An assessment of Leicester City so far this season

Despite Leicester City’s defeat to Doncaster Rovers last weekend, the October international break is a good opportunity to assess how the Foxes have fared throughout the opening quarter of the season.  Saturday’s loss should not erase a lot of good things that have happened for Nigel Pearson’s men so far in 2013/14.

Leicester City have won seven of their opening eleven league games.  The Foxes are also undefeated at the King Power Stadium, and have scored at least two goals per each home game since the opening day of the season.  On paper, their form away from the King Power Stadium may seem unimpressive, but three wins and one draw from six games gives Nigel Pearson’s men the fifth best away record in the Championship.  Leicester have taken a total 23 points from 11 league games – such a return throughout the remainder of the 2013/14 campaign would give the Foxes 96 points by the end of the season – 28 more than their accumulated total last year, during which they snuck into the playoffs on the last day at the expense of local rivals Nottingham Forest.  Aside from their Championship campaign, Leicester City have reached in the fourth round of the League Cup and face Premier League Fulham on 29 October.  A win would see them advance into the last eight of the tournament.

Looking more into the numbers, Leicester have been held scoreless just twice in all competitions so far this season.  Good fortune appears to be favouring the Foxes, in that they have been awarded – and have converted – eight penalties in all competitions.  David Nugent has confidently put away six of these with a 100% success rate.  He is Leicester’s top scorer so far this season, although he has only scored one goal which wasn’t a spot kick.  Defensively, the Foxes have kept just four clean sheets in total, and their goals conceded record in the Championship (11) is currently joint worst for teams in the top six, but still have a goal difference of +6.

Foxes fans should not get carried away at this stage, as their side were first in the league after eleven games at this point last year, albeit for a very brief period – and after which Leicester City failed to occupy an automatic promotion spot for the remainder of the season.  Nigel Pearson’s men have been playing steady football, but have rarely dominated a match from the beginning.  80 per cent of their goals have been scored in the second-half, often after a lacklustre opening 45 minutes.  This demonstrates an ability to step up a gear when need be, but it also creates an argument that Leicester City are not playing at a consistently high level – something which will need addressing when stronger teams come to the King Power Stadium this season.

It is difficult to look too much into the opening quarter of the season, but to summarise briefly, Leicester have started fairly strongly – hence their league position – although they will need to at least maintain this level until May in order to remain in the hunt for promotion.  There are some teams in the Championship this year with the same objective as the Foxes, and who have enjoyed an equally good opening quarter.  A league cup run would be a great opportunity for Nigel Pearson to test the strength of this current side against Premier League opposition, as well as to see where improvements, if any, need to be made in order to achieve top-flight status.

Grand Finales

There are a number of reasons to be optimistic about Leicester City’s strong start to the 2013/14 season.  The Foxes currently lie third in the Championship after eight games, and can look forward to a league cup fourth-round home tie against Premier League Fulham.  Nigel Pearson has not been overly active in the transfer window, although he has added depth at key positions, while allowing other players to leave the King Power Stadium on loan deals.

Although this season is young, one statistic does stand out – Leicester have won five times this season in games in which they have conceded the first goal.  It hasn’t gone unnoticed that Nigel Pearson’s men have, at times, been slow out of the blocks, but this figure demonstrates that they have the capability of improving their game when it really matters.  In eleven games in all competitions, the Foxes have scored 16 of their 22 goals in the second-half, and have earned seven points in the Championship from losing positions.

There is certainly a long way to go, and Leicester are not playing their best football right now, but Nigel Pearson will be pleased with his players’ ability to change the momentum and finish strongly – it is something that will be crucial towards the end stages of the season.

Moore impresses as Foxes pass Wigan litmus test

Leicester City’s 2-0 home victory yesterday afternoon over Wigan Athletic was a perfect return to Championship football following the Autumn international break.  Having had two weeks to dwell on their first league defeat of the season at the hands of Charlton Athletic, Nigel Pearson’s men returned to winning ways with goals from Liam Moore and David Nugent, while the defence kept their third clean sheet in six games.

More importantly, Leicester were facing their first newly-relegated team in Wigan Athletic, who many have tipped as instant promotion contenders for 2013/14.   The Foxes passed this test with flying colours, and have another chance on Tuesday against Blackburn Rovers to keep pace with East Midlands-rivals Nottingham Forest, who are also enjoying a good start to the season, as well as high-flyers Blackpool and QPR.  Essentially, this victory ticked a lot of boxes, and gave the rest of the Championship a reminder that Leicester City will be a threat this year.

