Ahead of Leicester vs Spurs in the Premier League we look at the strengths and weaknesses of Craig Shakespeare’s team.
Craig Shakespeare has turned the Foxes fortunes around. Heading for relegation, Leicester City have taken 22 points from 33 available since he stepped in to the top job. They could now feasibly finish in a respectful 8th position in the Premier League. Ahead of Leicester vs Spurs we look at the strengths and weaknesses of his team.
Strength: team shape
Back to basics has been the mantra of Shakespeare since replacing Ranieri. The 4-4-2 low block and counter attack system has returned and so has their form.
The Foxes set up narrow to contain the centre of the pitch without the ball. The two banks of four pinch in to congest the middle of the playing surface as much as possible.
Opponents that get caught inside this system often suffer, as Leicester is content to concede space out wide. The reason for this is that they back themselves to deal with the resulting crosses.
The formation is very strong as it bogs down teams that aren’t able to get the ball quickly wide before the defence can shuttle across. Leicester can then reclaim the ball and launch their counter attacks through the speed of Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki.
If the ball is not sticking up front, Shakespeare will often use Leonardo Ulloa or Islam Slimani for hold up and aerial presence.
Weakness: wide areas
Teams that can use the wide areas effectively have an advantage against Leicester’s defensive shape. In recent matches, this is especially true as the Robert Huth and Wes Morgan partnership has been broken up. Both players are effective in the air. However, without one or even both of them, Leicester has struggled to defend the centre.
Manchester City last weekend were a perfect example of how to beat Leicester. The Citizens moved the ball quickly wide and exposed the Leicester full backs in 1v1 situations.
David Silva opened the scoring after the ball was sent directly out to Leroy Sane. Riyad Mahrez was unable to get back in time, leaving Danny Simpson isolated. Sane jinked past him before squaring across the box for the arriving Silva to steer the ball in to the goal.
On Manchester City’s second, Leicester was caught narrow once more. Kevin de Bruyne was the player out in space on the flank this time. David Silva and Leroy Sane formed a neat triangle with him to navigate Simpson and Mahrez. With the ball now in the middle, Yohan Benalouane flew in to an ill-advised lunge, bringing down Leroy Sane as he dribbled past him. Gabriel Jesus converted the resulting penalty.
Weakness: Yohan Benalouane
Since coming in to the team, Yohan Benalouane is not at the level of Huth or Morgan and its shown. Leicester’s opponents have attacked the wide areas and then him.
In Everton’s 4-2 victory over Leicester, Romelu Lukaku exposed his defensive positioning. Everton got the ball out quickly wide against Leicester’s narrow set up.
Yohan Benalouane was already too far ahead of his defensive partner. This allowed Lukaku to just simply run off Benalouane and get beyond him to head home.
Watch the following video and just keep your eyes on Benalouane and Lukaku. Barely a challenge is made on the Everton man as he slips past Benalouane far too easily.
Benalouane was also exposed against Crystal Palace. Sam Allardyce’s team are big exponents of the wide spaces and used these areas to come back from two goals down.
Yohan Cabaye struck Palace’s first goal after Wilfried Zaha and Jeffrey Schlupp held their wide positions to keep the ball in Palace’s possession. Yohan Benalouane, for some reason, got dragged ridiculously out of position, chasing Zaha out wide. Space was left in the centre, where Benalouane would’ve been, for Yohan Cabaye to prod the ball in to the goal.
Watch the following clip to see Benalouane needlessly chasing Zaha out wide before his cross. How Jeffrey Schlupp retaining his width on the left keeps the ball in the danger zone. Finally, the space afforded to Cabaye where Benalouane should be.
Crystal Palace then exposed Benalouane’s lack of leaping ability. Christian Benteke matched up on and simply overpowered him.
The passage of play started once more with Crystal Palace making use of the space out wide against Leicester’s narrow defence. Andros Townsend, another good 1v1 isolation dribbler, sized up and beat Danny Simpson. Meanwhile in the centre, Benteke matched up on Benalouane.
Townsend’s cross was perfect for Benteke to use his towering aerial presence to out jump Benalouane and head home.
The Tottenham tactics for Leicester vs Spurs needs to do two things. Firstly, to play with width and make good use of the wide areas. The Leicester full backs can then be isolated in 1v1 situations. Secondly, matching up on Yohan Benalouane to take advantage of his weak defending.
Returning to the back three with wings backs should allow us to do this. Three centre backs contains Leicester’s energetic front two by having a man over and not going 1v1 against them. The formation also allows us to play wing backs higher up to attack the wide spaces and consequently isolate Leicester’s full backs 1v1.
Up top, Mauricio Pochettino could deploy Dele Alli to join Harry Kane in the box. Alternatively he could go 3-5-2 and get Vincent Janssen alongside Kane to test Leicester’s centre back pairing. This is especially poignant if both Huth and Morgan are out and the Benalouane, Fuchs partnership continues.
Strength: counter attack
The speed of Leicester’s counter attack saw them to the title last season. Shinji Okazaki is energetic and constantly buzzing. Jamie Vardy is always looking to run the channels or for the ball played in-behind.
Craig Shakespeare has gone back to this strategy and its paying massive dividends once again. Since he took over, Leicester has taken the fewest shots in the Premier League. However, they have by far and away the best chance conversion. Leicester’s 20% of shots recording goals is way ahead of second best Chelsea (15%) or Spurs (12%).
That’s 1 of every 5 shots hitting the back of the net. When Leicester has a chance to score, it is usually taken.
The Tottenham tactics for Leicester vs Spurs need to focus on slowing the counter attack. Three centre backs is one way of doing this, by trying to retain 3v2 situations at all times.
Strength: set pieces
Counter attack was the key to Leicester’s success in the last campaign. A close second was set pieces.
The Foxes have good aerial size, backed up by expert delivery from Albrighton and Mahrez. The usual suspects of Huth, Morgan, Ulloa and Slimani are extremely dangerous in the air, but Vardy also has a very underrated leaping ability.
The Tottenham tactics for Leicester vs Spurs needs to see us manage set pieces. Three centre backs should give us the aerial ammunition to deal with them.
Key man: Riyad Mahrez
Riyad Mahrez has had a very up and down season. Recently, he has been back to something near his best. With it, the jinking runs and devilish dribbles have caused havoc. Just ask Gael Clichy.
Ben Davies will have his hands full trying to cut off Riyad Mahrez’s inside dribbles. In Leicester 1-1 Spurs at the King Power Stadium last season, it was Davies’ error and Mahrez’s quick feet that turned a prospective three points in to just one.
The Tottenham tactics for Leicester vs Spurs should see Davies given some help. Jan Vertonghen closer to him as a component of a back three will go part of the way. Mousa Dembele or Eric Dier inside of him should be an insurance policy.
Leicester vs Spurs outlook
Leicester has been tremendously strong at home since Craig Shakespeare took over. The Foxes are unbeaten in the Premier League at the King Power stadium under his stewardship. Five matches, five wins and only two goals conceded.
With second place assured, Mauricio Pochettino may well ring the changes. We’ll therefore also need to see if the intensity that is key to our play drops off too.
Leicester vs Spurs prediction: Leicester 1-1 Spurs.