Premier League

Claude Puel: Leicester’s quiet revolutionary

 • by Mark Thompson
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Two years ago this past week, Leicester City found out who they’d face in the Champions League group stage.

One year ago, they were just about to begin a bad run of results that’d lead to the departure of Craig Shakespeare as manager, bringing in the current boss Claude Puel.

Everyone knows the way that the Foxes won the Premier League title in 2015/16 – fast, direct, counter-attacking – but Puel has brought about a quiet revolution in his ten months in charge.

Leicester are now a possession team. Looking at possession sequences with fifteen passes or more, Puel’s side are joint-fourth in the league, alongside Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur (averaging six per game).

There’s a good chance that these numbers might go down as the season goes on, but it’s a big jump from Leicester’s average of just over two long possession sequences a game last season.

The Kings are gone from the King Power

The summer has provided more of an opportunity for Puel to mould his side, the current starting line-up is a big change from the title-winning XI.

Kasper Schmeichel might still be in goal, but the entire back four are either being phased out or have moved on completely. The stars of the midfield – Riyad Mahrez, Daniel Drinkwater, and N’Golo Kante have all now been sold – although Marc Albrighton is still hanging around, more peripheral than before.

Shinji Okazaki’s work-rate has been cast aside for new signing James Maddison, while Kelechi Iheanacho has taken advantage of Jamie Vardy’s lack of pre-season, and now suspension, to impress. If the Nigerian keeps on doing well, he might force Puel to make a tough decision between the two.

In Maddison – who made the seventh-most open play key passes per 90 in the Championship last year – Puel finally has a player who can operate as a creator in attacking midfield, transforming the side into a conventional 4-2-3-1.

While Craig Shakespeare’s reign has made the morphing away from the ‘Leicester identity’ a bit more gradual, Puel’s side’s style is still noticeably different to what has preceded it.

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Their persona radar shows that Puel’s side is characterised far less with long balls. Their possession share has leaped to nearly 50 percent from under Shakespeare when they averaged just 41.5 percent.

Not so quiet

While the change between the title-winning team and the current one might have gone on without much fanfare, Puel’s reign hasn’t always been so quiet. Twice, during his short tenure, there have been rumours that the Leicester City hierarchy were looking to move on to a different manager.

On the face of it, this seemed harsh. Puel took Leicester from near the relegation zone to near the European places. He didn’t push on and overtake Burnley in seventh, which he perhaps could have done, but he was still lumped with a lot of the old guard in his team.

However, while the style has changed, the success has stayed much the same. Under Shakespeare, Leicester’s league record was 8-5-8; under Puel it’s been 12-8-12, and expected goals statistics have given an expected goals difference of nearly zero for both reigns.

What has been different is the way these results fell. Shakespeare had an incredible start, taking over from Ranieri, before tailing off. Puel has meandered a little more.

On the surface, it looks like the Frenchman has truly transformed Leicester in just a year, and in some ways he really has. The fact that Leicester’s first-choice line-up now only includes two of the title-winners is a shock. But, for the moment, they’ve not moved forward or back.

In history, the impact of a revolution isn’t understood until long after it’s happened. The same seems to be true of Puel.

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