5000 to 1. These were the odds that were being offered by online bookies for Leicester City lifting the Premier League trophy back in 2016. Very few people expected Leicester to even avoid the drop, given their heroics in the previous season. The Leicester City squad, however, had not read the script. They accomplished the unthinkable. Against all odds, they were crowned champions of England for the first time in their history. Leading the team from the helm, Claudio Ranieri was the architect behind that project. It will be a tale told for years to come. Generations of football fans will remember the year when Jamie Vardy and company came out on top over much more expensively-assembled teams with their grit and determination.
Jumping to the present, the scenario is not far from the same. it will in no way be an exaggeration to say that Leicester City are flying right now in the Premier League. Leicester City, under Brendan Rodgers, have set the cat amongst the pigeons. Nobody would have thought they would be in the position they are in right now. They have shocked every expert and fan alike, giving the historically top teams a run for money. Currently sitting in second place, they are clear of champions Manchester City by 4 points. They have emerged as a consistent side able to churn out wins. The rate they are going at, they will surpass the 81 points they achieved in their title-winning season. The competition, this time around, has increased so they will have their work cut out.
Although both versions of the team have been impressive, the current squad represents a stark contrast to the team that shocked the world. There are marked differences in style and method.
Their attacking verve this season has left the best of defences reeling. They have the best goal difference in the country, owing to an impressive 2.35 goals scored per game. Their forward line boasts of the otherworldly talent in Vardy, who seems to have not aged at all. He is the Premier League’s top scorer and the set up at the club seems to have a lot to do with it. The team is set up around him, the full-backs pushing up high and getting into advanced positions to cross it into the box. Ben Chilwell has been arguably the best full-back in the country, what with putting in solid defensive performances to go along with his natural attacking ability. His England call-up is proof enough.
Brendan Rodgers sets up this Leicester side to go out and express themselves on the front foot. The Leicester players always have their foot on the accelerator pedal and seem to be relentless in attack. Their 9-0 victory over Southampton is an example of this attacking mindset. The Leicester team of 2015/16 was chalk and cheese compared to this one. This team like having the ball and exude the confidence of a top team. The 2015 Leicester liked to sit back and absorb pressure before hitting the opponents on the counter. They kept 15 clean sheets and conceded the second-least amount of goals in the top division.
The current Leicester team also have the best defensive record of any team in the division. The centre-back pairing of Söyüncü and Evans has been a revelation. After selling Harry Maguire for a record deal in the summer, the Leicester hierarchy made the perfect move by bringing in Caglar Söyüncü who has fit in at the back and made that position his own. They compliment each other very well and have developed a certain chemistry. While Evans likes to stay back and block, Soyuncu is the aggressor.
They have a very different MO to set up compared to the more conservative centre-back partnership of Huth and Morgan. Both of them used to act like sweepers, resisting the urge to come out and attack the opposition’s midfield. Their responsibilities were different. They were not asked to play out from the back and nor were they particularly adept at it. They used their physical prowess to eke out threats in the box. Their set up help them do this. On the other hand, the current centre-backs love passing in between the midfield lines to the likes of Maddison and Tielemans, who progress the ball further upfield.
The midfield in the 2015/16 season consisted of 4 players breaking up play and getting it to the wingers, who operated from the outside. The creative force came from Riyad Mahrez, who would work in between the lines and drop off Vardy to make incisive passes into him. They were quick on the counter, with Vardy holding up the ball and bringing others like Albrighton, Okazaki and Andy King into the game.
The defensive midfield partnership of Kante and Drinkwater is legendary now. Kante ran the show, often putting in the work of two players and covering holes in the defence. They lost only 3 games the whole season due to their astute game management. Conserving their energy through it was a major factor in helping them get over the line, especially in the second half of the season. Their midfield now consists of Ndidi, Tielemans and Maddison who operate in a 3 man midfield rather than a 4, which was what they employed in 2015.
Maddison plays as an advanced 8, pulling the strings, finding space and making the key passes, of which he has the most in the Premier League. Ndidi is the lone defensive midfielder, who plugs the holes left by the rampaging fullbacks. Tielemans has proven to be another gem of an investment, playing as the traditional number 8, rarely missing out on any action in both the penalty boxes.
The 2015 team was legendary. The 2019 one is more efficient, unrestrained and better to watch. Slowly but surely, there is a structure building at Leicester to establish themselves as a football powerhouse in the years to come.
Written by Srivaths Parasuraman
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