Leicester City have shown this season there is more than one way to win a football match. Throughout the top European leagues the teams with superior possession dominate the standings, all except The Premier League.
In fact, Leicester are ranked poorly for many of the metrics that you might use to identify a top team; Possession (18th), passes per game (19th) and successful passes (20th). But there is more than one way to play...
So what do Leicester do well?
Simply put, counter attack and direct play. It seems Ranieri decided early on that Leicester were not going to dominate possession, their success lies in playing to their strengths and they are very much the sum of their parts.
- Leicester's passing is direct, in their 4-4-2 formation 21% of all the passes are long the second highest in the league, on average they will attempt 70 long passes per game. (Long is over 25m)
- They intercept and tackle well, Leicester rank highest for interceptions in the league this season and no team has attempted more tackles than the Foxes. Kante has made a massive impact and is the best in the league for tackles and interceptions.
- They also manage to maintain a high tempo, Leicester have scored 11 goals in the final 15 minutes this season, which has earned them an impressive 15 points so far.
- Due to the team's make up they like to defend deep to counter. Vardy's pace is an obvious threat, whilst Morgan and Huth like to sit deep, this is highlighted by the lack of offsides per game, 1.4 per90 ranked 18th.
- In terms of end product, Leicester are ruthless. Vardy in particular has shot to fame this season and rightly so. He broke Ruud Van Nistelorooy's record and scored in an impressive 11 consecutive Premier League games. He also boasts an extraordinary conversion rate; 41 of his 85 shots have found the target, whilst just under half of those end in goal. Roughly 25% of all Vardy's shots result in goals.
- Alongside Vardy is Rahid Mahrez, another player who has shone this season. With 14 goals and 10 assists, this makes him directly involved in 49% of all goals.
Breaking down the Counter Attack
After watching all of Leicester's games this season, I have tried to break down the counter attack so it easy for players to understand. In my opinion there are 5 stages;
1. Recognise the developing play
Simply put is it on to counter attack? This is a mindset, it has to be adopted by the whole team. When Kasper Schmeichel claims the corner against Manchester United, watch how quickly Leicester explode.
The team must decide between;
Making the game move quickly forward to gain an advantage of the disorganisation of the opponent, without risk of losing the ball
stabilizing possession to build and get into offensive organisation to progress and penetrate
If we wish to counter, consider the following;
- Where do you position your defensive block to entice the opposition out?
- When will the opponent be weakest / most disorganised?
- How many players to the opposition commit forward and where are the gaps? You'll notice Vardy often exploits the space left by the opposition full back
- Do you have the personnel to counter quickly? There is no doubt that Vardy makes this possible for Leicester.
- Are you good enough defensively to not have the ball? Organisation and the will to work hard are key
2. Regain and secure possession
To counter effectively we must be able to regain and secure possession effectively. We can't expect runners if we constantly win and turnover possession. In Drinkwater and Kante, Leicester have two players that regularly win and keep possession for their team.
3. The 'Early Decision'
Once we have won possession, we need to make the next decision quickly. In the the video I have labelled this as "run" or "release". Dick Bates suggest you have 2 seconds to make that decision or the moment has passed and the opposition have recovered. In the video there are good examples of early passes from Mahrez vs Liverpool and Drinkwater vs Arsenal, but also running with the ball, see Fuchs vs Man Utd.
4. Support the attack
Once we have decided to counter the team must support the attack. In these clips it looks as if Vardy goes alone, but if you study them often the other 'runner' gives the defender something to think about, and Vardy uses this to his advantage. The Arsenal goal is a good example, Koscielny can not go and engage Vardy as he is worried about the square pass to Okazki. Vardy uses his pace to drive behind Mertsacker and drill past Cech, whilst Koscielny can not engage due to the threat of Okazaki.
5. End product
The ultimate aim is to score, but other end products could include winning a penalty, free-kick or a corner.
When thinking about end product, if we have created an overload in a counter situation there are obvious benefits to passing rather than going alone!
All stats taken from Who scored? Correct as of 29/2/15