Involving Jamie Vardy far more
Claude Puel might have repeatedly insisted that there was no lingering issue with Vardy, but Leicester’s striker likely had a different story to tell. Puel’s demise was death via a thousand cuts, but phasing out a club legend without actually improving the team’s performances is a good way to go about losing all goodwill.
It’s not just that Rodgers has made Vardy feel special (although man management is clearly a large part of the striker’s improvement). He has also found a system that allows Vardy to be more active and involved rather than being left isolated and frustrated.
It is probably the statistic that best describes Rodgers’ impact at Leicester. In his five matches, Vardy has had more than three shots in a league game on three occasions. Before Rodgers arrived, Vardy managed more than three shots in a league game four times in the last 14 months. Make him happy, make Leicester tick, make supporters cheer.
Switching the shape of midfield
Leicester’s default formation under Puel was 4-2-3-1, with two holding midfielders, two wingers and James Maddison playing as a No.10 behind Vardy. That role for Maddison was referenced by Gareth Southgate when explaining why he hadn’t made the England senior squad for their recent friendlies. England don’t play with a No.10, so how could Maddison justify a place despite his outrageous chance created statistics? (In Europe’s top five leagues this season, only one player – Memphis Depay – has carved out more.)
Rodgers has changed Leicester’s midfield shape to a 4-1-4-1 that easily shifts to a 4-3-3. Wilfred Ndidi is the deep-lying playmaker who breaks things up but then delivers quick passes when the ball is won, earning significant praise from his new manager. Youri Tielemans has been pushed higher up the pitch and closer to Vardy; a move that has transformed Leicester. The Belgian’s passing has always been exemplary, but now he’s doing his work in the final third. Tielemans has contributed four of his five league goals and assists during Rodgers’ time in charge.
On the left, Leicester are fluid and hugely effective. Maddison has scope to drift wide and find space, a move that instantly makes him more attractive to Southgate and England. Harvey Barnes is not a natural winger and so drifts infield, but that allows the marauding Ben Chilwell to overlap and provide crosses. That trio will all have designs on breaking into Southgate’s plans over the next two years – not to mention Demarai Gray, too.
Methodical build-up play
One of the criticisms of Puel’s tactics was that Leicester too often relied upon counter-attacking football and were stumped against teams that sat back against them. That style of attack had been so memorably effective in 2015/16, but was undone by Leicester’s defensive frailties (you can’t invite pressure successfully if you can’t actually deal with it) and inefficiencies on the break.
Rodgers prefers a different plan – methodical and considered build-up in Leicester’s own half before passing through midfield. That’s the style that he used so successfully at Celtic, honed by the demand from supporters to be proactive rather than reactive. Very few teams try and attack Celtic.
Look at the passing statistics to note the sea change. In Rodgers’ five games, Leicester have completed an average of 402 passes per game, and that includes a game against Burnley during which they played for virtually the entire game with 10 men and ceded possession. In the five matches before Rodgers arrived, the average was 341 successful passes. Without the ball Leicester press and harry, but with it their dynamic changes.
There’s more. The average number of successful passes in their own half in the five games prior to Rodgers’ appointment was 149, but that has risen to a whopping 205 (again, including Burnley). Leicester’s top three matches for passes completed in their own half have all come in Rodgers’ five matches in charge.
Quick starts, strong finishes
“My belief is always that the best teams start quickly and finish strong,” said Rodgers at the beginning of April. “I highlighted that when I came in, and now we’re starting to get the first goals in games and getting it in that period. That’s because we’re a team where we have to go and search. It’s about a mindset and it’s a tactic in our game.”
He’s not wrong. Before Rodgers’ arrival, Leicester had conceded 19 goals in the first and last 15 minutes of matches. Most worrying was the 12 goals they’d conceded in the opening 15 minutes; evidence that Claude Puel was unable to get his players sufficiently focused on the task ahead.
In Rodgers’ first match, against Watford, Leicester conceded in the first five minutes and in stoppage time. That was enough for their new manager to read the riot act to his players about the need for focus.
Since then, Leicester have conceded in neither of those two periods. Furthermore, they have actually become experts in starting and finishing quickly. Against Fulham, they scored in the 78th and 86th minutes to win the game. Against Burnley, they scored a last-minute winner. Against Bournemouth, they scored in both the first and last 15 minutes. Against Huddersfield, they scored twice in the last 12 minutes. The transformation is complete.
Embracing the gentle fixture list
It would be one-sided to pour praise on the Rodgers Effect without pointing out that Leicester’s new manager chose the perfect time to take over. If his departure from Celtic before the end of the season was fuelled partly by his deteriorating relationship with Celtic’s hierarchy, he must have also looked at Leicester’s fixture list and realised that this was the perfect opportunity to generate some easy goodwill.
The Foxes have now won four consecutive league games for the first time since December 2017. Their opponents in those four games are currently ranked 13th, 14th, 19th and 20th in the table. It’s not as if Leicester were blowing away bottom-half teams under Puel, but Rodgers has merely done what would have been expected of him in terms of results. They now face Newcastle and West Ham with the chance to record six straight league wins for the first time in Premier League history. That would be quite the honeymoon period for Rodgers.
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