Tactics writer Sam Tighe breaks down the keys to success ahead of Southampton's Premier League clash with Leicester City in the latest edition of Tactical Watch, in association with Sportsbet.io.
Friday presents an opportunity for a small slice of revenge for Southampton, as they gear up to face the Leicester City side who ended their FA Cup dreams earlier this month.
The nine-day gap between Saints’ last fixture and this one should allow time for rest and recovery- in addition to some injuries healing up, perhaps. Meanwhile, Leicester have been hard at it, bookending two matchweeks by playing last on Monday and first here.
Here are the 3 keys to a Saints victory that would reset the form book at St. Mary’s - while also throwing a spanner into the works of the Foxes’ top-four charge.
For so long, taming Leicester’s attacking threat has been all about preventing Jamie Vardy running riot.
Since the 2015/16 season he’s bagged 15 or more goals every year, more often than not pushing the 25-mark. His speed in behind and relentless, pest-like work rate has long been a pain for defenders and still is - only now, Leicester have a lethal compliment to him that demands equal attention.
Iheanacho, who has scored 11 goals in his last eight games, is the Foxes’ in-form man. He likes to drop in off the forward line and receive the ball, spin, then play into the path of Vardy running in behind. He then follows the pass into the box and takes up great shooting positions.
Clever play like this can be hard to track and stop, even for the best around. That’s a point evidenced by the fact that, over the last month, Iheanacho has dropped into the exact same area, received the exact same ball and played the exact same pass into the exact same run.
Just because you know it’s coming doesn’t mean you can stop it, but Saints will have to find a way to become the first team in a while to do so.
Ralph Hasenhüttl has flexed the full strength and depth of his goalkeeping department this season, rotating Alex McCarthy and Fraser Forster in and out depending on the situation.
McCarthy donned the gloves for Saints’ trip to Tottenham last week and if he keeps his spot, has certain attributes that could be key in defeating Leicester.
The 31-year-old has displayed cat-like reflexes throughout the campaign, making some remarkable stops from close range. That’ll come in handy when it comes to addressing the ferocity of Iheanacho’s shots.
He’s also grown into a goalkeeper very comfortable making 1v1 stops and leaving his line to confront attackers head on. His list of attackers stopped in this fashion this season alone contains Alexandre Lacazette, Marcus Rashford and, most notably, Jamie Vardy.
Iheanacho’s emerging threat is the talk of the Premier League, but Vardy’s pace in behind is an ever-present threat. McCarthy is one of the best-equipped goalkeepers in the division to deal with that.
Stressing the back line
Something very peculiar happened on Monday night: Leicester City conceded a goal to Crystal Palace that was almost identical to one they’d conceded earlier in the season, to Fulham.
In both scenarios, Youri Tielemans was dispossessed while receiving the ball from a throw-in, the opponent countered, a runner from the left slipped in behind the defensive line and finished the 1v1. Even the type of finish was the same.
For opposing teams, there are several lessons to take from this: First, the Foxes are willing to throw laterally to their central midfielders - even under pressure; and second, Leicester’s defensive line does not appear to behave in unison when defending quick counter-attacks.
In the Palace scenario Jonny Evans halts to play offside, Çağlar Söyüncü keeps retreating and Wesley Fofana steps up to face the ball square on. As Jairo Riedewald plays it through, they’re all staggered in depth and Söyüncü plays Wilfried Zaha onside.
This has happened throughout the season and resulted in two near-identical goals; it can’t be chalked off as happenstance. It must be viewed as a way Southampton (and others) can hurt Leicester, and Hasenhüttl coaches the style to replicate it.