More defensive injuries and a trip to a side who definitely got the better of us last season and who were about to welcome their fans into their stadium for the first time since Covid-19 began. What could possibly go wrong for Leicester?
1) A Leicester performance not done in halves; when we don’t play well, it’s all off balance
Despite putting myself on a pretty lonely hill for suggesting a full scale meltdown wasn’t necessary after this 4-1 loss, I’m still not about to start trying to sift for positives when few exist. The Foxes were one of the teams who waited the longest last season to register a draw and if these two games are anything to go by, it’s going to be more of the same. We win or we lose. Off days can feel amplified when you spend the majority of a game down to ten men, but when we’re not good, we seem to really work hard at being bad.
Perhaps a little extreme, but with how nervous we looked from kick off, it’s a good job Michail Antonio’s cardboard cutout only appeared after he scored. Daniel Amartey and Caglar Soyuncu needed no further reason to look spooked at the back. It’s clear the pair aren’t entirely comfortable together, which we’ll come back to. The unease was apparent pretty early though, and despite how many touches we were having at the back, the home side never looked bothered.
It gives me no pleasure to remind you all that West Ham pulled this exact number on us last season, albeit we were the home side then. Outmuscled and outmanoeuvred at every turn, they’re deserving of the victory. They do to us what we’ve loved doing to Manchester City over the years. Sure, I hoped we would have learnt a little more from the loss last season but I’m also not about to abandon all hope after just a second league game.
There are several factors that shouldn’t be discounted when looking at the score line though. They experienced the boost of a home crowd for the first time in months, something that unless you’re Arsenal, seems to have helped most teams. They also had an extra man for three quarters of the game. Oh yeah, you bet you this gets its own lesson.
2) This year’s Christmas pantomime has found its new (unsuspecting) villain: step up Ayoze Perez
This is a Leicester site, so you have to expect a certain level of bias, but I can’t recall an innocuous incident being so dramatised in the way broadcasters did with the Ayoze Perez red card incident. Those in the UK may have missed how the commentary went rather quickly from a calm mention of a Cresswell push on Perez to implying the Spaniard knew what he was doing. I assume said broadcasters will be checking his whereabouts for other nearby crimes given the implications they made.
This was a perfect example of why showing a single, still image isn’t reflective of the challenge or how Perez’s foot ended up where it was. It ignores that while a still image makes it look reckless, that Perez was pushed and also looking to shield the ball. It also ignores the fact that he really just isn’t a malicious player. The club needs to decide if risking the appeal is worth it. It definitely felt harsh even though you can understand why on a still frame and foot position, it will always get given. It’s also an argument for players not bothering to try and stay on their feet when fouled...
| Pablo Fornals on the Ayoze Perez red card decision:— West Ham Now (@WestHamNow_) August 24, 2021
"It was a hard tackle by Ayoze, but it's true that he was pushed into me by Aaron Cresswell, so I have no bad things to say about him." ⚒️ #WHUFC | #COYI | #LEI | #WHULEI pic.twitter.com/Hir1gRGkTD
Not overly helpful after Pablo, but I appreciate the thought.
What’s most unfortunate for the Spaniard is that it’s yet another thing that’ll further polarise the Leicester fan base. Many are pleased he’ll be suspended for three games, though it feels very harsh to blame him. Prior to the incident, he’d almost notched an assist if Ricardo Pereira had been able to convert. It was an unselfish pass that he undid a little by a more wild shot thereafter.
His absence, whether you think he offers anything going forward or not, certainly didn’t help us in plugging the numerous gaps at the back. He’s at least usually trying to get back and help. Instead, it left Ricardo with a hole in front and saw James Maddison trying to cover an entire section of pitch.
3) Remember when we were flush with fit centre backs? No, us neither…So maybe while the personnel aren’t there, the tactics have to change
The Fosse Posse have concluded that the Foxes’ defensive curse was a byproduct of a deal that helped us conquer the Premier League in 2015/16 with no injuries. In hindsight, we probably should have warned Jannik Vestergaard and Ryan Bertrand what they were getting themselves into. They didn’t even make it a month without a back injury and Coronavirus between them.
