Following the return to the 2019/20 season under Project Restart, Chelsea Football Club have started with 2-1 wins against both Aston Villa and Manchester City.
Now they turn their attention to the FA Cup Quarter Finals, where they’ll be taking on Leicester City at the King Power Stadium. Both sides have drawn home and away when they faced each other in the Premier League: a 1-1 draw at during the home fixture on Matchday 2 and a 2-2 draw during the away fixture on Matchday 25. A win for the Blues would allow them to progress to the FA Cup Semi-Finals and could edge them closer to silverware this season.
So, what should we expect from the Foxes tomorrow?
Let’s start of by looking at Leicester’s style of play under Brendan Rodgers and their key players, before making a prediction on their line-up and the game.
LEICESTER CITY UNDER BRENDAN RODGERS
Brendan Rodgers was appointed as Leicester City manager in February 2019 after the club sacked Claude Puel. Since his arrival, he’s regularly included academy graduates Ben Chilwell and Harvey Barnes. He’s also really been able to get the best out of players who struggled at other clubs, such as Jonny Evans (Man United and West Brom) and Ayoze Pérez (Newcastle), and those who struggled at Leicester under Claude Puel, such as Kasper Schmeichel, Wilfred Ndidi, Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho.
But how exactly has he set up a side that has performed beyond expectations?
STYLE OF PLAY
Rodgers’ default formation is the 4-1-4-1 formation, but at times you’ll see him play a 4-4-2 formation to offer a plan B. He’s always played a high-pressing, possession-based style of play throughout his career. Whenever he uses his default formation: Leicester’s goalkeeper plays as a sweeper keeper; both centre-backs have great ball-playing abilities; both full-backs are able to push up and sit back; the holding midfielder helps out the back line; both central midfielders play as free 8s, meaning attacking playmakers; both wingers play in wide positions; and the striker can play as either a pressing forward or a poacher.
In attack, they start from playing the ball out from the back and follow a basic build-up play: passing it quickly through the opposition until the ball reaches the final third. This build-up play is important because they want to make sure that the opposition doesn’t have time to be composed defensively. They use both their full-backs and central midfielders to complete passes into the final third, and mostly build-up the play down the left flank before entering the final third doing the right flank. Once they reach the final third, the shape turns into either a 3-2-5 or 2-3-5, where most of the time the five forwards will be: “left-back, left-winger, striker, central midfielder, right-winger”. What’s interesting to note is that not only does one of the central midfielders go into more advanced positions to create the link-up play between the defence and the attack (while the other sits back to help with the build-up play) one of the full-backs pushes up to occupy the wide positions while the other sits back and stays alongside either the two centre-backs or two central midfielders.
They have many ways to create goalscoring opportunities: either they continue to use quick passes between the wide players and inside forwards until the opposition can’t keep up, at which point they’ll use one-twos and underlaps to get into the box; either they force one of the opposition full-backs to cover the wide player, creating a gap in the defensive line and space to exploit; either they have a wide player deliver crosses into the box, and have the striker or one of the multiple runners come in from midfield and attempt to get on the end of the cross; or either they use the creative players, who have the vision and the ability to create difficult passes, to deliver the ball into the box. Rodgers also likes to implement set-piece plays, by attempting to drag the opposition players towards the ball before delivering it to an unmarked player, and this is why the team needs to be quick and agile.
In defence, the team shapes up into a 4-3-2-1, where the central midfielders push up into the forward areas, the wingers drop back into more central positions to sweep the ball when a forward run is made, and the defence play a high line. The team performs a man-oriented press to try and win the ball back: instead of having multiple players press the ball carrier, only one player will mark him, while the rest cover the ball carrier’s teammates to prevent passing options. This puts Leicester in a good position to win the ball back, even if the opposition is passing through them, because it forces the opposition to play in small spaces inside the press, and if they aren’t used to that then they’ll struggle to get out of it with the ball. If the opposition can’t get through the press, they’ll generally recycle the ball, before playing long balls when a run from the forward is made. If that happens, Leicester’s goalkeeper will come off the line and sweep up the danger. However, If the opposition manages to bypass the press and get into Leicester City’s half, then they will drop into a 5-4-1 defensive shape, with their holding midfielder dropping into the centre-back position and given free-license to track late runs and any other movement that can break the backline.
In short, Rodgers’ player roles show that his side is a hybrid of both Liverpool and Manchester City, but he implements the tactics differently. He has a talented squad that are flourishing under his attacking football, especially for a club that aren’t known for splashing huge amounts of cash.
But to make the tactics work, you need players you can trust to deliver it, so that’s what we’ll be diving into next.
The first key player is Ben Chilwell, a player that has been consistently linked with Chelsea over the course of this season. Honestly, I’m better off alluding to most of what I wrote in my “Chelsea 2020-21 Part 1” article, because that analysis sums up how important he is for the Foxes.
The Leicester City Youth Academy product joined the First Team in the summer of 2015. The 23-year-old is not as fast as some other full-backs but he’s consistently effective in all areas of the left flank. He’s known for being able to deliver penetrative passes (per game, 46.8 average passes at a 72.3% accuracy last season, 61.6 at a 78.5% accuracy this season; 1.2/4.8 accurate long balls last season, 1.9/5.9 this season; 1.1/4.1 accurate chipped passes last season, 1.9/5.6 this season) and to delay the counter-attacks by forcing the opposition player wide and cutting his forward passing lanes (in the Premier League per game, 1.1 interceptions and 3.6 clearances last season, 1.1 interceptions and 2.0 clearances this season; 7.2/13.1 total duels won last season and 5.6/11 this season), so that the midfielders can come back to cover. He also likes to go forward and send in crosses (per game, 0.6/3.5 crosses completed last season and 0.7/3.7 this season) from open play or dead ball situations, and should the opportunity arise he’ll look to create a goalscoring opportunity (0 goals and 4 assists last season, 3 goals and 3 assists this season; 0.6 shots per game and 1.3 key passes last season, 0.6 shots and 1.2 key passes this season). In short, the Englishman is an impressive full-back with amazing potential. He’s definitely a player who top European clubs would be looking at, but with latest reports suggesting Leicester have set a £75-80m price tag, it’s clear that they consider him a key player in their squad and want to keep him if they can.
