Possession was as soon as Brendan Rodgers’ mantra. That is the coach whose first season within the Premier League with Swansea noticed the newly-promoted facet dominate the ball like no competitors newcomer ever had. Solely Manchester Metropolis accomplished extra passes.
His dedication to this passing sport resulted in Swansea being applauded from the pitch at Anfield that season. He landed the Liverpool job quickly after. However it has been Rodgers’ willingness to adapt his strategy that has taken him to a brand new stage at Leicester.
September introduced his first win over Pep Guardiola. In November, Jose Mourinho was crushed for the primary time. There was a primary victory over his former employer Chelsea in January and, earlier this month, Rodgers secured his first win over Jurgen Klopp.
When James Maddison places air quotes across the time period ‘massive six’ it’s straightforward to see why. Leicester, champions extra just lately than most of these six golf equipment, not solely completed fifth final season and look properly positioned to higher it this time round, however they hold beating them.
Their report towards these sides this time period stands at 5 wins, one draw and one defeat. If there was a mini-league between this ‘massive seven’ then Leicester are presently heading in the right direction to win it.
The explanation for that’s as a result of Rodgers, the possession man, has discovered a approach to win 9 of the ten matches during which his facet have had lower than half the ball. They had been ruthless in that 5-2 win at Manchester Metropolis and the come-from-behind win over Liverpool.
“Perhaps 10 to 12 years in the past I used to be very mounted on one system and a method of working,” he tells Sky Sports activities. “Within the trendy sport, you want multiple system and multiple method.”
Leicester are able to full dominance. That’s how their season started with a 3-0 win at West Brom during which they loved 64 per cent of the possession. They adopted that up with a 4-2 win over Burnley – and 68 per cent possession – on the King Energy Stadium.
However the important thing to their league place, and 25 video games into the season they’re in third, solely 4 factors shy of their tally at this stage of the title-winning marketing campaign, is that Rodgers has the perspective – and the gamers – to shift between concepts, ceaselessly optimising the strategy.
“We nonetheless have our ideas,” he explains.
“We wish to dominate video games. We wish to press as excessive as we are able to. However naturally, while you play towards prime, prime groups, the press doesn’t should be on the excessive finish of the pitch. You may deny the house somewhat bit deeper to use that house when you may have it.”
It’s attention-grabbing that Rodgers frames it on this method. In his view, it’s not that Leicester are sitting in a deep block to counter-attack towards the league’s strongest sides. They nonetheless press and, in keeping with Opta, nonetheless rank among the many prime six for pressed sequences.
However they often look to show the ball over in a unique zone of the pitch with a purpose to permit the house for Harvey Barnes and Jamie Vardy to use when working at defences.
Barnes’ aim towards Liverpool was the results of a turnover close to the centre circle. Vardy’s aim simply minutes earlier got here when Youri Tielemans collected the ball in his personal half. Leicester weren’t sat that deep in both state of affairs however had been in a position to counter.
It was one other lengthy go from Tielemans that set Cengiz Underneath away to sq. the ball for Vardy to attain within the 1-0 win over Arsenal on the Emirates Stadium in October. The house facet had dominated the ball for lengthy durations of the sport however Leicester discovered a approach to win.
“What now we have right here is that we’re capable of finding the stability between possession, urgent, counter-pressing and counter-attack. We will slot into no matter we have to play to win a selected sport. That could be a big credit score to the gamers that now we have been in a position to adapt to that.
“That’s the maturation of the workforce and it’s the maturation of me as a coach. That stability means that you can be ready going into each sport and discover the options in these video games.”
How Rodgers makes systematic change work for Leicester
There have been occasions when Rodgers has been accused of tinkering an excessive amount of. Flitting between techniques at all times leaves coaches open to criticism when the end result doesn’t comply with.
However 9 Premier League wins with a again 4 and 6 wins with a again three reveals that each techniques can work. This flexibility in formation and elegance has given gamers the arrogance to consider that they’ve the instruments to win in any variety of methods.
Importantly, it has enabled them to vary inside matches. Towards Liverpool, the swap to a diamond midfield with Barnes shifting up entrance turned the sport. At Everton, it was the half-time instruction to look to the flanks that enabled them to get again into it.
Within the 2-0 win over Chelsea, it was a minor tweak on the interval that noticed them by means of. “Credit score to the supervisor, we had somewhat swap at half-time to go to a 4-4-2 out of possession,” Maddison advised Sky Sports activities. “Simply little issues like that, considering on our ft.”
James Maddison on how Jamie Carragher’s feedback spurred him on
Maddison has attracted reward for the openness of his interviews and his youthful exuberance is infectious. Tielemans, who, at 23, is six months youthful than Maddison, is one other of the subsequent technology at Leicester now rising as real leaders.
With Vardy and Kasper Schmeichel remaining key gamers, in addition to the affect of Wes Morgan and Christian Fuchs nonetheless being felt, that mix of youth and expertise is there.
It’s one thing that Rodgers has needed to work to foster.
“Within the trendy sport, I feel it’s the job of the coach or the supervisor to search out that stability,” he explains. “When you may have senior gamers who’ve been introduced up a sure method you possibly can very simply take a look at the youthful participant and assume they aren’t as skilled or purposeful as they had been once they had been younger. However life is completely different.
“While you are available and you might be managing these challenges, you get to that time the place you begin to actually see one another. The senior gamers now look to the youthful gamers and have an admiration for them as a result of they have no worry.
“The younger guys look as much as the senior gamers as a result of they see that have, that help and that data which is totally crucial for his or her growth as a result of a younger participant is not going to develop if he doesn’t have that have round him.
“I take a look at what now we have. I at all times are inclined to attempt to have that blend of actual, prime senior professionals alongside a gaggle of younger and hungry up-and-coming gamers. Right here on the membership, now we have an excellent stability with our senior gamers and our younger gamers.
“Each of them are aligned and coming collectively very well.”
FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Leicester’s win over Aston Villa
In a way, Rodgers embodies that amalgamation of youth and expertise himself. Regardless of it being virtually a decade since he first managed within the Premier League, he’s solely 48 years outdated. 13 of the opposite 19 bosses within the competitors are older than him.
He has remained contemporary sufficient to adapt however is now skilled sufficient to be so safe in his beliefs that making modifications has not felt like a compromise however an evolution.
Seven years after taking the Premier League title race to the ultimate day of the season with Liverpool, and 4 years on from his first treble with Celtic, Rodgers is a greater coach than ever earlier than. Leicester are the beneficiaries. If there’s a massive six, they’re in it.