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Premier League Team Preview: Leicester City

Due to time constraints, this is the final instalment of the 2019/20 Premier League team previews series. Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester are analysed here, a team who will be looking to upset the odds and challenge the established top six in 2019/20.

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  • 2018/19 Finish: 9th
  • Signings so far: James Justin (£6m), Ayoze Perez (£30m), Youri Tielemans (£40m)
  • Possible Gameweek 1 lineup (4-1-4-1): Schmeichel, Pereira, Evans, Soyuncu, Chilwell, Choudhury, Albrighton, Tielemans, Maddison, Perez, Vardy
  • First six fixtures: Wolves (H), Chelsea (A), Sheffield Utd (A), Bournemouth (H), Man Utd (A), Tottenham (H)

Lineup and Tactics

Having already discussed where new signing Ayoze Perez will fit in at Leicester, there is no need to go into too much depth on Leicester’s tactics in this section. The club’s recent friendlies have revealed that Rodgers will almost certainly be sticking to the 4-1-4-1 formation favoured in nine of his ten matches in charge, rather than the 3-4-2-1 used in the 2-1 defeat to Watford in his first game.

Leicester’s final friendly, a 2-1 victory over Champions League bound Atalanta, provides an indication of Rodgers’ likely lineup for Sunday’s visit of Wolves. Caglar Soyuncu slotted in at centre-back as Harry Maguire was in the process of completing a move to Manchester United, in an otherwise unsurprising backline of Ricardo Pereira, Jonny Evans, Ben Chilwell and Kasper Schmeichel in goal.

Further forward, James Maddison and Youri Tielemans assumed the two attacking midfield berths, supported by Ayoze Perez off the left and Jamie Vardy through the middle. Elsewhere, Marc Albrighton was preferred to Demarai Gray and Harvey Barnes, suggesting he could be in line to start the first game. Wilfried Ndidi’s late return to pre-season training following Nigeria’s third place finish at the African Cup of Nations allowed Hamza Choudhury to start and he is likely to keep his place in holding midfield.

Defence and Wilfried Ndidi

The start of the 2019/20 season may not be a very fruitful time for Leicester clean sheets for a number of reasons.

Firstly, Wilfried Ndidi did not feature in any of the club’s pre-season friendlies as mentioned. Hamza Choudhury is a very promising young player but the Nigerian international’s absence is likely to be felt, in view of the rate of his defensive contributions.

In 2018/19, Ndidi’s total of 143 tackles was more than any other Premier League player for a second season running (138 in 2017/18), whilst only Etienne Capoue (86) and Aaron Wan-Bissaka (84) made more than his 83 interceptions.

This is important due to the make-up of Leicester’s midfield. James Maddison and Youri Tielemans are encouraged to join the attack, often leaving just Ndidi and the two centre-backs to cover following overturns of possession.

This became even more prevalent following the appointment of Brendan Rodgers as despite Leicester’s performances and points per match increasing post-Puel (1.29 to 1.70), Ndidi’s interceptions and tackles per game rose from 1.96 and 3.29 to 2.8 and 5.1 in Rodgers’ ten games in charge.

It has to remembered that this is a small sample and not necessarily indicative of what is to follow, but is difficult to look past the balance Ndidi provides in midfield alongside the attack-minded Tielemans and Maddison. It is up to Hamza Choudhury to do a similar job in the interim.

Further reducing the likelihood of Leicester clean sheets in the early weeks of the season is the sale of Harry Maguire to Manchester United coupled with their mixed fixtures. In the first six weeks, they are up agains four of last season’s top seven, with a trip to Anfield also coming at the start of October.

These games will come at a time when a new centre-back partnership is attempting to form, even if a new signing does not arrive before Thursday’s transfer deadline. All of Leicester’s central defenders played fewer than 2000 minutes for the club last season and on only ten occasions did two of Evans, Morgan and Soyuncu start a game together. As a result, they may initially lack cohesion, having not established an understanding as a partnership in a competitive scenario.

With these three factors in mind, Foxes clean sheets are likely to be few and far between in the early weeks of the season. It is therefore difficult to justify owning the likes of Chilwell or Pereira in FPL in the short-term, despite how menacing the can be going forward.

Attacking Options

An area that Leicester should have no problem in is scoring goals. Rodgers’ spoke about improving this almost as soon as he took over in late February, stating, ‘I know where we need to improve, we don’t have enough goals in the team, simple as that’.

