/Could it happen again? How Brendan Rodgers’ current Leicester stars compare to Claudio Ranieri’s tit

Could it happen again? How Brendan Rodgers’ current Leicester stars compare to Claudio Ranieri’s tit


Leicester City take on Arsenal this Saturday evening in a clash which could have huge ramifications in the race for European football.

The game, which is live from the King Power Stadium at 5.30pm, is the third exclusive commentary by talkSPORT on GameDay which fans can enjoy for free.

Brendan Rodgers is preparing to take on Arsenal this Saturday on GameDay

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Brendan Rodgers is preparing to take on Arsenal this Saturday on GameDay

The Foxes are living up to their pre-season hype thus far this season and could well finish the day in second place before Liverpool welcome Manchester City to Anfield on Sunday.

For Arsenal, it is already shaping up to be  a season to forget, with distractions off the pitch barely managing to overshadow the woeful performances on it.

Be it the dreadful away form, Unai Emery’s issues with Mesut Ozil or the inept defensive displays, the Gunners are undoubtedly in something of a funk.

But while the glare will surely focus on Arsenal’s shortcomings if they are to suffer yet another away defeat, it should instead focus on the success story which Brendan Rodgers is diligently writing on a week-by-week basis.

Rodgers has transformed Leicester into genuine Champions League contenders

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Rodgers has transformed Leicester into genuine Champions League contenders

Since his appointment in March of this year, the former Celtic boss has assembled a young, vibrant squad who have soaked up his tactical knowledge like proverbial sponges.

Working almost as one solitary organism, Leicester press high from the front and move the ball with pace and purpose. During Sunday’s victory over Crystal Palace, the Foxes kept their eighth clean sheet from their opening 11 games – the best in the Premier League alongside Sheffield United.

Jamie Vardy is top of the scoring charts too; scoring a hat-trick in the demolition of Southampton at St Mary’s which also set a new Premier League record. The last time the striker was the first player to reach double figures in the league, Leicester won the title.

The 2015/16 season will live long in the memory of football fans across the globe as City managed to lift the title thanks to Claudio Ranieri’s tactical nous. Given how well Leicester have started this campaign, the comparisons were practically inevitable.

Jamie Vardy is in red-hot form for Leicester

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Jamie Vardy is in red-hot form for Leicester

While Ranieri was never expected to even flirt with the Europa League places, the surge Rodgers’ side have launched on the Premier League summit is arguably just as unlikely.

Liverpool and Manchester City contested one of the tightest title races in history, leaving all others trailing in their wake, and were expected to compete uncontested once again at the top.

And although the Reds can be satisfied with their domestic form thus far, defending champions City are all too aware of the Foxes breathing down their necks.

Below, we have compared the Leicester side from the 2015/16 season and the current crop of stars to determine which side is superior and determine how serious the Foxes’ title credentials are for the current season.

Claudio Ranieri pulled off a footballing miracle in 2016 at the King Power

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Claudio Ranieri pulled off a footballing miracle in 2016 at the King Power

Leicester City – 2015/16

Style of Play

When former Chelsea boss Ranieri was appointed as Leicester manager, it’s fair to say there were a few sceptics.

Renowned for being indecisive and a ‘Tinkerman’ when it came to tactics and team selection, he had just led Greece to a 1-0 defeat against the Faroe Islands. But, in truth, he found the perfect fit at Leicester to implement his style of play.

Setting up in a 4-4-2, the Italian largely kept the same side throughout the season as his formation augmented during games to focus on his side’s strengths and expose the weaknesses of the opposition.

Playing two strikers up top allowed Leicester to drag defences across the pitch, with two wingers able to either cross the ball or run at defenders in order to take advantage of the space provided in behind.

This meant Leicester often attacked quickly and by playing balls in behind for their rapid and industrious attackers to chase down and hound opposition backlines.

Ranieri set Leicester up in a compact 4-4-2 formation which was designed to keep teams out first and foremost

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Ranieri set Leicester up in a compact 4-4-2 formation which was designed to keep teams out first and foremost

Strengths

Quite simply, Leicester were the best defensive side in the country and the protection afforded to Robert Huth and Wes Morgan made them almost impenetrable.

Summer signing N’Golo Kante chased and harried opposition midfielders all the way back to the dressing room, making 175 tackles and 156 interceptions. And it wasn’t just the central midfielder who chipped in; Riyad Mahrez also made 53 tackles – more than centre-back Huth.

Robert Huth and Wes Morgan formed a solid defensive partnership for the Foxes

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Robert Huth and Wes Morgan formed a solid defensive partnership for the Foxes

The compact midfield four in front of the defenders could well have isolated the attackers up front, but with Shinji Okazaki dropping back to operate as a No.10 at times, forming a high-octane version of Bergkamp and Wright or Heskey and Owen. Whilst one scores, the other creates.

They also set traps for teams, deploying Mahrez on the right meant he was only ever going to cut inside onto his favoured left foot. But the Foxes started most of their attacks on the far side, with Danny Drinkwater and Kante able to drift over to that side and sweep the ball over.

