It’s an FA Cup weekend, which means no game for Leicester City after after a slightly embarrassing exit last time. As their league form also continues to spiral, they will be spending every extra minute trying to figure out how to right the ship.
Some (many) will tell you that the answer is simple: fire Puel. The problem is, there’s no way that’s happening soon. It wasn’t coincidence that Manchester United waited until a run of winnable games to replace their manager, and for the same reason we will not be getting a new manager with Liverpool, United and Tottenham Hotspur coming up.
Instead, this situation will need to be rectified on the pitch, and I’ll be spending the weekend airing my suggestions, starting with the defence.
On paper, things are still going pretty well at the back; the Foxes have conceded the fewest goals outside the top 4. Nonetheless, there is a clear consistency issue, with the defence seeming to breakdown at the least opportune moments.
Part of the problem seems to be a lack of consistency - not just in selection, but in system. I don’t blame Puel really; of all clubs Leicester are in one of the hardest places to find balance. The majority of teams these days will sit back and let us attack. In order to break them down, you have to push high up the pitch. However, when the best teams come to town, the Foxes have little choice but to drop the back line as deep as possible.
This isn’t necessarily an issue in of itself. However, a number of defensive regulars, particularly Wes Morgan and Danny Simpson, are poorly suited for Puel’s preferred high-line system, while some (not me personally) would argue that Ben Chilwell is not the best option for the deeper system.
Keeping the same line up at the back is always helpful for a defensive group, to allow them to build familiarity - the individual is less important than the unit, defensively. If we aren’t able to stick to one primary style of play, it may be time for Claude to replace those who aren’t suited for both.
Claude Puel having faith in Wes Morgan and Danny Simpson is a sackable offensive in itself. He will be gone by Monday. Quite sad really.— Football Tweets (@FutballTweets) January 19, 2019
#FreezingColdTakes. Quite sad really
The most obvious example of this is to bring Ricardo Pereira back into the defence. The occasional Portugal international had a very shaky start at the back, but has improved remarkably since then, to the point that he’s often looked like the best defender on the team.
Our creative struggles (a discussion for tomorrow) have regularly forced Puel to bring him into attack again, but if these could be fixed, I believe this team is best suited with him at RB.
Morgan is a much larger concern (literally and metaphorically). Jonny Evans is not much more suited for the attacking style and Çağlar Söyüncü, who very much is, has been impressive at times but prone to mistakes.
As well as general system concerns, there are also specific areas causing regular concern. Most notably, a wide open gap that keeps appearing on the edge of the penalty area, giving opposing players an age to pepper the goal. Sometimes of course, Kasper comes to out aid, but this isn’t something we should rely on.
Kasper Schmeichel just did this save and then conceded about 30 seconds later pic.twitter.com/GkQxPVbFtn— DANIEL. (@MAYERMUFC) January 19, 2019
As negative as some views on Puel may be, I strongly suspect that his tactics don’t instruct players to just ignore the ball in these areas. Instead it just looks like repeated mistakes by the defensive midfielders. Considering how many of them we play, this definitely shouldn't be happening. I’m no defensive coach, but this is surely a simple one to fix.
The other problems may be less easy to deal with, but in all honesty, the defensive concerns are not as great as the Wolves game would have you believe. Compared to the other end of the pitch, there really is no problem at the back.
Of course, that might also be because of the fairly defensive outlook the team has had, often deploying two or even three strictly defensive midfielders. Increasing our attacking output without becoming more open at the back may not be possible - if it was, wouldn’t everyone do it?
My belief is that some changes in midfield, along with a consistent spot for Ricardo, might help to alleviate the problems at both ends. There’s nothing wrong with Ndidi or Mendy individually, but I think it’s time to put an end to their partnership.