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Match Previews

Ask the Expert: Leicester City

26 February 2020

Norwich City welcome Brendan Rodgers' Foxes to Carrow Road on Friday night for Premier League football under the lights.

Ahead of the game, we caught up with Jordan Blackwell, who covers Leicester City for the Leicester Mercury, to discuss the club’s impressive campaign. Since Norwich and Leicester last met, there have been a couple of unexpected defeats to Southampton and Burnley. What did those sides do well to get something from Leicester?

JB: Southampton in particular pressed Leicester really well and they didn’t know how to cope with it. Both games came in a period where Leicester had a lot of games so perhaps they were a bit tired. They had the League Cup semi-finals in January as well.

Leicester struggled to break out of their own half and Southampton were winning the ball back high up the pitch, so they were definitely the team, other than Liverpool and Man City, that have given Leicester the toughest game so far.

Perhaps they were spurred on by the 9-0 defeat in the reverse fixture. As for Burnley, Leicester got a bit unlucky in that one, but in the Southampton one they came unstuck.

vardy expert view.jpg What has been the cause for Jamie Vardy’s lack of goals lately?

JB: I think it’s a case of things averaging out a little bit. He scored a lot of goals in the first half of the season from a low amount of shots. He was extremely clinical. When he got to ten goals, I think he’d only had 21 shots which isn’t sustainable.

He’s gone from a period when everything went in to one where nothing’s going in. He’s had a couple of injuries as well, one at the end of December and one in mid-January, so I think those affected him. He’s not the sort of player Leicester can afford to give a few weeks off to try to recover from injury. They try to bring him back as soon as possible.

Against Manchester City was his best performance so far. He had as many shots against them as he had in his previous five games, so I think that’s a sign that maybe he’s getting closer to being back to one hundred percent Jamie Vardy, which is possibly bad news for Norwich. What are your memories of the 1-1 draw between Leicester and Norwich in December?

JB: That’s the game where the poor form started, although it’s difficult to say it’s poor form because they’ve played a lot of good teams within this run, but they’ve only picked up twelve points from eleven games since then. Thankfully, because of the inconsistency of the teams behind them, they’ve not really dropped down much. They were second back then and now they’re third.

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I was extremely impressed with Teemu Pukki in that game. I think he gave Evans and Soyuncu a tougher game than most strikers have been able to give them in the Premier League this season, just because of the timing of his movement. He seemed to be able to get in behind them.

I’m not sure I appreciated how good he was, but the subtle movements to escape their attention and his touch were very good. He’s a very good player and hopefully he’ll start scoring again soon. It’s been a year now since Brendan Rodgers was appointed as Leicester manager and, despite the recent form, we imagine the fans are still fully behind what he’s doing at the club?

JB: Absolutely, yeah. They were eleventh when he took over, so they were a mid-table team and they had been for a couple of years. He’s taken them to that next level. Nearly all of the changes he has made have been positive.

He made Vardy the focal point and managed to get a 33-year-old to the top of the Premier League scoring charts. He’ll be the oldest Golden Boot winner ever if he finishes there.

The defence was always pretty good but, after selling Maguire, they promoted Soyuncu from within and it’s worked seamlessly.

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The midfield is a lot more attack minded. Wilfred Ndidi’s role in defensive midfield has been simplified a little bit and he’s been much better. It’s been a lot more entertaining and a lot quicker, so I think fans will be very happy with how the first year has gone. Someone who has emerged as an exciting talent is Harvey Barnes. Can you tell us a bit more about his progression into the first team?

JB: His very first game was in the Champions League. He made his debut in the final group game as Leicester had already won the group. They rotated a lot and he came on, 18-years-old at the time in a 5-0 defeat at Porto.

It was clear he was going to be pretty good. He’s homegrown and he grew up in a village in South Leicestershire. When they realised that he had the potential they were keen to get him out on loan because he was very good for the under-23s.

He did a series of loan spells at MK Dons, Barnsley and West Brom and each time he proved that he was perhaps too good for the level he was playing at.

Eventually, when they brought him back from West Brom twelve months ago, that was when he properly broke into the team. He’s an extremely exciting player. Every touch he has is positive. Every time he receives the ball, his first touch is to do something; knocking it in front of him to chase after it.

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He’s very direct. Sometimes we think of wingers as silky with tricks and flicks but he’s not that type of player. He’s very efficient and his thought is ‘how can I help the team get a goal in the fastest way possible’? He’s been on very good form since the turn of the year.

He always seemed to have a lot of shots without necessarily getting any goals, but he’s managed to grab a few and is really exciting. I would say he has an outside chance of making the England squad for Euro 2020, but if he doesn’t, I expect him to be an England player in the future. What areas do you see the club looking to strengthen in the summer? There have been rumours linking Adam Lallana with a move to Leicester.

JB: Yeah, I think that will be one, although Rodgers has tried to play it down. Lallana is someone who is versatile and can play out wide as well as in those central attacking areas. That’s where they need a backup to Maddison. If they go for Lallana and he comes in, I think that would be his role. If Maddison gets injured, which thankfully he hasn’t, they don’t really have anyone quite like him.

Tielemans and Praet, who play in a similar position, are more all-rounders in midfield whereas Maddison is an out and out attacking midfielder. If they don’t go for Lallana, they’ll go for someone like that.

I think they’ll still look for a centre-back. I know they brought in Ryan Bennett on loan on deadline day, but I think it’s likely he’s there as cover for the rest of this season. When it gets to the summer, they’ll try again for another centre-back.

Possibly a winger as well. They’ve not had a game-changer out wide since Riyad Mahrez left, and every time they’ve come up against him, he’s shown what they’re missing. He certainly did last Saturday. If they’re going to spend big on a player, I would expect it to be on the right wing.

In all truth, they probably only need three or four players to bolster the team out. I expect them to finish at least in the Europa League places, but in terms of the first eleven, it’s pretty good and they’ll be fairly happy with that.

You can follow Jordan on Twitter @JrdnBlackwell.

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