Kante was a £5.6m signing from Caen, but proved integral to Leicester

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Kante was a £5.6m signing from Caen, but proved integral to Leicester

Stats of the season

  • Leicester won the title with just 44.8 per cent of possession – only West Brom and Sunderland saw less of the ball.
  • Leicester scored in all but three of their Premier League matches, whereas title rivals Arsenal and Tottenham each failed to score on four occasions in home games alone.
  • Wes Morgan became the third outfield player in Premier League history to play every minute of a title-winning season (after Gary Pallister in 1992/93 and John Terry in 2014/15).
  • The Foxes were offered at 5,000-1 to win the Premier League title by some bookmakers in the summer – the longest odds on any successful single event in history.

Leicester were a whopping 5000-1 to win the Premier League

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Leicester were a whopping 5000-1 to win the Premier League

Key Personnel

While N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez were undeniably crucial for Ranieri, the goals and work-rate of Okazaki and Jamie Vardy set the tone for the rest of the team.

Vardy scored 24 Premier League goals during this campaign, having taken 43 fewer shots than Harry Kane and four less than Sergio Aguero.

Vardy came from non-league football to terrifying Premier League defences

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Vardy came from non-league football to terrifying Premier League defences

Half of his goals were openers, putting the emphasis on the opposition to come out and attack the Foxes.

Special must go to Marc Albrighton as well, who was a free transfer signing from Aston Villa, but created more chances than any other Leicester player and was even considered for an England call-up to the Euro 2016 squad.

Verdict

Ranieri and Leicester City proved to be a match made in heaven, but the success story did not last as the Cinderella story came to an end midway through the 2016/17 season.

Claudio Ranieri and Kasper Schmeichel with the Premier League trophy

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Claudio Ranieri and Kasper Schmeichel with the Premier League trophy

Despite leading the Foxes to the Champions League and arguably the greatest achievement by a single team in Premier League history, the Italian manager had little in the way of alternative tactics as sides became savvy to Leicester’s explosive counter-attacking instincts after sitting deep.

Had their Premier League rivals been stronger, it is likely the Foxes would well have fallen by the wayside in their unlikely title surge.

Leicester City – 2019/20

Style of Play

Compared to the more rigid 4-4-2 under Ranieri, Rodgers has deployed either a 4-1-4-1 formation or a 4-1-3-2 – depending on how you look at things.

Although Danny Simpson and Christian Fuchs were solid for the Foxes, they were by no means spectacular. In order to grant space and time for James Maddison and Youri Tielemans in the advanced midfield areas outside of the box, the full-backs now are far more advanced.

The current Leicester side play with pace and purpose in and out of possession

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The current Leicester side play with pace and purpose in and out of possession

Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira hug the touchline in order to grant space. The low block from four years ago is nowhere to be seen, with Wilfred Ndid patrolling the midfield area and sweeping up as cover for the full-backs.

There is an emphasis on possession now as well; with the current crop of players sending only 10% of their passes long as opposed to the 21% Ranieri’s team had played after the same number of games.

Strengths

As mentioned above, possession and fluidity are the key components to Rodgers’ philosophy in the East Midlands.

Compared to the average possession of 45% in the 2015/16 season, Leicester have since averaged 58.6% this time around.

Wilfred Ndidi is a crucial member of Rodgers’ side with Hamza Choudhury able to deputise

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Wilfred Ndidi is a crucial member of Rodgers’ side with Hamza Choudhury able to deputise

But the defensive solidity has not wavered under Rodgers, despite the free-flowing attacking football.

Ndidi is the most prolific tackler in Europe, with 53 successful duels, while Pereira is third on 49.

Stats of the season

  • According to Opta, Jamie Vardy has scored 19 times, five more than any other top-flight player during Brendan Rodgers’ reign in the Midlands.
  • As a team, City are averaging 22.5 tackles per game, the highest tally of any side in Europe’s top five divisions.
  • James Maddison created eight chances against Crystal Palace, the most by a player in a Premier League away game this season.
  • Only Liverpool’s Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold have made more passes into the final third than Youri Tielemans this season, while he has provided more assists than any other Leicester player since February.

Leicester ran riot at St Mary’s as they bagged nine goals

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Leicester ran riot at St Mary’s as they bagged nine goals

Key Personnel

Although we have spoken highly of the attacking options at Rodgers’ disposal, it is worth noting their defensive record is also helped by the emergence of Caglar Soyuncu.

Signed from Freiburg for a hefty £19million, the centre-half has softened the blow of losing Harry Maguire for a whopping £80million.

Like the England defender, Soyuncu is composed on the ball but has the aggression and physical attributes to dominate attackers in a way which would impress the most seasoned veterans.

Much like Maguire, Soyuncu has proved top be a rock at the back for Leicester

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Much like Maguire, Soyuncu has proved top be a rock at the back for Leicester

Much of his development is down to his work with Kolo Toure, with the former Arsenal Invincible centre-half moulding the 23-year-old into the complete, modern day defender.

Verdict

In terms of expenditure and composition, there is little doubt that Rodgers’ Leicester are far superior to Ranieri’s team from four years ago.

The Italian performed miracle after miracle in order to take Leicester City from relegation candidates to Premier League champions in the space of nine months.

Rodgers has significantly improved Leicester

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Rodgers has significantly improved Leicester

However, the squad Rodgers has assembled is genuinely good enough to take on the best in the country and aim for Champions League football.

Provided he can keep the likes of Ndidi and Maddison out of the clutches of bigger clubs, the former Liverpool boss has a side capable of qualifying for the Champions League on a consistent basis.


Saturday is GameDay on talkSPORT as we bring you THREE live Premier League commentaries across our network, including Leicester vs Arsenal at 5:30pm

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