Huge credit should be given to Liam Moore, who is becoming an important part of this Leicester defence.  Playing alongside Wes Morgan at the back will be a real education for the 20-year-old, although his first senior goal yesterday against Wigan epitomised his own individual performances so far this season.  Like Andy King, Moore has come through the Leicester youth team to earn a starting spot for the club that he supports, and the youngster has benefited from a couple of loan spells at Bradford City and Brentford to gain experience.  Foxes fans will hope to see him prosper this season.

The arrival of Dean Hammond before the end of the summer transfer window was the main action at the King Stadium towards the end of August, while Martyn Waghorn recently agreed a three-month loan deal with Millwall (and scored on debut yesterday in the Lions’ 5-1 home-loss to Derby County).  With four games in the next twelve days, Hammond could well be in line for more game time, and will hope to be in contention for a starting place in midfield.  The 30-year-old spent the majority of 2012/13 on loan at Brighton and made 37 appearances for the Seagulls, so there will be no questioning his stamina and endurance towards the business end of the season where the Foxes tailed off last year.

Wood, Dyer impress as Foxes hit five on the road

Chris Wood and Lloyd Dyer came up big in Leicester City’s 5-2 Capital One cup win against Carlisle United at Brunton Park last night.  The Foxes scored four goals in 14 second-half minutes to take control of the second-round tie, despite falling behind to an early David Amoo goal.  Some may have anticipated a weakened Leicester City team to go on and lose that game, but, for the third time in six games this season, they took control in the second-half and came out on top.

The result was convincing, but in the grand scheme of things not all that important.  It is unlikely that Leicester City will go on and win the Capital One cup.  What is important is the number of positives that Nigel Pearson and Craig Shakespeare can and will take away from last night’s performance.

Lloyd Dyer captained the side in the absence of both Wes Morgan and Kasper Schmeichel.  Despite featuring more and more as an impact substitution for the Foxes, he continues to be a fan favourite with his great attitude and blistering pace.  If anything, Dyer seems to be improving with age.  Perhaps knowing that his place in the team is not guaranteed provides him with the impetus to succeed when he does get the opportunity.

Chris Wood scored an impressive hat-trick, notching his first goals for the club since April.  The striker enjoyed a superb run of form at the beginning of 2013 after making his move to the King Power Stadium, scoring seven goals in five appearances for Leicester, including another away hat-trick against Bristol City during that time.  However, his form took a real dip towards the end of the season, tying in with Leicester’s end-of-season near-collapse which saw the Foxes scrape into the Championship play-offs on goal difference after flying high for the first-half of the season.  It was a much-needed big performance from the New Zealander, and with Jamie Vardy taking most of the headlines in recent weeks following a string of impressive performances, Wood will certainly hope to build on last night’s outing and give Nigel Pearson a selection headache.

It was also a great opportunity for Pearson to rest the legs of David Nugent and Wes Morgan among others, but also to give other players an opportunity to impress and potentially work their way into the team.  Neil Danns and Ignasi Miquel were able to get 90 minutes under their belt, while Zoumana Bakayogo featured deep into the second-half.  Squad depth is crucial in any league, and to know that other players can come in and perform when required is a big thing for any manager.

Escaping the Championship is the ultimate goal for Leicester City this season, although Nigel Pearson will have been pleased with how his players performed on return to his old club and will hope to keep to winning ways beyond the upcoming international break.

Leicester not at their best, but still winning

Leicester City’s 1-0 win against East Midlands-rivals Derby County yesterday afternoon was a positive result in more ways than one.  Although the game was decided by a scrappy goal which will not make many highlight reels, it demonstrated that Nigel Pearson’s men have the ability to hold onto narrow leads away from home.  Leicester have already won two league games on the road so far this season, something they didn’t achieve until October 2 during the 2012/13 Championship campaign.  In fact, the Foxes only mustered six away wins last year – a record which certainly hindered their automatic promotion hopes.

Yesterday’s victory also indicated that Jamie Vardy is becoming more and more of an influential figure on the pitch.  Since his move to the King Power Stadium from at-the-time non-league Fleetwood Town last year, the 26-year-old striker struggled to maintain his place in the starting XI and mostly appeared as a substitute.  However, Vardy has in featured in Leicester’s first three league fixtures.  He scored the winner on the opening day of the season against Middlesbrough and was heavily involved in Lee Grant’s first-half own goal yesterday afternoon.  If Vardy can continue to impress with similar performances this year, it would be a real bonus for the Foxes.

