What is going wrong at Leicester? Jones Knows takes a look at their declining counter-attack numbers and tips up a 11/2 shot in their clash with Everton.
In mid-December, Leicester City were 15 points clear of fifth place. Now they are wobbling.
A run of just one win in their last seven Premier League games has got them nervously looking over their shoulder. How things have changed.
The gap to Wolves in fifth is just three points and red-hot Manchester United – who we are on for a top-four finish at 5/1 – are just five back.
Leicester know five wins and a draw from their remaining seven games will guarantee them to cap a fine season with a top-four place. Of course, Manchester City’s appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport will be watched closely by those in and around the hunt for the European spots. With City set to be absent from European competition for the next two seasons, pending the outcome of their appeal, finishing fifth could be enough to secure a place in the Champions League next season, given Pep Guardiola’s side are almost certain to finish in the top four. That may prove Leicester’s saving grace if they continue in their current form.
Everton vs Leicester
July 1, 2020, 5:30pm
Top four odds:
That infamous, record-equalling, 9-0 win over Southampton – one of many scintillating performances that elevated Leicester above all bar Liverpool and Manchester City in the Premier League – must seem more than a lockdown ago for Brendan Rodgers.
From being oh so sweet in front of goal, the Foxes now can’t score for toffee.
They’ve drawn a blank in five of their last eight games in all competitions.
Jamie Vardy has scored twice in his last 13 appearances as he may have caught a touch of the ‘nervous 90s’ – Leicester’s marksman is stuck on 99 Premier League career goals. Although he does still lead the Golden Boot race on 19 and Jones Knows’ followers could do with him finding form if we are to cop a maximum return on our 16/1 pre-season investment on him finishing the Premier League’s top goalscorer.
Rodgers admits his team are struggling for rhythm. And the numbers back that up in front of goal.
From the below graphic that measures their ‘Expected Goals’ data by each Premier League game – a far more reliable source to gauge the true form of a team – it shows Leicester are nowhere near hitting their mid-season peak that included that win at Saints.
So, what is causing this wobble?
A lack of creativity from key personnel is a place to start. James Maddison and Ben Chilwell haven’t yet registered an assist in 2020 and Chilwell – so important down the left – hasn’t even created a ‘big chance’ (defined by Opta) for his team-mates since the turn of the year.
It’s highly unlikely that Rodgers has significantly changed his tactical approach from their mid-season spike in form so potentially the answer might come from the way the opposition approach playing Leicester. Have they simply worked them out?
When you think of Leicester, you think counter-attack. Rodgers has done a fine job of revitalising the club’s relentless transition from defence to attack from their title-winning season while also maintaining a solid defensive unit that is among the best in the league.
Rodgers has insisted that his Leicester side “like to play a fast, aggressive game” and his approach is slightly different to Claudio Ranieri’s style with more focus on a possession game played at high intensity. But, up until their Carabao Cup defeat to Aston Villa – which is becoming a key turning point of their season – no team had counter-attacked more than Leicester City in the Premier League. It’s why Vardy was partying hard.
Opta’s data tells us that Leicester’s 28 fast breaks in their opening 24 matches ranked them first by a long way for that statistic that is defined as “an attempt created after the defensive quickly turn defence into attack winning the ball in their own half.” In other words, a counter-attack. Leicester had created four more than any other side.
However, there has been a decline in the last seven Premier League matches. In that period Rodgers’ men have only completed four fast breaks – a mighty drop off that takes them from ranked first to tied 10th in that list.
That was on full show in the 0-0 draw at home to Brighton, where the visitors were unfortunate not leave with maximum points after Neal Maupay missed from the penalty spot.
Graham Potter dramatically changed Brighton’s style to combat Leicester that afternoon.
Brighton are a team that usually average over 55 per cent of the ball but they recorded their lowest possession figure of the season at just 33 per cent. Potter was happy to play deeper, go far more direct in order to bypass the Foxes’ press and restricted the space for Leicester to work in. The lack of opportunity of space to charge in to resulted in fewer opportunities for Rodgers’ attackers to get in behind.
It worked a charm. Leicester failed to create any meaningful opportunities and recorded an xG of just 0.67.
I’m foreseeing a familiar approach employed by Everton on Wednesday and have found a betting angle to exploit.
It would be rude of me not to present this argument about Leicester’s downturn in form and not have a delve into the markets for the clash with Everton at Goodison Park, live on Sky Sports.
It’s not been a surprise to see the price for an Everton win being trimmed since Leicester’s defeat at the weekend; from 15/8 in places, they are now a very strong 6/4 shot to cause Leicester more misery. Such is Leicester’s lack of rhythm in forward areas, I’d be happy to put faith in the Toffees at the current prices advertised. They are unbeaten in eight Premier League games at Goodison Park, winning four of those and in the past 12 months have beaten Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea twice on home soil.
This squad is capable of mixing it with the elite – as shown against Liverpool in that forgettable Merseyside derby – and a fixture against an out-of-form Leicester won’t faze the squad. However, tipping up anything shorter than 2/1 isn’t the way I like to work, so I’ve gone fishing for a bigger priced Everton-focused bet. The ‘half-time/full-time’ market has got my attention with the 11/2 about ‘Draw/Everton’ tantalising enough to draw me in.
For those not familiar, this means we’re looking for the half-time result to be a draw and Everton to be winning at the final whistle.
Excitement in the opening stages of matches has been in low supply since the restart as games – aided by a lack of atmosphere and the rather unnecessary drinks breaks – can go through drifting periods where players tend to play safe, especially involving two closely matched teams. I can see this one going that way.
Since the resumption, 15 of the 24 games have been 0-0 at the break, including all of Everton’s and Leicester’s matches while eight of Leicester’s last nine games in all competitions have been goalless at the break. With Carlo Ancelotti likely to maintain his defensively-minded approach, the 0-0 at half-time in this one looks a huge runner. Everton then should possess the required ammunition to break through in the second half.
If that scenario comes to fruition then the Leicester wobble will be no more. It would be turning into a crumble.