left side of the back three, thus playing a covering role due to his speed. Take a look at the images below:
Söyüncü slotting in at the left of the back 3
Söyüncü makes a recovering sprint at the right side of the back 3
Here the big Turk is moving with the attacker on the right of the back 3
And once again in the above picture we see how he can stay on the right of the back three to track the opposition attacker’s movements. He can thus stay poised to intercept the entry pass and proceed to carry the ball out of trouble, draw a foul or clear.
These attributes allowed Christian Streich to play a relatively high line and now Brendan Rodgers can also reap similar benefits.
2 Pillars of Leicester’s New Charge
Alongside the experienced Johnny Evans, Söyüncü has been a rock at the back for Leicester. The Turk and Northern Irishman have formed a remarkable partnership, with two game styles that complement one another very well. Söyüncü’s aggression and willingness to defend 1v1s and sweep up balls in behind allows Evans to drop off and position himself to cut out attacks pre-emptively and organize the rest of the backline. The senior defender holds Söyüncü in really high regard hailing him as a key part of the club going forward.
“He is the future of this club without a doubt” – Evans proclaimed one year ago after a Carabao Cup game against Southampton when the pair played together for the first time.
Arsenal legend Martin Keown also had high praise for the young Turk:
“(Söyüncü) Is a defender made for the modern game. The more I see of him, the more I like him. Whatever situation he’s in, he never really looks troubled to me.”
His impact on this Leicester team has been genuinely stellar amidst a plethora of other top performers in the team. Caglar Söyüncü is now an integral part of Rodgers’ men and their charge to secure Champions League qualification. If they do so, the Foxes will once again establish themselves among the most formidable forces in the English top-flight. As for Söyüncü, if he keeps this form up and Leicester have a successful season, a few giants of the game might just come-a-knocking.
Written by Aaryan Parasnis
El Arte Del Futbol is an official content creator for OneFootball. Find more Original Features, Player Profiles and Tactical Analysis’ on www.elartedf.com. If you are reading this on our website, we’d like to thank you for your continuous support! Follow us on twitter to stay updated with all the latest content.