In Toon Today: Leicester City: An opportunity for Steve McClaren to show us just how clever he is.
Today we welcome a buoyant Leicester City to St James’ Park and the fixture gives Steve McClaren an almost unique opportunity to show us all just how clever he is. There are few teams in the league like Leicester City, a simple approach to football, everyone knows how they play, the trick is stopping them.
Who Manages Them?
Claudio Ranieri, hand-picked by the Leicester owners to bring a calmer, more stable approach to a Leicester team perplexed by the barmpot antics of Nigel ‘Travis Bickle’ Pearson.
Ranieri was a surprise choice for the post given that his previous spell in charge of the Greek national team had been about as popular as their austerity measures and his success at Cagliari, Fiorentina, Valencia, Chelsea and Monaco was interspersed with failures at Atletico, Valencia a second time, Juve, Roma and Inter.
Then again, given his experience with those teams and his good reputation in England after a successful and engaging time at Chelsea, he was applauded onto the pitch at SJP in one of his last games, maybe it was no surprise that someone was prepared to give him a chance. It looks like it has worked.
Since his arrival at Leicester in the summer, Ranieri hasn’t banged on about changing culture, about turning a ship around or asked anyone to judge him after 10, 12, 15 or however many games, he has just done what was required with the minimum of fuss.
He didn’t go into Leicester with any pre-conceptions about the way a team should play, or which formation, or already talking about spending a load more money in the next transfer window, or the one after that, he just assessed the players and played a team in its strongest formation based on the players involved. Simple.
‘Kasper Schmeichel and Bo Selecta’
His reluctance to throw all of his new signings into a team which needed to find his feet first has also been a complete opposite of Steve McClaren’s treatment of his big money buys. For a man with the nickname of “The Tinkerman” because of constant changes to line-ups and formations, the only things he’s tinkered with this season has been his chit chat:
“When you want to build something, it’s about the club. The head of the fish. Everyone works together. That’s the secret.”
Well quite. The only problem for Leicester and Ranieri that he may have to resolve in the medium term is that they are an obvious team to play against, they don’t have any wildcard players, there is very little trickery or mystery in the team. They do exactly what it says on the tin. The problem for Steve McClaren is that they are very good at what they do.
Who Have They Signed?
Left back free transfer Christian Fuchs from Schalke, £6million central midfielder N’Golo Kante from Caen and previously on loan £3million centre half Robert Huth, should all start today, on the bench will probably be £7million playmaker Shinjo Okazaki, loan winger Nathan Dyer and defensive signings Inler and Benalouane.
Typical of the Foxes signings is Robert Huth. Commanding lump of a centre half that he is, you couldn’t say that there is any ambiguity as to how he plays, he kicks or heads anything in his sight, player or ball, and that’s it.
‘Shinji Okazaki – taking time to settle in. He doesn’t even know how to eat pizza yet.’
While NUFC were trawling Europe for defenders to plug a leaky defence, since Huth signed for the Foxes on loan in last season’s January transfer window they have only lost 6 league games, compared to the 7 they lost in the two months before he signed. He may not be Franz Beckenbauer, but you get what you pay for with him. The only surprise about Huth is that for a German he seems to have a surprisingly mischievous sense of humour.
In January 2015, the FA began an investigation after he took part in a game on Twitter in which users guessed the gender of people in sexually explicit photos. He deleted his interactions with the game and apologised but was fined £15,000 and banned for two matches by the FA for the interactions, which were deemed “an aggravated breach”, though they didn’t say what of, perhaps an aggravated breach of German stereotypes. He also had an amusing exchange of pleasantries with Jonathan Walters after leaving Stoke, Walters tweeting his goodbyes:
Gutted @robert_huth has left the club. Up there with the best defenders in the league and he always made me look good standing next to him!
@JonWalters19 Yep sadly we’ll never hear those commentators words again: “long ball forward from Huth, finds Walters who shoots… Throw in”
Who Have We Seen Before?
Right back Danny Simpson, back in favour at Leicester after initially being left out of the first team this season. Simpson signed for NUFC in our Championship season, initially on loan from Manyoo and then eventually permanently for around half a million quid.
The Lancastrian made 123 appearances for us until 2013 when his contract expired and he left on a free for QPR, remaining in London for a season before moving on to Leicester.
Always a hard-working full back, Simpson was often a target for fan frustration at NUFC in a similar way to Mike Williamson, both limited but genuine players, full of heart if not talent. Simpson was possibly the least talented of our 5th placed finishing team but no one raised the game more than he did that year.
‘Thinking of Tulisa’
His replacements at right back, Debuchy and Janmaat, are both better footballers, both better full-backs, but like Messrs Carroll, Nolan, Barton and Jonas, we may have let these players go in order to progress and replaced them with more gifted players, but it is hard to see a team with all of those workhorses losing 6 times on the belt to the Mackems.
You could accuse Simpson of not having the quality to be a top Premier League player, but he definitely had the commitment to do it and a commitment to the shirt.
He may well have showed no inclination to sign a new contract offered reportedly for a third of the salary which some of his team-mates were earning at NUFC, but Manager Alan Pardew didn’t bust a gut to keep him either and there was also the distraction of his relationship with publicity-addict X Factor judge Tulisa.
As one newspaper put it, coming to the end of his contract his ‘heart was already in London’. Well certainly part of him was in London, but it wasn’t his heart.
Are We Going to Win?
Although there has been a lot of paper talk about Jamie Vardy this week, the emphasis on goals is a valuable pointer to today’s game.
Vardy may have scored in 9 consecutive PL games but that is 3 more games than our whole team have scored in this season, a stat which must change quickly if we are to win games like this.
Our strikers have been largely anonymous in the last few games, service to them even more sparse and now is the time for that to change. Rarely has our lack of someone to control midfield and the pace of the game been more evident than against Bournemouth.
Against a Leicester team who hit teams quickly on the break down the wings, perhaps this week is a time to play someone in the middle of the park who can pass the ball, if we can find one.
‘Jamie Vardy does his Nigel ‘Travis Bickle’ Pearson impression.’
Thauvin is probably the most obvious candidate, playing him on the wing this week can only end in disaster, his lack of pace of no use out wide against the likes of Mahrez. Playing him or De Jong inside would also remove the temptation to play both Tiote and Anita as holding players, given their lack of pace and mobility, they’ll never catch Leicester if they sit too deep, Wijnaldum and Sissoko will have to track back more than ever.
Likewise, Dummett and Janmaat shouldn’t get caught too far forward, even a half fit Vardy is way too quick for Coloccini. Leicester are the PL’s second top scorers so it is unlikely that one goal will win this game so there should be goals, more likely given our defensive frailties, frailties which the Foxes share, especially from crosses into the box and set pieces.
But for all they could go top of the table today, Leicester have no real mystery about them, no playmakers who change a game with a sublime moment of skill, the sort of skill you can’t defend against. They have no inconsistent mavericks, no impact players who can turn a game on its head, they just have a very efficient and effective way of playing and a team of players completely suited to it: hard working, strong, pace on the wings, quick on the break, decent balls into the box and strikers who score from inside the penalty area.
There you go Steve, football is an easy game. If you know what your opponent is going to do, it’s easier to stop them, if you know where your opponent is weak, you know where to attack them, so come on Steve, show us how good a coach you are. Leicester are up for it, as Ranieri said this week:
“Newcastle United are a good team with good fans who push their players, but we are ready.”
And are we? What was McClaren’s reply:
“We are trying to turn the corner. We are doing that slowly and have to keep grinding away.”
That’s the way to bang the drum. Get yourself down to SJP for the game of the season. Howay The Lads. Enjoy the grind.