Tactical Watch: Leicester City

By SFC Media time Wed 22 Aug Saints v Leicester
Photo by Getty Images | Kelechi Iheanacho

Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe offers some tactical insight on how Southampton's next opponents, Leicester, will adapt without their star striker at St Mary's...

It’s rare that Jamie Vardy misses a Premier League game.

Since the beginning of the 2015/16 season – the famous campaign in which the Foxes defied the odds and won the title – Vardy has featured in 95% (110/116) of their matches.

They’re just not accustomed to playing without him, so this weekend when they take to the St Mary’s pitch with him sat in the stands, suspended because of a straight red card picked up against Wolves, they’ll be on a mission to prove they can indeed do it.

Losing Vardy greatly diminishes their threat in behind; his speed, directness and willingness to run off the shoulder of centre-backs (and stray into wide areas to pull players around) has terrorised defences to the tune of 57 league goals in the past three seasons. That Saints won’t have to face him is a huge positive.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 18:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City is sent off by referee Mike Dean during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers at The King Power Stadium on August 18, 2018 in Leicester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Vardy was shown a straight red card for a sliding challenge on Wolves' Matt Doherty

Kelechi Iheanacho is the man who likely steps up, and while he shares similar classic number nine characteristics with Vardy – they’re both alive to scraps in the box and can offer an array of different, predatory finishes from close range – he doesn’t offer the same level of aggression, directness, liveliness or speed over distance.

It will pull focus sharply onto the “other” parts of Leicester’s team – just as it did at Old Trafford in the season’s opening fixture. 

The Foxes began without Vardy that night; as a result they settled into a less direct, more possession-heavy style, utilising James Maddison’s ability to find space between the lines, turn and link play. 

Iheanacho made some good darts between the centre-backs, but also did a fair amount of back-to-goal work.

They lost but they impressed, recording 54% possession – a feat away teams not named Manchester City rarely manage at such a stadium – and forcing centre-back Eric Bailly into a man of the match showing.

the foxes began without vardy that night; as a result they settled into a less direct, more possession-heavy style.

sam tighe
bleacher report

Holding more of the ball in advanced areas allowed them to push their full-backs up – particularly Ben Chilwell, who created three good chances via crosses from advanced areas on the left – and work the ball into Ricardo Pereira’s path with room to cross from the right.

This is the Leicester that Saints should expect to see turn up on Saturday; a more nuanced, more measured iteration than in previous years. 

It feels like Claude Puel is attempting to wean Leicester off Vardy a little, make it so that they’re not quite so reliant on his goals to win games, and this match will serve as an intriguing gauge as to how that’s going.

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