1)One big chance apiece makes for a fair, if not drab, point
There haven’t been many games this season where you could accuse Leicester of being boring to watch. So we can probably chalk this one as a one-off. There’s been a few encounters between Wolves and Leicester recently that have failed to really get going. Perhaps we’re just too similar and therefore cancel each other out. Or perhaps this is what happens after that 4-3 end to end game in 2019 as since that one there’s been just one goal in four games between us.
Despite the first half feeling pretty end to end, neither goalkeeper had much to do and you’d be hard pressed to note anything of real consequence happening in the final thirds. Wolves had set themselves up to be defensively challenging and looking to counter using speed. While they found some success with this approach, they only made one clear cut chance in the second half that Fabio Silva really should have scored, but as usual Kasper Schmeichel bailed us out. For all the pressure at one point, Leicester could only really claim to have one obvious chance to score too, so the point is probably fair, though this will not go down as a memorable game.
It would be easy to look at this as a missed opportunity after Manchester United dropped points, but without Schmeichel’s save, this could easily have been three points dropped. The reality is that the Foxes just didn’t play to their usual level and weren’t slick enough when on the attack.
2) We still haven’t accepted that our set piece defending isn’t working
In a game with little else to talk about, set pieces are still bothering me. It’s reached a point where I’m unsure if we will see Leicester set up differently when defending a set piece. Zonal marking as opposed to man marking has not been working for us. Second only to Leeds in number of goals conceded from corners and not particularly strong on free-kicks either, yet we seem unwilling to change the approach? Often this season it’s been Tielemans or Mendy marking the opposition’s tall players, which as my Fitbit can attest, makes for an increased heart rate.
Interestingly, nobody seems to think we had a problem defensively last season from set plays. We certainly didn’t concede goals in the same way from them, but if allegedly nothing has changed in the way we approach them, why are we struggling so much? We saw it against Fulham, their best chance came from a corner where we’d somehow just left a man entirely unmarked. Wolves didn’t quite get the same traction, but it never looked comfortable for us defensively in these situations. It always feels like we’re reliant on Schmeichel to fix it for us.
Fortunately, our goalkeeper is exactly that, reliable. When a corner caused chaos and fell straight to Silva, the Dane did enough to at least put him off and then got his studs on the shot. A lucky escape that a more experienced striker may well have done better with. Rodgers hasn’t been asked about our defending of them lately, but if there’s one thing I would really love us to work on, it would be looking more comfortable in these positions.
3) Speaking of set pieces, we may need to go back to the drawing board on attacking them too
Roses are red, violets are blue, we can’t defend a set play and we can’t score one too. It’s February so Valentine’s Day is almost upon us. Whether or not you like it, it’s a time where sending anonymous cards with messages is socially acceptable. After another game where the question ‘will we score from a set piece?’ was answered with a firm ‘no’, perhaps somebody needs to write one to Rodgers suggesting that somebody else apart from Maddison could take a corner or free-kick.
In his defence, from outfield play this was always likely to be a tough game for James Maddison. Wolves covered him well and packed out the areas he usually loves to operate in. However, he struggled again with our attacking set plays. We hear a lot about how they practice them and try different things, but you can almost count the times we’ve seen these work on one hand this season. Some of it could be linked to the above learn, if we’re practising them against our own players using the methods we can’t defend, it’s not a great recipe for success.
Ünder took this high pressure corner in the champions league but is behind james Maddison on set pieces https://t.co/BxxsM1xxUu— eddo (@Mawuland1) February 7, 2021
We probably can’t justify starting somebody just because of their set piece taking but it does make you wonder if we shouldn’t try other options a little more often.
What’s possibly more worrying is when we bring forward the centre-backs and lose possession immediately when we don’t clear the first man. It cost us against Leeds who countered quickly and scored and it happened again today, except Wolves couldn’t capitalise on it. For how important Maddison is to us, this is one area of his game that still requires improvement. Frustratingly, it may not just be him. On the one corner that did deliver a promising ball, the end result was a disappointing header from Çağlar Söyüncü.
It’s possibly a small complaint because some of the goals we’ve created from open play have been beautifully worked, full of sharp passes and aggressive runs, but we’re a team who tend to pick up a lot of corners from the speed in our team and forcing defenders to clear it for fear of putting it on a plate for us. It would be an extra weapon up our sleeves to be able to convert more of the set plays into goals.
4) Harvey ‘Danger’ Barnes lived up to his name but Foxes forward line couldn’t find their flow
I don’t remember mentioning Barnes too often in the Fulham lessons, it was a quieter outing for him. Despite the Foxes narrow attacking width against Wolves, most of the danger came from Barnes and he caught the eye the most of any Leicester player in the opening half. Ever growing in confidence, Barnes provided the fun. Cutting inside, taking it past players and making use of the wider areas that we seemed less willing to play in. Arguably it was Barnes who had our best chance of the game. He looked most likely to make something happen for the Foxes.
Is Harvey Barnes the most fun dribbler in the Premier League right now— michael (@mef_57) February 7, 2021
We’re biased here at the Fosse Posse so let’s just simply say: yes!
Whereas this team so often look assured of their teammates’ next move, or run, it wasn’t clicking against Wolves. Several times players chose to take a wild shot when they had passing options to both their left and right, shots that were never on target or far too simple for a goalkeeper like Patricio. Clever little passes or backheels didn’t quite come off and with how packed Wolves kept the middle, our usually influential players couldn’t thread passes in the same way.
Rodgers had the luxury to be able to bring on Jamie Vardy now that he’s back from his operation, and he had an impact. The final ten minutes of the game were one of the strongest for Leicester, in line with the stats that we love a late goal, but it just wasn’t to be.
5) Some encouraging signs as Rodgers’ men show adaptability
Set pieces aside, Leicester’s defending showed an ability to adapt to a particular problem. Or two in the form of Pedro Neto and Adama Traore. Neto definitely scared our players and for a while, he had the better of Ricardo Pereira. It’s understandable given Ricardo is still getting back into the swing of match time, this being just his second ninety minute outing since last March. However, much as it initially limited his attacking runs forward, Ricardo did start to get the measure of Neto and with support, from varying players, his threat was as limited as it could be.
James Justin was able to do a similar job on Traore on the other side. Traore had been playing his way to being Wolves biggest attacking threat in the second half but Justin really stepped up. Rarely beaten on pace, Justin quite easily matched Traore when they started level and was careful not to get too handsy. The effort was even more convincing when it was Hamza Choudhury doubling up with him, rather than Barnes, but the pair were able to nullify the danger and it certainly helped us get back into the second half.
A great example from James Justin (who was excellent again today) on the importance of “stride matching” when defending 1v1. pic.twitter.com/LaH1WSHXtN— Graham Mills (@g_mills84) February 7, 2021
For Leicester’s Man of the Match, it comes down to a toss up between Justin and Choudhury. Justin was one of the more effective players for the Foxes, getting forward when he could, ever hungry to help us out. For Choudhury, this was a pretty solid performance again. He looks calmer and more in control of his tackles this season. Personally, he and Tielemans make for a more convincing midfield duo than Tielemans and Mendy. Useful to know as FA Cup and Europa League games add extra fixtures into the mix again.
Bonus Learn: Tough to find something in such a dull game, so hopefully you’ll forgive me for what’s to follow. I know it’s not news that Adama Traore greases up his arms but thinking about it in this game (it was pretty easy to get distracted) left me feeling sorry for anybody he accidentally brushes up that will be left greasy and covered in baby oil. Better to be one of the long-sleeved wearing players like Barnes or Maddison. I’d also love to know what somebody like Söyüncü thinks of his oil tactics.