Lining up in last year’s more familiar 4-3-3 formation, Nigel Pearson proved that Leicester have a plan B, and that he has the players for this.  With a more traditional back four of Ritchie De Laet, Liam Moore, Wes Morgan and Jeffrey Schlupp, the Foxes kept their second consecutive clean sheet, and have still only conceded once in the Championship so far this season.  With speculation that Paul Konchesky could be involved in a move away from the King Power Stadium before the end of the transfer window, fans could see more of Zoumana Bakayogo in upcoming weeks, as well as Jeffrey Schlupp who continues to impress as a utility player.

The season is still young, and the Championship is full of teams with the potential to be promotion contenders, but Leicester City are certainly showing early signs of promise.  They have won games without playing their best football, which is the sign of a good team.  Nigel Pearson is very aware that there is still room for improvement.

Foxes fight back to claim victory on opening day

 Leicester City’s 2-1 victory over Middlesbrough this afternoon was more than just a good result and an important opening three points.  It was a statement.  It demonstrated a never-say-die attitude which will prove to be priceless this season.  It told 23 other teams in the Championship that Nigel Pearson will demand more from his players, who have the ability to turn a poor first-half performance into a positive result from a difficult situation.

The Foxes are becoming somewhat of a bogey team for Middlesbrough, having won on three of their last five visits to the Riverside.  However, when Zak Whitbread sustained an early injury in the first half and Sean St. Ledger’s own-goal put Tony Mowbray’s side ahead before the break, Leicester seemed destined to fall to an opening day defeat.  The visitors improved in the second half and drew level through Danny Drinkwater’s 20-yard strike on the hour-mark, before Jamie Vardy netted the winner seven minutes later with a sublime curling effort from the edge of the box.

The introduction of substitute David Nugent appeared to influence the game in favour of the visitors, demonstrating his importance to the team.  The link-up between Nugent and Vardy for Leicester’s second goal was indicative that the two could soon become Nigel Pearson’s chosen strike force this season.  Pearson will know he has numerous options in attack, but injury to Whitbread did highlight a shortage of defensive players.  Liam Moore appeared to play well after making an early substitute appearance after just nineteen minutes, but Leicester may be forced to take venture into the transfer market before very long if Whitbread’s injury is serious enough to prevent him playing for a few weeks.

Leicester will face Leeds United at the King Power Stadium on Sunday 11 August and will hope give the Blue Army something extra to cheer about after a great opening day victory.

5 things learnt from Leicester’s preseason match vs. AS Monaco

Although the final score in preseason friendlies is not particularly important, these matches are still interesting in terms of understanding where teams – and players – are in terms of fitness, attitude and ability.  While Leicester City’s 3-0 loss to AS Monaco yesterday afternoon is no real cause for concern, it did tell fans a few things.

1.  The 3-5-2 formation needs a lot of work.

Only Nigel Pearson knows which formation he will employ in next Saturday’s opener against Middlesbrough, but the back three of Wes Morgan, Zak Whitbread and Sean St. Ledger never really looked comfortable as a defensive trio.  Of course the Foxes will not be expected to line up against Radamel Falcao every week (whom Morgan actually did a fairly solid job of marking), but the same principle still applies.

2.  Nigel Pearson hasn’t decided on his starting XI.

There’s no way that the same starting XI against Monaco will take to the field against Middlesbrough.  For one, Pearson will be praying that David Nugent is fit enough to start the match.  Substitute Liam Moore probably played well enough to earn a place over Whitbread or St. Ledger – especially if the Foxes do play a 3-5-2 formation.

3.  Leicester’s midfield will be extremely competitive for places.

The late emergence of Matty James towards the end of last season makes him an important part of the team for this season.  But Andy King, Danny Drinkwater and Neil Danns will also be keen to make an impression.  And, if Leicester do adopt a 3-5-2 formation, Ben Marshall and Anthony Knockaert will want to feature somewhere.

4.  Kasper Schmeichel is still Leicester City’s most important player.

The Danish international could do little about the three goals conceded yesterday afternoon, but Schmeichel, yet again, made an impressive string of saves throughout the match to keep the scoreline from getting out of hand, including a fantastic stop to deny Mounir Obbadi in the first-half.  Foxes fans have become accustomed to such performances but it is no surprise to hear reports that Schmeichel has attracted Premier League interest.

