After having pulled off the unthinkable last season, Leicester City did something similar last month – and sacked Claudio Ranieri, the manager that brought them the Premier League title, with just a point separating them from the relegation zone. Coming into the hot seat that the Italian left was little-known Craig Shakespeare, and since then, it seemed the Foxes somehow got back on track.
Under Shakespeare, Leicester have won four games out of four, including a 3-1 thumping of heavyweights Liverpool under charismatic manager Jurgen Klopp. It appears as though the arrival of former Walsall and Sheffield Wednesday midfielder Shakespeare has rejuvenated the Premier League champions, who were at the brink of collapse just a month ago.
So what were they doing differently? The answer is their return to basic counter-attacking.
During Ranieri’s reign at the helm, Leicester were geared towards pressing the attack, controlling the possession, and walking the ball into the back of the net. They averaged around 600 touches per game under the Italian and their possession heat map was all over the place. In Ranieri’s final Premier League game – a 2-0 loss away to Swansea – Leicester had 677 touches on the ball, were playing high evenly up the field, had majority of the possession, but managed to create just seven clear chances at goal compared to Swansea’s nine.
While it is great that Ranieri wanted a more attacking style employed in his game, he simply did not have the players to do so. The loss of N’Golo Kante to Chelsea was the main reason the Foxes could no longer pull off this style.
Shakespeare realised that and decided to return to counter-attacking roots. By employing both Wilfred Ndidi and Danny Drinkwater in a holding midfielder role to cover the back four, instead of one of them trying to fill in the ball-playing midfielder role Kante had done before, Leicester were now geared towards defensive play – and it worked.
A couple of weeks after the departure of Ranieri, Shakespeare revamped the club’s style. In his first game in charge against Liverpool, the Foxes had just 506 touches – compared to Liverpool’s 872. Also, the Foxes’ midfielders played majorly just a few paces away from the halfway line and did a good job shielding the defence, and let the wingers Riyad Mahrez and Marc Albrighton provide the chances. From that tactic, Leicester only managed to have 31% on the ball but created more chances from the wings and shut out Liverpool’s attack.
While many believe Ranieri’s sacking was without a doubt ungrateful and disrespectful, it certainly wasn’t ill-timed – Leicester needed a change in perspective, and the former assistant had provided that. Many times it has been said that sacking a manager in a panic is madness. But after Shakespeare’s run with Leicester so far – which led them to six points away from the drop zone and are now at 15th – it shows there is indeed some method to it.