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Pass the parcel with Leicester City

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Mark Thompson

Nov 12 2019

4 mins read

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G’day. This’ll be a significantly more ‘newsletter-y’ newsletter owing to the fact that, writing this on Monday evening, I’m very tired.

Leicester City are interesting. I’m sure you don’t need convincing of that. (we should also probably mention the fact they’re riding their luck on expected goals in attack and defence, but we can save that buzzkill for another time).

What I’m particularly interested in is the way they move the ball quickly around the edge of the 18-yard box, at times looking almost like how a basketball team throws it around the 3-point line. It helps that they have two midfielders of the technical and positional quality of Youri Tielemans and James Maddison, but it’s not solely down to them being left to their own devices.

Below, you can see Ricardo Pereira play the ball inside to Tielemans, in the right-hand channel, James Maddison loitering in the left channel.

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Later on [below] after a move down Leicester’s left, it comes inside to Tielemans who’s in the central strip of the pitch, and he immediately sends it out ti Ayoze Perez who’s in the right-hand channel.

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Just a few minutes later you have a move down Leicester’s right [below]. Ricardo Pereira will ping it into Tielemans, who’s making a run in the right channel…

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He pings it back to Pereira [below], who’ll throw it immediately to Harvey Barnes, who’s peeled off his usual left-wing role to occupy the centre just outside the box.

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As often happens with these Leicester moves, Ben Chilwell [below] arrives bombing up Leicester’s left to offer extra width down that side.

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And a final example just to prove that I watched more than just the first-half for this, below we see James Maddison in the central strip having just received the ball from Harvey Barnes in the left channel. Tielemans is lurking in the right channel, although Maddison is well closed down.

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The four snapshot examples above aren’t perfect ones — in several the move broke down a little scruffily — but they serve to show Leicester’s knack at good positioning right around 20-22 yards from goal.

Tactics wonks have long professed the virtues of the ‘halfspace’ (I’ve opted for the more traditional English ‘channel’ in this post) and many an annotated screenshot has been authored highlighting the proper spacing of the fashionable sides in Europe.

Most of these have focussed on play further back in the pitch, though (if my memory serves me at all well), more about ball progression through midfield than anything else.

Now, I’m not trying to say that Leicester are revolutionising football or that this is the ‘secret’ to their season (aforementioned overperformance of expected goals probably has a bigger impact), but I think there’s definitely something to be taken (and explored, by better analysts than a weary me) from the Foxes’ play in this area.

It’s not difficult to see how this kind of spacing and quick movement of the ball could have big benefits. If you’re able to whizz the ball across the face of the eighteen-yard box from one side to the other, feeding it either to a quality shooter from distance in space in one of the channels or (preferably) an oncoming full-back for them to deliver a low cross across the six-yard box, you could cause real problems for the opposition. At the very least, being able to play it quickly this far up the pitch will really panic opposing defenders.

A final thought on this: strikers who make deep runs are probably a big factor in this. I think in most of the examples I’ve shown here, they come off the back of Jamie Vardy and/or an attacking midfielder making some kind of run into depth, forcing nearby defending players backwards and creating the space for the Maddisons/Tielemanses to throw the ball around quickly.

Anyway. Can’t wait for Brendan Rodgers to bring this type of play to Arsenal. I’m kidding… He wouldn’t take that much of a step down.

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