5.  Fans are losing interest in PR-friendly preseason games.

This may be a sign of current difficult economic times, or due to the match being televised on Sky, but fewer than 11,000 fans attended yesterday’s fixture – and tickets were available for around £15.  Over 32,000 people attended Leicester’s preseason friendly against Spanish giants Real Madrid at the King Power Stadium two years ago, and tickets were nearly twice as expensive.

Strength in Numbers

Zoumana Bakayogo became Leicester City’s first summer after the former Tranmere Rovers left-back agreed a two-year deal with the Foxes earlier this week.  This transfer suggests that Nigel Pearson believes Zoumana will provide good competition for current starter Paul Konchesky.  It also indicates that the manager is quite happy with his current cohort of players with the start of the season just over a week away. 

Fans may be concerned about an apparent shortage of centre-backs at the King Power Stadium ahead of the new campaign.  Since the return of Michael Keane to his parent club Manchester United, the only senior centre-backs at the club alongside captain Wes Morgan are Sean St. Ledger and Zak Whitbread, who featured sparingly last season.  Academy player George Taft has been utilised during preseason and Liam Moore showed promise across the backline last year, although Moore mostly filled in for the injured Ritchie De Laet during the Belgian’s spell on the side line.  Unless Pearson is hoping to fully develop Liam Moore as a centre-back alongside Morgan this season, he may consider signing another defender before too long – especially if the manager’s preseason trialling of the 3-5-2 formation is being considered. 

The summer transfer window remains open until 11pm on Tuesday 2 September, so Foxes fans should not be too concerned at this stage.  Any big-name signings are unlikely due to Financial Fair Play restrictions, and the signing of Bakayogo may be a demonstration of Nigel Pearson’s interest of developing lower league players, but watch this space for any developments.  Despite Michael Keane’s age, he actually leaves some big shoes to fill at the King Power Stadium.

Five Key Away Games

Leicester City struggled on the road in 2012/3, winning just six games out of a possible 23 in the Championship last season.  The Foxes will need to improve on their travels to be considered an automatic promotion threat this time around: for the last four years, the division’s top-two teams have all registered double-digit wins away from home.  Here are five key away games in Leicester City’s 2013/4 Championship campaign:

1: vs. Middlesbrough – Saturday 3 August 2013 (3pm)

Leicester’s record against Middlesbrough in recent years is very respectable.  In fact, the Boro’s last league win in this fixture was over eleven years ago when both clubs were in the Premier League.  The Foxes have won two of their last four matches at the Riverside, and remain undefeated since Tony Mowbray became manager in 2010.  That being said, it is Leicester’s first game of the new Championship campaign, and both sides will be determined to get off to a fast start.  Nigel Pearson, a former Middlesbrough captain, may have been hoping for a shorter road journey to kick things off in August.  Then again, he will certainly have his current side’s recent record in mind.

2: vs. Charlton Athletic – Saturday 31 August 2013 (3pm)

Many neutrals saw Charlton’s very respectable ninth-placed standing last season as somewhat of a misnomer.  However, the Addicks have won 47 of their last 94 league fixtures with manager Chris Powell at the helm over the last two years.  If the season were a couple of games longer, Charlton may have snuck into the playoffs last year, as they finished just three points below Leicester City.  They also beat the Foxes both home and away last season, and were the better side on both occasions.  Powell will be looking to build on last year’s final standing and push on for a possible top-six spot.  With that being said, Charlton won only eight games at the Valley in 2012/3.  Visiting teams will try to exploit that.

3: vs. Watford – Saturday 2 November 2013 (12:15pm – Sky Sports)

There are no two ways about it: Sky will have a field day in the build-up to this fixture, repeatedly showing Troy Deeney’s play-off stoppage-time winner from last season until Leicester City supporters who had previously spent the summer trying to forget about it are ready to go and lie down in a dark room.  This could be Leicester’s biggest mental challenge during the upcoming Championship campaign.  Nigel Pearson and his men must forget about their last trip to Vicarage Road and focus on the task at hand.  It won’t be easy, as Watford will be definite promotion contenders.  An away win wouldn’t rewrite history, but it’d help some Leicester supporters heal.  Many would probably take a draw if it were offered.

