The Tinkerman returns
Claudio Ranieri has contradicted his nickname since joining Leicester City in the summer, opting to fine tune the winning recipe devised by Nigel Pearson last term rather than revolutionising it.
The Foxes have made a frenzied start to the new campaign, gatecrashing the top four, but last weekend’s 5-2 defeat against an Alexis Sanchez-inspired Arsenal posed pertinent questions about their defensive fragilities.
Ranieri has openly admitted that his side play with all the endeavour of the Royal Air Force, occasionally leaving gaping holes behind them as they pour forward. While they may terrorise opposition defences, their alarming exposure when possession is lost remains a headache for the Leicester boss.
But the Italian tactician moved to repair the problems which have seen them concede 15 goals, a sizeable chunk after just seven matches, since the inception of the new season. In came Danny Simpson, for Ritchie De Laet, and Christian Fuchs, pushing Jeff Schlupp onto the wing, as Ranieri reshuffled his pack.
It proved to be a masterclass in tinkering by the original connoisseur of the art form with Marc Albrighton and Schlupp having the confidence to plough forwards with menace because of the newfound solidity behind them.
The manner in which the latter cut through the Norwich defence, interchanging with N’Golo Kanté before riffling past John Ruddy for the second, further proved why the Leicester fans were singing Ranieri’s name to the tune of Seven National Army at full-time.
Alex Neil falls for his counterpart’s tactical shift
Norwich City boss Alex Neil, the youngest manager in the Premier League, spoke in midweek about the ‘great challenge’ he would face against this weekend’s unconventional visitors.
“I’ve not come across him [Ranieri] before but the way he sets his team up is different to anyone we have met, which is a great challenge for us and for me.
“Obviously I have watched all the videos and they end up 4-2-4 at times, which is highly unusual, with two wide players playing really high.
“They have a lot of pace and they are good on the counter-attack.”
The Canneries boss, then, knew the dangers of trying to play Leicester at their own game but did so anyway, being caught on the counter-attack in frightening fashion on several occasions.
The hosts’ biggest threat remains at set-pieces but they often become a fall-back option when all else fails. With Robert Huth and Wes Morgan to beat, not even 6ft 1in Dieumerci Mbokani could do enough to haul them level before the full-time whistle.
Unbeaten in four before this loss, the defensive mishaps which saw Neil’s troops collapse at Southampton earlier in the year were on show again. Back to the drawing board.
Jamie Vardy continues to prove his doubters wrong
Despite flattering to deceive in an England shirt, failing to score in either of his appearances against the Republic of Ireland or San Marino, Vardy continues to be a reliable source of goals for Leicester.
The Premier League’s top goalscorer, the 28-year-old won a penalty in the 27th minute before arrowing it past Ruddy moments later. It was his seventh of the campaign after netting just six last season.
His fifth in five consecutive league matches, the former Fleetwood Town striker’s remarkable rise from non-league to the Premier League continues in earnest, despite his fierce unpopularity among opposition fans.
But then, rival supporters rarely warm to players like Vardy - someone who gives everything for the cause and has no qualms about upsetting the locals to win football matches.
Playing with two broken bones in his right wrist, the Foxes man was roundly booed by the Norwich faithful after staying down for too long as the visitors tried to see out time with a narrow lead to protect.
His relentless never-say-die attitude was infectious, though, as Leicester had to fight to secure yet another three points. Now the top flight’s highest goalscorers, with 17 strikes to their name, the good times roll on for those noisy travelling fans.
Leicester carry the same threat without Riyad Mahrez
Many an eyebrow was raised when the Leicester teamsheet was made public an hour before kick-off at Carrow Road. Riyad Mahrez, the visitors’ poster boy this season, was on the bench. Cue outrage among those who rely on his unique brand of trickery for precious Fantasy Football points.
The Algerian has been in swashbuckling form this season, skipping inside and leaving Premier League defences for dead up and down the country, but Ranieri is known to have grown frustrated at his side’s inability to keep a clean sheet.
Alas, after Mbokani’s consolation strike, those pizzas are on hold until next week at the very least.
With Albrighton’s razor sharp deliveries on one side and Schlupp’s natural pace on the other, Leicester were sampling what life without the 24-year-old would be like. They need not worry.
Under Pearson last term, Mahrez only emerged as a first-team regular in the latter months, sparking their greatest of great escapes, raising fears that they would struggle again without him.
The squad at Ranieri’s disposal, however, have been seasoned by their dramatic slump and unstoppable rise last term. It must be so pleasing for the former Chelsea boss to know that his team can handle life without leaning on Mahrez’s talents too much.
One thought prevails. If they keep up like this, Leicester could be this season’s surprise package, but whisper it quietly for the time being.Reuse content