Watching how Antonio bullied our defenders last night, it was hard not to miss the cool confidence and experience that Jonny Evans brings and the fearless bravery you get from Wesley Fofana. It was also incredibly frustrating to see the things that Wolves exploited repeated and then so. If you don’t feel sorry for Amartey, you’re heartless. It’s been a challenging return for the defender from a long term injury. Dropped in at random and in positions he just isn’t comfortable in. He gets his share of abuse, but you can’t fault his effort.
We have yet another defensive personnel issue. It’s not the first, and seemingly it won’t be the last. So, why do we insist on making it harder for ourselves? While we don’t look like we’ll concede from every single corner so far this season, we still don’t look confident in our backline and in Rodgers’ mandate to play out from the back. With the first choice back line, it’s entirely possible but it put us under an unnecessary amount of pressure at West Ham. Even when we had two strikers on the pitch, we so rarely went long. Despite going short costing us.
#LCFC's Backline against #WHU in numbers— Elliot Mackness (@ElliotMackness) August 24, 2021
Were it not for Luke and Cags we'd be worse. pic.twitter.com/gbM5LGSrki
Thankfully the Vestergaard injury seems minor, but even he will need time to adjust and get to know Soyuncu. It’s a run where we need Soyuncu to show us what he’s learnt from his older colleagues and to step up. It’s a shame then that he was at direct fault for a goal simply because his attention and awareness dropped. Signing the Dane helped shore up the numbers but we’re still horribly short, this display may force us back into a less than favourable market.
4) The James Maddison dilemma, he notched an assist but a player like that feels like a luxury that a ten men side can’t really afford
This would previously have been known as the Riyad Mahrez problem. A player who, on their day and in one moment, can flip a game and do something special. But for whom, certain opponents don’t favour them and if you’re short on manpower, they look like a luxury. Rodgers made a big call to keep the team the same at halftime following Perez’s dismissal. It wouldn’t have been a surprise had he opted to pull Maddison in favour of Soumare. He kept the faith though and given the creative player’s assist, there’s an argument for it absolutely being the right call.
Maddison is still easing back into the kind of form we need. He has moments lately, but rarely consistent spells. This was the subject of a lot of discussion last season and we’re all rooting for him to get back to it. When you’re going to struggle for control of the ball, you have to be more clinical with it. There’s the argument for keeping him on. His ball over for Tielemans an example, while the Belgian wasn’t his original target, the ball caused the chaos that resulted in the goal.
The argument against it was that when the substitutions finally came, we pulled off Harvey Barnes instead. The player who’d looked most likely to make something happen, running at the Hammers. Other players offer more balance at both ends than Maddison and would have had fresher legs to try and help cover the inevitable fatigue that nine men trying to play for ten will experience. A player like Dennis Praet, capable of defensive and offensive duties and an incredibly hard worker. Or if we wanted passion and effort, the wildcard on our bench is Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall. Quite how and when Rodgers intends to use him remains to be seen.
Whatever it was that a Leicestevside needed to overcome West Ham, we definitely didn’t have it. Lots to learn and a few open questions with the last few days of the transfer window remaining.
5) The defensive issues shouldn’t mask attention from the fact that we are a side crying out for a right winger
It’s a week where we could look at Demarai Gray, and his early impact at Everton, and question why he couldn’t do it for us. Without dwelling on the past, our immediate future is definitely lacking a player to make that sort of difference for us. We started the game with Perez though, not a position that favours him or us. Yes, Ricardo drifts into those areas, but I’m still not convinced that we’re merely waiting for Timothy Castagne to come back to push him up the pitch.
Ayoze Perez yas never worked on the right & that's one thing Rodgers always had wrong imo. Praet better there for me— AH (@LehmannsTerms_) August 24, 2021
Yes to this, but generally yes to anything that would see us utilise Praet more.
Yes, this result sets off some centre back alarms. But at least if our existing players were fit, we have options. The list of those who can play on the right wing regularly is pretty slim. Marc Albrighton is highly effective but not a man who can play every single game. You can push Praet and Maddison there but again, it doesn’t play entirely to their strengths. There’s rumours circulating about us being in the market, but with the deadline looming and this hardly being a new issue, it would be great to sign somebody and get them up to speed.