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Five Things We Learned From Leeds v Leicester

Rodgers’ tactical class is now in session

Leeds United v Leicester City - Premier League Photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images

1) Rodgers signals his own tactical masterclass pre-match as Foxes play it to perfection

The fact that Brendan Rodgers essentially teased us pre-match with his tactical plan and still delivered it to great success is impressive. Yes, the players had to execute it but in that first half they really did. On paper, this looked like a tricky fixture. Having seen the back-line we were forced to field, it didn’t look any less worrying. Pre-match, many questioned if we had another fitness concern with James Maddison only on the bench, but to Rodgers’ credit, he said it was tactical and that he saw Dennis Praet fitting into the shape and the tactics more.

While Leeds arguably came out of the traps first, Rodgers’ side took no time in turning on the speed and style. This was an incredibly fun game to watch as a Foxes fan and hopefully entertained the neutrals too. The speed at which we broke forward and the numbers we had when we did overwhelmed Leeds. Selecting Praet over Maddison was perfect in this scenario too, he and Harvey Barnes were able to swap roles and sides and it paid dividends. The Belgian’s interception stats, stealing multiple balls sent across the field, had to have been decent.

Rodgers set us up so that every player essentially looked great and seemed perfect in their role. Considering our list of absentees, the result is even better. Rodgers even had the awareness to bring some snark into his post-match comments too, which I’ll admit I like. This isn’t the first tactical masterclass, but it’s between this one and Manchester City as to which was most enjoyable. Perhaps this one because I’d not seen a side unpick Bielsa’s Leeds like this before. Chapeau!

2) Punk rock football? Yeah, why not

It was Tim Howard who called the Foxes’ performance punk rock football but it’s a perfect description. We so rarely conform to what people expect, we’ve annoyed a few different managers and it’s not even December. And in Jamie Vardy we have a striker who epitomizes punk rock spirit. He was outstanding against Leeds.

His first half performance was arguably one of his best ever for Leicester and he didn’t actually get himself on the scoresheet. It’s almost the other side of his game that we cannot cope without the most these days. We have a lot of other players in the side capable of scoring goals (everybody it felt like against Leeds), and while his goals are still key, it’s the work he does to enable other goals.

The level of awareness he has for moving at just the right time and opening up gaps. His anticipation to move into the spaces his team-mates want to pass to. He’s a very unselfish striker too, opting to square to Barnes for the opener. Some might argue with the pressure Leeds had during the second half that the scoreline flattered the Foxes, but really Rodgers might rue some of the wasted opportunities his side had. The match could have been dead and buried by half-time though, as every time Leicester got forward, it felt dangerous.

We’re blessed to have a squad full of goal-scoring players and confidence is clearly high. Maybe it’s not always the side we expect to see, or the formation and tactics, but this side understands each other. They dig deep for one another and clearly loved this win judging by the hugs at the end. Not quite the team of misfits we were labelled when we won the league, but still with a ‘we know what we’re about’ attitude. Pretty punk.

3) Perfectly timed substitutions help weather the storm

Rodgers has delivered tactical masterclasses before, but what he’s come under fire for the most with managing the Foxes is his substitutions. Dare I say Bournemouth last year? On this occasion though, they worked to absolute perfection. The right personnel at the right time in the game.

The Foxes needed to weather the early second half storm, and it was almost guaranteed that Leeds would come out fired up. Admittedly, conceding a goal likely wasn’t part of the plan to play a slightly more reserved second half, but despite the pressure, we got through it. When Rodgers introduced James Maddison for Dennis Praet, it was the right time to change up our approach. And introducing the pace of Cengiz Ünder was a nightmare for Leeds.

We’d struggled to get Barnes and Vardy too much of the ball but more creativity certainly helped. The trio of Maddison, Vardy and Ünder was used to good effect in the Europa League and it continued at Leeds. Maddison over to Ünder, who on a first glance you’d expect to shoot, but he was as unselfish as Vardy had been all night to put it on a plate for our talisman. It was the goal Vardy deserved for his first-half efforts and boy, had it been a while coming.

A few people have said it and it’s early days, but watching Ünder and Vardy operate together has shades of that Vardy-Mahrez partnership. The most promising part being that Ünder is still learning the way we play and has only had one start so far. Add Maddison into the mix and the prospect is a lot of fun.

4) It’s easy to take Youri Tielemans for granted

It’s widely accepted that generally when Youri Tielemans plays well, Leicester play well. It’s easy to take a player like him for granted too but it’s definitely been a source of frustration in the Fosse Posse camp that he’s been reduced to playing deeper than Namplays Mendy in a few games this season. Against Leeds, as much as everybody looked good, Youri was on top form. Foxes fans voted him as Man of the Match and his stats show why he was a deserving recipient.

It’s almost a given that we expect Youri to have near perfect crossing stats and to deliver at least one killer ball a game. Having him in a more forward role seems to guarantee a goal too. It was nice to have him on the scoring end of one rather than assisting. He showed good awareness and movement to be in the box to pounce on the loose ball and slot home our second. Though his winding run to help set the chance up deserves just as much credit. Plus, who doesn’t love his happy face and the heart celebration?

He’s one of many players who’s generally reliable. You can trust him to put in a shift defensively and he’s got a decent penalty kick in his arsenal too. Helpful for when our regular penalty taker is no longer on the pitch.

5) Luke Thomas impressed at both ends of the pitch

Dropping in at left-back (or left wing-back to be precise) against Leeds looked like a tough shift for Luke Thomas, as he’s still young and he’s not had a consistent run of games this season. Yet he’s another 19 year old, see Wesley Fofana, who looked incredibly composed and in control of his performance. On a wet night, there’s extra consideration to make for sliding in and tackling, yet he barely put a foot wrong in this department.

We haven’t had a stable back-line; it’s been a rolling formation of who’s available. This maybe isn’t such a challenge for the older, experienced heads, but for younger players to adapt so quickly is testament to both them and to our club. This could easily be a focus on Fofana and James Justin, because it’s easy to forget that Justin is still young. Having Christian Fuchs in the middle of the defence has to be reassuring for all. What he may not always have for speed, he more than covers with positioning, tackling, and covering his team mates.

Something Thomas did against Leeds that I hadn’t expected so much was how much he got forward. Several times he was one of the highest players up the pitch too and he won the ball back in a few key areas on the attack. The first half seemed to be players playing anywhere they wanted, and it worked for us. In the second half, though, when Thomas had to stay back and defend, particularly against pacy half-time substitute Poveda, he was very solid and calm.

Bonus Learn: Anybody else find they had to concentrate super hard to work out which man-bun adorning Leeds player they were watching?! Maybe it’s a tactic, confuse the opposition.