Leicester’s defensive record is pathetic and not improving, both in set pieces and in open play, which means Rodgers has many problems
The first half on Saturday was as gloomy as it gets. Leicester made mistakes in possession and the fans groaned. It takes too long to play from behind and the fans moan. So it’s easy to get excited and seem surprised that Jamie Vardy is isolated; the fans groan again. At this point they are already two goals behind and another home game is lost. The only question is whether it will get any worse.
KING POWER STADIUM – With the chaos at Manchester United, it’s wonderful that Brendan Rodgers is tied to her manager’s job at the precise moment his Leicester City slip ends up in a burglary. Against Arsenal three weeks ago, Leicester conceded early after a set piece, conceded again shortly afterwards and then had to chase the game desperately without it having had little effect. The only noticeable difference against Chelsea was the volume of the boos at halftime.
It started with Leicester cashing out of a simple, standard routine because that’s exactly what this Leicester team does. An inward corner is thrown into the penalty area and the opponent’s tallest central defender hits the front post; nobody follows him. This defender rises to hit the ball; nobody jumps with him. Kasper Schmeichel watches helplessly, motionless for a second. Then he holds out his arms to ask why none of his teammates are getting this now.
Pavlov’s dog would at least have blocked Antonio Rüdiger’s run.
After Gabriel Paulista hit the seventh player from a set piece against Leicester, Rodgers was asked about the problem. “When you analyze the Premier League, there are a lot of set pieces from the front post,” said Rodgers. “It’s not just us, it’s other teams.”
That’s a remarkable answer for a man who fully understands the value of accomplished PR. First, no team does it as badly or as often as Leicester, hence the question. Plus, despite the repeated mistakes in use, Rodgers appears to be connected to his complete zone marking system. After all, Leicester City supporters take care of Leicester City and it is at that moment that Rodgers is talking to them. Some people feel a little bit itchy because they cannot solve or even solve such an obvious organizational problem.
But it’s not just standard defense. Leicester’s chance creation is down from last season; they didn’t have a shot against Chelsea until just an hour ago. They seem unsure of their preferred style of attack, sometimes playing slowly and sometimes looking for quick counterattacks, but never manage to keep everyone on the same page. They are a team that reflects the current mood of their fans: general flatness, littered with moments of panic and only tapered during protests against referee decisions (which were all correct on Saturday).
The common diagnosis here is to blame bad self-confidence, the magical elixir of football. Win a few league games, even by dirty funds, and the same mistakes will go away. Self-confidence is based on both better communication, better technology, and better balance.
But there is another theory: Rodgers is an architect of both problems and solutions. His team has played four formations in eleven league games. You played with two strikers and with one. James Maddison and Harvey Barnes were in and out of the team. You play with full-backs who don’t really come forward and with a central midfield that is suddenly too easy to play through. Every team affected by absenteeism longs for stability; there is little here.
There is flicker of mitigation. Leicester has suffered from multiple injuries since August. In their current bad career, they faced Arsenal, Spartak Moscow, Manchester City, Manchester United and Napoli. But these are the opponents we’ve got used to judging Leicester City. And their problems seem so endemic, so fundamentally grounded, that there is no guarantee that a gentler adversary will not expose them.
Up until full-time, the atmosphere at King Power was marked by unease, a quiet grumbling that only occurs when the fans have missed out on the effort and quality. They don’t expect a team to win every week, but they insist they compete and want evidence that the obvious problems are being addressed. Leicester’s defense is unjustifiable. They’re too easy to ruffle, penetrate, and ultimately beat.