Next up is Wilfred Ndidi. Same thing for Ben Chilwell, I’m better off alluding to most of what I wrote in my “Chelsea 2020-21 Part 2” article. The former Nath Boys Youth Academy product joined KRC Genk for £162k in January 2015, before joining Leicester City two years later for £15.8m (January 2017). Bar injuries and suspensions the 23-year-old has featured in almost all Premier League games for the Foxes. By playing in a holding midfield role in a 4-1-4-1 formation, he has offered what Brendan Rodgers requires of him: he can spot the danger early on and react fast by marking the player or blocking the passing lanes; with the full-backs supporting the attack he covers the flanks to prevent dangerous counter-attacks; he has the strength to win the ball back in one-on-one situations (In the Premier League per game, 2.2 interceptions and 2.1 clearances last season, 2.7 interceptions and 2.2 clearances this season; 8.6/15.1 total duels won last season, 7.9/14.4 this season) and the passing ability to create a counter-attack (per game, 52.2 average passes at a 79.9% accuracy last season, 51.2 at an 84.0% accuracy this season; 2.4/4.6 accurate long balls last season, 2.6/4.3 this season; 2.1/4.0 accurate chipped passes last season, 1.8/3.1 this season). When Ndidi was injured this season, Rodgers used his backup options (Choudhury and Mendy), but neither managed to perform as well. It’s clear that Ndidi’s presence creates a lack of risk when Leicester go on the defence or offence. In short, the Nigerian has the potential to be a world-class holding midfielder. There’s no doubt in my mind that he should be on the radar of elite clubs like Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid, as well as on the transfer shortlist of Chelsea’s Frank Lampard.
Finally, there’s Jamie Vardy. The former Sheffield Wednesday Youth Academy product joined Stockbridge Youth Academy product on a free transfer in July 2003. He moved into the First Team in the summer of 2007 before joining FC Halifax Town three years later for £16k (July 2010). A year later, he joined Fleetwood Town for £155k (August 2011), before joining Leicester City the following year for £1.1m (July 2012). Bar injuries and suspensions, the 33-year-old has regularly featured in all Premier League matches for the Foxes. By playing as a lone striker in a 4-1-4-1 formation, he’s been given license to remain in central positions and stay high up the pitch to finish goalscoring chances (18 goals and 4 assists last season, 19 goals and 4 assists this season; 0.59 goals and 0.13 assists per 90 last season, 0.71 goals and 0.15 assists this season; 0.56 xG and 0.14 xA per 90 last season, 0.54 xG and 0.14 xA this season; 2.2 shots and 0.9 key passes per game last season, 2.4 shots and 0.8 key passes this season; 2.1 shots taken inside the box per game last season, 2.1 this season) that originate from the team’s build-up play, which explains why he’s barely involved in it, whether it’s through his passing (per game, 12.2 average passes at a 65.6% accuracy last season, 12 at a 69.4% accuracy this season; 0.2/0.3 accurate long balls last season, 0.1/0.2 this season; 0.4/1.1 accurate chipped passes last season, 0.2/0.4 this season) or crossing (per game, 0.2/1.0 crosses completed last season, 0.1/0.6 this season).
It’s clear that he takes very few touches and barely takes from outside the box, and this confidence provided by Rodgers is down to: his effectiveness in front of goal and his intelligence in terms of positioning and body shape, both of which have been developed by playing through years of defensive styles; the deliveries from his creative teammates, who send the ball in front of him, rather than behind as it forces him to come short. What’s quite surprising is how a player of his age, who relies heavily on speed to get past opposition defenders (per game, 0.4/1.1 successful dribbles last season, 0.6/1.4 this season), doesn’t seem to have reached his peak yet. Perhaps his international retirement in 2018, giving him time to recover during the International Break, could be a key factor being this. In short, the Englishman is a striker in form, in his prime and is the focal point of the Foxes. He uses his pace to run in behind opponents and only focuses on convert chances. That’s why he’s such a key player.
I know I could have included Ricardo Pereira instead of Ben Chilwell, but because he’s been ruled out for potentially the rest of the season, I didn’t see any point in listing him in this segment.
Now it’s time to wrap it up with my predictions for tomorrow.
Leicester City have drawn their last two games, with a 1-1 draw against Watford and a 0-0 draw against Brighton. They’ve got to do better if they hope to go to the FA Cup Semi-Finals.
Team wise, Ricardo Pereira (knee injury) and Daniel Amartey (ankle injury) have been ruled out.
I fully expect the Foxes to play their strongest available squad, because this competition is their only chance to win silverware and they’ll be facing one of the Top Six sides:
As stated at the start, both sides have drawn in both Premier League games, but a draw inside regular time of the FA Cup leads to extra-time, then penalties. Because of that, I believe the game will go to extra-time and the Blues will come out on top.
And that concludes my Leicester City scouting report! If you’ve enjoyed it, don’t forget to like and share this article!
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[All statistics were used from WhoScored, SofaScore and FBref]