Leicester City’s Claudio Ranieri is a shoo-in to be named Manager of the Year this season for an outstanding Premier League campaign that saw the Foxes surpass expectations as relegation candidates to title challengers. Various factors have led to City confounding their critics in Ranieri’s first term at the King Power Stadium, and other managers should certainly be taking note.
The Italian coach has changed the perception of how teams can challenge for major honours by bridging the performance gap without lucrative finances and perceived world-class performers, and here are some key lessons that other managers should perhaps learn from Ranieri’s matchless campaign.
1 The art of defending
Leicester City’s season has been built on a solid defence. The Foxes have kept 11 clean sheets in 2016 through fairly straight-forward tactics. The backline is profound and compact without the ball, limiting the space for opposing sides to work an opening. The fullbacks don’t push forward, and they instead stay in line with the centre-backs. Defending narrow mean Leicester allow crosses from wider areas but they have the numbers in the box to deal with them, and it’s certainly worked a treat in 2015/16. Too many managers want to defend high up the pitch, which in turn leaves more space in behind, but Ranieri’s straightforward and effective approach to defending might see a change next season.
2 Direct attacking football
Another throwback to an old-school attacking approach from Ranieri has seen Leicester City play directly in possession. When they have the ball, they look to get it up to their attackers in quick fashion with their deep, defensive structure. This approach often sees a deep-lying midfielder – mainly Danny Drinkwater this season – seek pacey striker Jamie Vardy behind the opponent’s defence or wingers Marc Albrighton and Riyad Mahrez in advanced areas. The top sides in the modern Premier League era have often favourited a possession-based approach to their football, but the success Ranieri’s enjoyed may see a revision from a number of clubs.
3 Naming an unchanged side
The Foxes’ boss is famously known as “the tinkerman” due to how frequently he would change his lineup. However, his return to the Premier League has seen a change of heart that paid off brilliantly. During the current campaign, the Italian coach has kept the starting eleven familiar as much as possible that helped the Foxes play exciting football that is not possible without impressive synchronisation amongst members of the squad. Many other managers like to shuffle their squads so often to freshen the side up, but Ranieri has shown that how keeping things same can be a benefit.
4 Getting crosses into the box
A lot of Leicester City’s goals this season have come as a result of balls from the wide areas, and it’s yet another old-school approach that is paying dividends. Marc Albrighton’s outstanding campaign with the Foxes has benefitted from the City Manager using him to his strengths. Albrighton looks to gain a yard on his marker and whips the ball into the box for the attackers to get on the end of. Jamie Vardy’s pace sees him getting in front of the defender to steer the ball in while the target man Leonardo Ulloa is a threat in the area, so lofted crosses will benefit him. Modern-day top sides prefer to cut inside and work openings through narrow play, but Leicester’s throwback to early 2000 football has been a revelation.