How Leicester can avoid last season’s mistakes and secure Champions League football
With just under half of their Premier League games played, Leicester are well positioned in the race for European football.
Their start wasn’t as electric as it was last season – when they boasted an 11-point cushion over fifth place on Christmas Day – but the Foxes can still hold their heads high, in particular given the wave of injuries they have already faced. .
Although their first half of the campaign was the last time, after the holiday season and especially after the lockout, they were absolutely evil. The 11-point lead they accumulated was slowly reduced and Leicester finally gave up their Champions League spot on the last day of the season.
The foxes will be desperate to avoid a similar heartbreak this time around, but how exactly can they ensure that lightning doesn’t strike twice?
Before their festive double header against Manchester City and then Liverpool last season, Leicester had lost only twice in all competitions.
After being properly split 3-1 and 4-0 respectively, the Foxes have never looked like the same team. They have only won six of their remaining 19 Premier League games, with the humble results injuring several players on a personal level.
Young defenders Ben Chilwell and Caglar Soyuncu took a football lesson in both games and did not appear comfortable for the remainder of the campaign. Star artists Youri Tielemans and James Maddison also experienced a drop in shape afterwards.
This time around, the foxes are more experienced and should be better equipped to deal with any disappointing results when they arrive. Responding to these downturns will be key to the race for European qualification.
One of the things that killed Leicester in the second half of last season was not breaking up teams in the bottom half of the table.
Losses to Burnley and Norwich were mediocre, but back-to-back draws against Watford and Brighton were also detrimental. In both encounters Leicester have enjoyed almost 70% possession but carved out some valuable chances, registering just two shots on target in each game. This revealed one of the foxes’ fatal flows – their inability to break teams that use a low block.
This season they have shown some improvement in this regard, beating the Kings of this approach, Sean Dyche’s Clarets 4-2 in September, but the same issues arose in the losses to West Ham and Fulham.
With many more sides likely to employ this tactic against them, Rodgers needs his charges to have a similar level of penetration as they did against the Clarets for the remainder of the campaign.
An oft-overlooked fact about Leicester’s post-Christmas surrender last season is that they often created enough chances to win games – only to let themselves down with a savage finish.
In their penultimate game of the campaign against Tottenham, which they lost 3-0, the Foxes recorded an xG of 1.7 and allowed expected goals (xGA) of 0.5. It was one of eight occasions where Leicester underperformed their xG by 0.5 or more in the second half of the season.
Another issue was the horrific defensive mistakes that crept into their game over time. The most infamous example was Soyuncu’s brain dysfunction in his side’s 4-1 loss to Bournemouth, but there were plenty of other awkward mistakes along the way.
In order to improve this downtime, it will be essential to be clinical and limit their deviations in concentration at the rear.
As the 2019/2020 season drew to a close, Leicester were forced to face a string of top-level absences.
James Maddison, Ricardo Pereira and Ben Chilwell were all injured and Soyuncu was suspended. The Foxes have also had to deal with injury to Wilfred Ndidi during the winter months, a period in which they have failed to win any of their five Premier League games.
While they’ve handled their injury crisis well at the start of the season this time around, keeping their team fresh and shooting should be high on Rodgers’ list of priorities in the second half of the season. Unlike their top four rivals, Leicester’s squad depth is slim, so rotation and recovery will be vital in less important matches.