Leicester throwback style could fare well in the Champions League


With seven games left in their season, Leicester City lead the Premier League by five points, and are 15 points clear of fourth place Manchester City, meaning they are effectively guaranteed at least some Champions League soccer next season.

Given that they haven’t been involved in any European competition recently, it is worth considering how Leicester would fare amongst the continent’s leading lights.

Something that works in the Foxes favor, aside from the fact that nobody knows much about them throughout Europe as they’ve not faced them before, is the old-fashioned English style soccer they play.

It is a style that will help them when they go up against teams from Europe who are by now used to seeing teams that generally all try to play the same way, keeping hold of the ball in midfield and probing.

They hassle and harry teams in the attacking half and quickly release the ball to Jamie Vardy or Riyad Mahrez sprinting at the opposition backline. Otherwise they will sit deep and narrow, heading balls clear and when they win the second ball hoofing it up to their forwards.

As the game has opened up more to globalization, and England has especially increased the number of imported foreign players and managers, the old-fashioned kick-and-rush style of British soccer has gradually disappeared.

Classic 4-4-2 soccer with flying wingers and balls hurtled into the box from all directions is now the preserve of newly promoted sides who are simply trying to stay in the Premier League. Generally these sides aren’t placing high enough to face European opposition and for the sides that do eventually grow into Premiership regulars, they use the aforementioned increasing budgets to start buying a more technically refined style (think Southampton or Stoke City).

TeamPossessionShots per game
Manchester City55.5%17.3
Manchester United55.1%11.2
Tottenham Hotspur55.2%17.1
West Ham48.5%13.7
Stoke City50.2%10.9

As the table above taken from WhoScored data shows, Leicester by far see the lowest possession statistics amongst other Premier League teams with European pedigree. Leicester’s rapid ascension in only their second year back in the top-flight means they’ve skipped a stage in their development so to speak. Actually considering how little they have the ball, the fact that they create 13 shots a game is testament to the efficiency of their strategy.

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Often, the sides that this approach will be most dangerous against are those that try and clog the midfield and eventually get most of their side in front of the ball to recycle possession in the final third. Leicester’s quick transitions will catch them out before they have a chance to get set in a defensive shape.

Does this mean that Leicester will go far in the competition? Not necessarily. There are only three or four teams that can win the tournament, and anything above the first knockout round would be a spectacular success for a side that haven’t spent long in the Premier League.

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