Leicester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur: Tactical Preview

Pegged by many as relegation favorites, Leicester City have taken full points from two matches and scored six goals in the process. Two matches is naturally a small sample size, but the Foxes will pose a significant challenge to a Spurs side coming of a very Spursy implosion at the Lane which saw Stoke snatch a draw with two late goals. Here’s what to expect come Saturday.

Just because Stoke have moved past the long ball doesn’t mean everyone has. When examining Leicester’s statistics through the first two weeks, one number in particular stands out is that 24.5% of their total passes have been long balls. While the small sample size warning is still in effect, this rate is significantly greater than that of any other Premier League club this season. Furthermore, Leicester City has the second lowest possession rate in the Premier League at 37.3%. The Foxes, it seems, have placed an emphasis on direct football under new boss, Claudio Ranieri.

Leicester has started the same XI in the first two matches and with obvious success no major reported injuries, look for the same lineup against Spurs on Saturday.

Between the sticks for the Foxes is Kasper Schmeichel. Unsurprisingly, considering Leicester’s direct tendencies, Schmeichel has attempted more long balls (56) than any other Premier League player except Crystal Palace keeper, Alex McCarthy, who has also attempted 56 long balls over the first two matches. With this in mind, we can expect Leicester to frequently launch direct offensives from the back.

At left back, look for Jeffery Schlupp. Schlupp can play in the midfield as well and could pose a threat going forward. His counterpart at right back is Belgian, Ritchie de Laet. In the center of defense are Robert Huth and Wes Morgan. Huth has had no trouble getting the ball out of the box this season, tallying the second most clearances in the Premier League thus far (21).

In midfield we should expect Andy King and Daniel Drinkwater to be flanked by Marc Albrighton and Riyad Mahrez. Albrighton and Mahrez have been the focal points of Leicester’s early success–Mahrez leads the Premier League in goals (3) and Albrighton leads it in assists (3). Albrighton also tallied a goal of his own against Sunderland. Needless to say, containing the productivity of these two will be a key for Spurs. Kyle Walker and whoever starts at left back will have their hands full.

New signing from Mainz, Shinji Okazaki, will likely join Jaime Vardy up top to complete the Foxes’ XI. Okazaki tallied 12 goals in the Bundesliga last season, 10th most in the league. In 2014/15, Vardy scored just five times but managed the 10th most assists in the Premier League (8). Vardy’s pace may cause some problems for Spurs and the backline will have to be weary of his runs. Last year, Poch might have opted for the speedy Eric Dier in the center of the defense to deal with this pace, but Alderweireld and Vertonghen look the set pair so here’s hoping they handle it well.

On Wednesday, Leicester announced the singing of Switzerland captain and midfielder, Gökhan Inler, from Napoli. The club reports that pending registration, he could be available on Saturday. Inler should become an important component of Leicester’s midfield soon, but look for him to come off the bench in place of either King or Drinkwater against Spurs.

With Leicester’s wide men posing a serious threat, it seems likely that a more defensively minded Dembélé will retain his place ahead of Lamela on the right. The first band of midfielders–which should feature Dier alongside Bentaleb or Mason–may also have to provide additional cover for the fullbacks.

Last time Tottenham visited the King Power Stadium, an early goal from Kane and an Eriksen free kick saw Spurs win 2-1. The Spurs Projected Goal Difference model is predicting a similar result–the projected goal difference is +.68 in favor of Spurs. If Tottenham’s wide men can contain Mahrez and company, it could turn out to be a very good Saturday. If not, well, just ask Sunderland.

*All data, except SPGD, from WhoScored.com