4: vs. Ipswich Town – Saturday 23 November 2013 (3pm)

There’s always something about this fixture.  Ipswich Town are a side who usually seem to have Leicester’s number when they travel to Portman Road, having beaten the Foxes six out of the last ten times there.  Relegation contenders for around 85% of last season, manager Mick McCarthy guided the Tractor Boys to an eventually-respectable fourteenth-placed finish in the Championship last year.  With the former Republic of Ireland manager seemingly now settled in Suffolk, Nigel Pearson’s men will be in for another tough away journey before Christmas.  Leicester supporters will simply be praying that it doesn’t snow.

5: vs. Millwall – Wednesday 1 January 2014 (3pm)

Whether they are flying high or scrapping for survival, there is never a good time to play Millwall away from home.  This is certainly true for Leicester City, who haven’t beaten the Lions at the New Den since the south-London club returned to the Championship in 2010.  In fact, the Foxes have scored just one goal against Millwall in their last four encounters, losing on each occasion.  Nigel Pearson will want to right that wrong and kick off the new year with a positive result, but new manager Steve Lomas will be expecting his new side to finish higher they did in 2013 after slipping from sixth to twentieth during the second half of last season.

Five Key Home Games

Most teams go through periods of tough matches throughout the season – especially in the highly-competitive Championship.  Looking ahead at the start of the footballing year, supporters (and perhaps even players and managers) may look at a particular run of fixtures with some concern.  However, this is usually done so with the previous season’s end-of-year standings in mind.  Difficult runs often occur when they are least expected, and it may be more sensible to just focus on one game at a time – so with that in mind, here are five key home games in Leicester City’s 2013/4 Championship campaign (on paper, of course):

1: vs. Leeds United – Sunday 11 August 2013 (4:30pm – Sky Sports)             

This is the Foxes’ first home game of the season, and Nigel Pearson will be determined for his side to make a strong start.  Hopefully, a bumper crowd at the King Power Stadium will be there in full voice to show support for their team in front of the Sky television cameras.  However, playing Leeds United home or away is never an easy proposition;  Leicester have won just once in their last four league outings against Greg McDermott’s men – and the Foxes’ last home win against the Yorkshire side was in 2009.

2: vs. Bournemouth – Saturday 26 October 2013 (3pm)

On paper this may seem like a straightforward home win against a newly promoted side.  But bearing in mind that Bournemouth won 24 league matches last season (eleven times on their travels) and were League One’s top scorers in 2012/3, then this one suddenly becomes a more fixture. Throw a good manager like Eddie Howe into the mix, and you may be looking at a team looking to continue their winning ways and to mount a second successive promotion charge – or at least maintain a positive start to life in the Championship.  The Foxes play all three recently-promoted League One teams in the month of October, so it will be important to provide them all with a real test.

3: vs. Reading – Thursday 26 December 2013 (3pm)

The last time Leicester City won a home game against Reading was 24 August 2002.  The Foxes have also lost their last five against the Berkshire club, so it is safe to say that the Berkshire club are somewhat of a bogey side.  The appointment of Nigel Adkins towards the end of last season was a clear sign that Reading were readying themselves for life in the Championship, and they will certainly have promotion in their sights in 2013/4.  This will also be the second of three fixtures in eight days over Christmas for Leicester City, sandwiched between a trip to Loftus Road and playing host to Bolton Wanderers.

4: vs. Watford – Saturday 8 February 2014 (3pm)

This one goes without saying.  Leicester faced the Hornets on four occasions in 2012/3, losing three times – including the 3-1 heartbreaker at Vicarage Road that ended the Foxes’ sputtering season in dramatic fashion.  Gianfranco Zola’s men are likely to be contenders again next year, and the Italian could have a similarly strong side if he is able to use the Pozzos’ ties with Udinese to secure some of last season’s loan stars such as Matej Vydra and Almen Abdi.  Nigel Pearson and his players must put that playoff loss out of their minds and focus on this season’s prize.  By February 2014, this will be a good indicator of where Leicester City are in terms of becoming a top-flight team.

5: vs. QPR – Saturday 19 April 2014 (3pm)

QPR are already hot favourites to win the Championship despite finishing bottom of the Premier League last season with just four wins and averaging less than one goal (0.79) per game.  Arguably, they have one of the strongest squads in the second-tier, and with Harry Redknapp at the helm, the Rs could be a tough proposition for any side in this division.  In addition, this fixture is played during a congested period for the Foxes, who currently have seven games scheduled for April.  They could play more than that if cup runs or rescheduled fixtures affect them or their opponents, so it will be a good test of Leicester’s ability to use squad depth while attempting to play their best football at the business end of the season.