Premier League

Leicester’s Secret Weapon Could Stun City

 • by Matt Gault
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Leicester City are responsible for some of the shrewdest investments in recent Premier League history. It was the Foxes, after all, with Steve Walsh’s productive scouting network, who discovered N’Golo Kanté.

The Frenchman was signed from Caen for £5million and went on to clinch the Premier League in successive seasons with Leicester and Chelsea while scooping the PFA Players’ Player of the Year for the latter.

There was also Riyad Mahrez, another recipient of that prestigious individual accolade, who joined from Le Havre in January 2014 and proceeded to become the club’s most technically gifted player.

Robert Huth at £3million has to be considered a steal, too, the imposing German proving a rock-solid presence at the back of that title-winning side in the 2015/16 season.

A player who does not fall into the bargain category, however, is Islam Slimani.

The Foxes paid a club record £29.7million to bring the Algeria international to the King Power Stadium in August 2016 and, having scored 31 goals for Sporting Lisbon the season prior, there was understandably much fanfare.

It hasn’t quite panned out for Slimani, though. The 29-year-old failed to nail down a regular starting place under Claudio Ranieri and Craig Shakespeare while 11 goals in 36 appearances has been a disappointing return considering his hefty price-tag.

However, Slimani – who emerged as a Monaco and Newcastle United transfer target in the summer – certainly has his qualities and Claude Puel should consider starting the forward for the visit of runaway league leaders Manchester City on Saturday.

How Slimani Can Hurt City

Slimani started just 13 games in the Premier League last season but one of those was the thumping 4-2 victory over City in December. The striker played his part in what was a rare highlight during a deeply disappointing campaign, notching two assists as Ranieri’s side blew Pep Guardiola’s City away with three goals in a whirlwind opening 20 minutes.

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When Ranieri revealed his line-up, irate fans blasted the Italian for favouring Slimani ahead of the tireless work-rate of Shinji Okazaki. With Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva turning out for City, it didn’t look overly promising for the Foxes.

However, they stunned City, with Slimani slipping in Jamie Vardy for his first of three after just three minutes before laying another goal on a plate for Andy King two minutes later to give the hosts a dream start.

Vardy is certain to start up front but Puel would be wise to emulate Ranieri’s 4-4-2 from last year, when the England international terrorised City’s back three and Slimani used his physical presence and aerial prowess to give them further headaches.

Indeed, Slimani won all four of his aerial duels in that game and his ability in those scenarios can add a different dimension to Leicester’s tactical plan this time around. As you can see in the graphics below, as per WhoScored and BBC Sport, Slimani was Leicester’s most dedicated attacking player and was the only one to average more time in City’s half.

Slimani

Puel has earned four points from his first two league games in charge after replacing Shakespeare but has been wary of making significant changes.

Against Everton, his decision to hand Demarai Gray a rare start paid off but Leicester looked very much like the devastating counter-attacking unit that romped to a historic league title. The Toffees enjoyed 60 per cent possession in that game but were exposed by the blistering pace of Gray, Mahrez and Vardy on the break.

City have averaged 65 per cent possession this season and, although they have been frighteningly dominant so far, they have had problems with Leicester and Slimani in the past. In the 4-2 defeat, City managed 78 per cent possession but Leicester were the side with a clinical edge in attack, scoring four times from their six shots on target. They will once again be forced to contend with City enjoying the lion’s share of the ball, but that doesn’t mean they can’t cause problems.

City Far From Perfect At The Back

City pose a significantly greater threat this time around. Raheem Sterling and De Bruyne are in the form of their life, Leroy Sané has been an exhilarating presence on the wing while they boast the always-dangerous Gabriel Jesus up front.

They have also improved in defence with John Stones and Nicolás Otamendi offering continuity as the first-choice centre-backs. That’s in stark contrast to a chaotic defensive strategy at the King Power last season when a weak-looking back three of Pablo Zabaleta, Stones and Bacary Sagna was hastily reshuffled into a back four including Aleksandar Kolarov after falling two behind in just 255 seconds.

It’s worth noting three of those players were let go by Guardiola in the summer and, while there has been a marked improvement at the back this term, they are still far from impenetrable, having conceded five goals in their last three games.

Leicester will likely absorb pressure and look to expose City on the break. Perhaps the greatest outlet is on the right, where Mahrez will fancy his chances against makeshift left-back Fabian Delph.

Although the former Aston Villa midfielder’s unlikely metamorphosis into a defender has been admirable, Arsenal striker Alexandre Lacazette exposed his defensive vulnerabilities last time out. If Mahrez was paying attention to the goal, which you can see below, he will have noticed that Delph is often out of position.

If the Algerian playmaker can find space on the right, his compatriot represents an excellent target in the box with both his aerial threat and movement off the shoulder of defenders.

Having Slimani partnering Vardy in attack could cause City real problems and, although it’s a daring strategy to deploy two strikers against such a superior outfit, emulating Ranieri’s master plan from 11 months ago offers Puel the strongest chance of clinching three points and continuing his promising start to life at Leicester.

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