Last week, Leicester City confirmed the signing of Ayoze Perez from Newcastle United for a reported £30 million fee. But where will the 25 year-old Spaniard fit into Brendan Rodgers’ team?
During the ten matches that Rodgers oversaw in 2018/19, Leicester’s basic formation was a 4-1-4-1. Wilfried Ndidi (25) sat in front of the back four, with fellow midfielders Youri Tielemans (21) and James Maddison (10) supporting Jamie Vardy (9) and wide players Demarai Gray (7) and Harvey Barnes (19). Attacking full-backs Ricardo Pereira (14) and Ben Chilwell (3) got forward as often as possible, leaving a system somewhat reminiscent of a 3-4-2-1 in possession as the wide players cut inside.
The fluidity between the basic 4-1-4-1 used out of possession and what became a 3-4-2-1 in possession makes Leicester tactically flexible and is beneficial for player like Perez who likes to pick up pockets of space between the lines. He is unlikely to displace Jamie Vardy anytime soon as the number nine, leaving just the wide positions available. He will be required to drift inside and support Vardy as the full-backs overlap, but also lessen the goalscoring burden on the club’s star striker.
Perez has already carried out that role for Newcastle, following the switch to a 5-4-1 formation during the second half of the season. Defensively, he was required to help right wing-back DeAndre Yedlin as part of a four-man midfield but was then able to support Rondon from a central position when Newcastle broke forward. Such was Perez’s defensive contribution, that no forward managed more than his 60 tackles or 42 interceptions in 2018/19. Therefore, the right or left-side of a four man midfield in a 4-1-4-1 with license to drift inside, suits Perez and Leicester perfectly.
However, Leicester could also start with the 3-4-2-1 formation that they naturally fall into when on the attack. This would simply require a centre-back to replace one of the wide players, pushing Wilfried Ndidi and James Maddison into more advanced positions.
That formation was employed in Rodgers’ first game in charge with Tielemans, Ndidi and the wing-backs in front of a back three and James Maddison and Harvey Barnes supporting Jamie Vardy from a more central starting position. It was a system that Rodgers used during his Celtic and Liverpool days and he was clearly keen to try it at Leicester. However, a 2-1 defeat followed at Vicarage Road and he subsequently reverted to four at the back for the remaining nine games.
The capture of Ayoze Perez and Youri Tielemans along with links to centre-backs like James Tarkowski suggest that Rodgers may be targeting his summer recruits around this system. Tarkowski could form a back three with Jonny Evans and Harry Maguire, with the wing-backs, Tielemans and Ndidi in front, leaving two number 10’s in Maddison and Perez behind Vardy. Alternatively, the dual club record signings of Perez and Tielemans may have been sanctioned in the knowledge that Maguire is likely to join one of the Manchester clubs.
Nonetheless, the similarity of both systems give Rodgers plenty of flexibility to switch between the two. The only differences are that the dual number 10’s are drawn into wider defensive positions to help their full-backs in a back four, whilst Wilfried Ndidi would have to play slightly deeper to cover the fact that an extra central defender had been replaced by a midfielder. Therefore, Perez looks set to compete with Demarai Gray and Harvey Barnes in the team, with the option of leaving out two of those three players in favour of an additional centre-back.
In any case, Perez’s primary role is clear – to provide as much support to main striker Jamie Vardy and loosen the goalscoring burden on the Englishman in the process. Given that he can fit either of those two positions, has plenty of Premier League experience and goals under his belt and arrived relatively cheaply, this looks like a very astute piece of business by Leicester.
Whether he can score a dozen goals again depends on the extent to which Leicester’s more attacking style can make up for the loss of his talismanic status in a more talented squad. But given the creativity in wide positions from Ricardo Pereira and Ben Chilwell and from midfield via James Maddison and Youri Tielemans coupled with Jamie Vardy’s finishing ability, he should be looking at a direct goal involvement every two to two and a half games. This would be a slight improvement on his rate of returns last season at Newcastle, with 12 goals and two assists in 37 appearances resulting in one every 2.64 games. If that improvement was to occur, Perez would certainly be one of the standout attacking players in front of goal, outside of the top six.
To summarise, Ayoze Perez will likely line up as an inverted winger in a midfield four or alongside James Maddison in behind main striker Jamie Vardy. In either role, his offensive responsibilities are very similar as discussed, with the 4-1-4-1 formation becoming very reminiscent of a 3-4-2-1 when in possession.
The main limiting factor on Perez’s productivity in front of goal will be how quickly he becomes cohesive with his teammates. In a side that must be aiming to challenge for a top six position, chances will come with regularity, but his decision making will be called into sharper focus now that his talismanic status from a goalscoring perspective has gone. Nonetheless, Brendan Rodgers’ style will certainly provide the platform for attacking players like Perez to thrive in 2019/20.