Leicester City’s preparation for the new season officially got underway with a 1-0 win against League Two side Scunthorpe United. Preseason games are usually little more than a way to get players back to match fitness, as evidenced by the Foxes trotting out over 20 different players, but still we will try to parse useful bits of information from the affair.
Khanya Leshabela is one to watch
The 19-year-old South African midfielder started the game flanked mostly by regular first team contributors. He was also the only outfield player slated to play the full 90 minutes, but was subbed off out of caution after a slight knock. Still, he played the most minutes of any outfield player which indicates that Brendan Rodgers feels he is worthy of an extended look.
Leshabela quickly showed what makes him an intriguing prospect. He played as a James Maddison facsimile in the XI and displayed clean touches, crisp turns, and stable passing. He pushed forward in possession and even threatened the keeper on two occasions. One involvement that stood out came when he picked up the ball near the top right corner of the box, faked a shot and cut back towards goal, and unleashed a powerful shot that required a save from Scunthorpe.
While Leshabela impressed most in possession, he proved suitable without the ball as well. His brightest moments came in the first half, especially in the first 20 minutes or so, but that was enough to provide plenty of intrigue in the academy product’s future.
A glimpse into Ayoze Perez’s potential role
Leicester City’s capture of Ayoze Perez from Newcastle came together rather quickly as far as the general public is concerned. This meant Perez was officially a Fox before many supporters had the time to fully consider what his role might be. Tuesday’s preseason game, however, provided the first look at what that role might actually be.
Perez’ versatility has been touted as a strength, but he has primarily been considered a second striker (à la Shinji Okazaki). Still, he lined up on the right wing against Scunthorpe. Though some have suggested he is weakest on the wing, it seems to be the most likely position for him to find a spot in Rodgers’ XI as presently constructed. Perez brought something unique to the wing position as far as the Leicester City squad is concerned, however.
He started wide but spent much of his time drifting centrally, particularly in the box. It had been reported that Rodgers wanted a winger who could cut inside and score goals, and while that might not be Perez’s ideal position it seems he is at least capable of filling that role. This was on display when he got himself into the box and scored a goal with a neat finish from a Ricardo Pereira cross.
One of the things that stood out, though, was his contribution as a creator. To this point in his career he has been more of a finisher than creator (33 goals to 9 assists in 4 seasons with Newcastle), but he surprised with a number of threatening passes against Scunthorpe. He looked to play Vardy through the last line of defense on a few occasions and threaded a couple of passes toward the end line for Ricardo Pereira after quick combinations. If this is an area of his game that proves to be sustainable, it will add an extra layer to City’s attack.
An emphasis on positional variety
Brendan Rodgers set City up in essentially the same formation used throughout last season. There was a traditional back four, one holding midfielder (Papy Mendy filled in for Wilfred Ndidi), two midfielders alternating between the eight position and ten position (the newly signed Youri Tielemans and the aforementioned Khanya Leshabela), two wide players (Perez and Marc Albrighton), and Jamie Vardy leading the attack. But while the formation may have looked familiar, there seemed to be more of an emphasis on positional fluidity.
This fluidity was present in the midfield as Tielemans and Leshabela took turns pushing forward or dropping deeper depending on the run of play at the moment or the positioning of the other. Tielemans in particular dropped deep to receive passes from defenders and initiate forward movement frequently. This midfield dynamic was somewhat present last season, but there appeared to be more flexibility against Scunthorpe.
The biggest change came from the wide players. As previously mentioned, Ayoze Perez spent much of the game drifting infield and finding space in the box. He also drifted centrally slightly deeper back the pitch on a number of occasions and looked to create from there. Another wrinkle came from Marc Albrighton’s positioning. On occasions where City had possession on the right side of the pitch Albrighton would sometimes drift into more central positions, almost acting as a supplementary central midfielder. He also seemed to do this at times when Scunthorpe had possession. There was even a moment or two where Perez and Albrighton swapped flanks.
This positional flexibility is not entirely new to Leicester City, but if 45 minutes of preseason action with first-teamers is any indication (note: it’s probably not), then there may be more of this fluidity this season.