Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe assesses Leicester City's impressive start to the Premier League season, and picks out potential vulnerabilities for Southampton to exploit on Friday night...
Every year there’s one. One team that punches above its perceived weight, shooting for the stars and providing the season’s early talking point. “How good are they?” “Can they sustain the challenge?” “How worried should the big guns be?”
2019/20’s iteration is Leicester City. To be fair, so was 2015/16’s, but this one feels a little different, as clubs like Liverpool and Manchester City aren’t in total disarray, leaving the path clear for them to storm toward a Premier League title.
But they’re still clearly one of the better sides in the division, and Southampton will have to prepare very carefully for their visit on Friday night and execute in a way few have managed in order to turn them over.
Why are the Foxes flying?
Excellent recruitment has fuelled the Foxes’ charge up the table, their squad now at a similar level – if not slightly stronger – than the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea. That applies to both players and staff, as Brendan Rodgers’ appointment back in March has been the catalyst for them taking the next step.
They’re a very different side to the one that was crowned champions three-and-a-bit years ago from a stylistic perspective; Rodgers preferring a possession-based template (they average the third-highest average possession figures in the league) to the chaotic, direct football Claudio Ranieri instructed beforehand.
That suits his personnel. With Youri Tielemans and James Maddison dictating in midfield you’d be mad not to build through their talents, and Rodgers has slowly tweaked others’ roles to complement them.
Jamie Vardy’s six goals in nine games indicates he remains the threat he always has been, but key to getting him involved in this system isn’t balls over the top, but low crosses into the box from the overlapping full-backs.
Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira are powerful, enterprising runners and Leicester are happy to create space for them to travel up the flank, the wingers filtering inside in response. Pereira’s low cross is particularly dangerous, while Chilwell often ends up near the far post affecting play.
They’re capable of controlling the tempo, every player is comfortable on the ball and stays true to the style. That filters all the way back to Kasper Schmeichel and the defence, with Çağlar Söyüncü in particular happy to try and beat markers one-on-one in dangerous areas, creating room for a pass.
How can Saints capitalise?
An insistence on playing out from the back can cause fatal turnovers, such as the one Mason Mount forced in the draw with Chelsea, where he dispossessed Wilfred Ndidi on the edge of his own box and slammed home.
Söyüncü, for all of his slick dribbles, lives life right on the edge and is susceptible to pressure. Schmeichel has produced his fair share of loose passes from the back too.
It can feel dangerous to do so against a slick passing opponent, but disrupting Leicester in their formative build-up stages is hugely important to success against them. Press them, force those errors, encourage their cock-sure players to chance it.
They commit bodies forward in attack too, with both full-backs moving up, three forwards in the box and two midfielders supporting. It’s often Ndidi’s job to cover the width of the pitch to prevent the counter-attack and he is only one man.
There’ll be space for the likes of Nathan Redmond to drift into and penetrate, or gaps for the likes of Ché Adams to hit in the channels. Danny Ings’s energy up front will be crucial in setting the tone, informing Leicester they’ll have to fight hard to play the way they wish to – if they manage it at all.