Since then, a total of £70 million has been splashed out on Ayoze Perez and Youri Tielemans, who notched a combined 11 goals during the final ten matches of the season at their respective clubs. Adding that to James Maddison, who will be expected to improve on his return of seven goals last season alongside Jamie Vardy’s average of nearly 19 goals per season since August 2015 demonstrates significant firepower.

But who is the most worthy of investment in FPL? Firstly, cost has to be taken into consideration. At £9.0m, Vardy is a situational pick. Based on our value analysis of 30 points per million spent, he cannot be considered a season-long hold as a 270 point return is rarely achieved by any player in the game.

The outlay for an asset of his price can be justified if a) he enters the captaincy discussion and/or b) he hits a run of form that results in more points per match than his average over the season. There is nothing to say this cannot occur between Gameweek 1-4, given that Wolves travel to Armenia three days prior, Chelsea and Sheffield United may still be acclimatising to a new manager and a new league respectively and Bournemouth conceded the most goals of any side in this season’s Premier League in 2018/19. Therefore, it is more a question of the extent to which Vardy can justify his premium price tag rather than whether or not he will hit the ground running from the off.

However, an enticing £2.0-2.5m saving can be made by instead opting for one of Maddison, Tielemans or Perez. It is difficult to directly compare these three, given that Maddison arguably underperformed in 2018/19, Tielemans played just 13 games and Perez was at another club. What can be done is considering the potential offerings from each player based on their individual roles, before making assertions from this information.

Maddison is the chance creator. A total of 100 across the season was more than any other Premier League player and it saw him top FPL’s creativity index in the process. However, the quality of these chances is a hindrance in comparison to Ryan Fraser, who is just £0.5m more expensive. The Scot created 28 big chances to Maddison’s 13 and outscored his xA by 10.21 to 8.67. So whilst he may be the most able at creating something out of nothing at his club, this does not necessarily translate into must-buy status, especially at £0.5m more than both Tielemans and Perez.

Youri Tielemans is more difficult to quantify as there are only 13 games worth of Premier League data to consider, a period that he significantly outperformed his expected data. Maddison also came out of this period having had more shots and created significantly more chances than the Belgian.

Contextual factors do have to be applied though. Tielemans is an extremely talented midfield player and he was considered one of Europe’s best young players a few years ago. This is not to downplay the ability of Perez or Maddison, but churning out data on him in every single metric as a direct comparison is arguably less relevant.

An 18 goal season in his final year at Anderlecht (all competitions) is indicative of what he is capable of. Regression from a rate of a directly goal involvement every 1.63 games is certainly possible though, which no doubt contributed to his price staying fairly low at £6.5m, rather than rising towards the valuations of Fraser and Sigurdsson, who he matched for points per match.

The final verdict on Tielemans depends on how you view football in an FPL context. Tielemans will always satisfy the ‘eye test’ enthusiasts but may not fully convince those that place huge emphasis on underlying statistics. As someone that likes to use both and has created this site for that exact purpose, I am very much on the fence.

Finally, Perez is the goalscorer and has certainly been brought in for his ability to do so just off the main striker. The understanding he developed with season-long loanee Salomon Rondon at Newcastle helped to bring a return of 12 goals, with all of those coming after the Venezuelan became a regular starter in November. During that period, only Salah, Mane, Richarlison, Sterling and Zaha are able to boast more shots in the box amongst players classified as midfielders in 2019/20. In addition, Perez is now part of a side that created the sixth most chances in the Premier League last season.

Perez’s strike partner, Vardy, is certainly very different to Rondon stylistically, relying on his pace rather than physicality but is similar in the way he provides a focal point to attacks and this should benefit Perez enormously. Given that goals gain an additional two points than assists for midfielders, it is difficult to ignore the £0.5m saving over Maddison. Therefore, opting for either or potentially even both of Perez and Tielemans looks to be the best bet, in a situation where there are three great contenders but one costs a bit more.

These four will undoubtedly have a huge part in how successful Leicester’s season is, as they look to counter-balance a weakened defence and mount a successful European qualification campaign. However, the financial dominance of the top six, personified by Harry Maguire’s switch to Manchester United yesterday makes this a nigh on impossible task, despite the talent that the club possess on the pitch, in the dugout and in the boardroom.

Stats from Premier League, Transfermarkt and Fantasy Football Scout

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