Looking to the future

The January transfer window has not exactly brought about a plethora of activity to the King Power Stadium.  Nigel Pearson has previously indicated that he prefers to complete any business well before the deadline.  That being said, it won’t have come as a huge surprise to Foxes fans that the signings of Kevin Phillips and Riyad Mahrez are both done and dusted early into the calendar year.  While these two players may not have stirred more than a quiet excitement around the club compared with other teams in this division, these two signings tell us a lot about Nigel Pearson’s plans for the rest of the season.

The signing of Kevin Phillips might have been one of the worst-kept secrets in recent years.  However, the 40-year old striker brings a wealth of experience to the King Power Stadium.  He also has a proven track record of scoring goals, and, regardless of his age, he poses a problem for defenders.  He made an instant impact in his first appearance for the Foxes against Leeds United, and his dummy on the edge of the penalty area was the catalyst for David Nugent’s 88th-minute winner at Elland Road, during a game in which Leicester City were far from at their best.  Phillips has experienced promotion to the Championship with four separate sides, and Foxes fans will be hoping that he can make it five at the beginning of May.

The signing of Kevin Phillips demonstrates that Nigel Pearson has thought about Leicester’s torrid run of form this time last year, which saw the Foxes slip out of automatic promotion contention and almost miss out on the playoffs despite holding a comfortable position near the top of the Championship at the end of January 2013.  It means that Pearson has also considered that, despite the Foxes’ league-best current form, there will be games where perhaps Nugent or Vardy are unable to find that breakthrough goal; given that Leicester have faced every side in the league this season, opposing sides may travel to the King Power Stadium with the game plan of frustrating Nigel Pearson’s men, as was often the case during the League One campaign.  It also gives Leicester fans a mental boost, knowing that he is an option whether Leicester are winning 3-0 or losing 2-1 with fifteen minutes remaining.  A player like Kevin Phillips always possesses a threat, and he has the ability to change a game.  And, in addition, while he may not be one for the future in terms of his own playing career, he is certainly a great person for younger strikers like Jamie Vardy, Chris Wood and Jeffrey Schlupp to learn from in their development.

Leicester’s only other incoming player during this transfer window so far is Riyad Mahrez, a 22-year old French-Algerian winger who transferred from a French Ligue 2 side.  Mahrez made his debut for the Foxes last weekend as a substitute in a 2-0 win against Middlesbrough, and, after just eleven minutes of playing time, fans already seem hugely excited to find out exactly what he is capable of.

This Leicester City squad is well-balanced; some may call it traditional – a 4-4-2 line up, speed on the wings with full-backs capable of pushing forward, strong central defenders and two strikers who are starting to forge an effective partnership in front of goal.  However, if Lloyd Dyer or Anthony Knockaert were to pick up an injury, it would prevent Nigel Pearson from utilising this preferred formation and line-up to its desired effect. Pearson would have the option of switching to a 4-3-3, or possibly playing Jamie Vardy out wide, but Vardy has been so effective in front of goal that to play him out of position could have an adverse effect.  The addition of Mahrez provides cover – and depth – on the wings.  It also prevents a negative knock-on effect from potential injury or dip in form.  Dyer and Knockaert have both been excellent this season; Dyer, in particular, has surpassed expectation, while Knockaert is learning a more disciplined game – in the sense that what he doesn’t do is equally as important as what he does do.  Foxes fans will be incredibly excited to see Mahrez and Knockaert on either flank.  Opposing full-backs may not be relishing this opportunity.

While Leicester City have been eliminated from both cup tournaments this season, it might actually be a blessing in disguise as it allows them to give their entire focus to achieving promotion to the Premier League.  There are five Championship teams who still have an extra FA cup game to play (Nottingham Forest may have to play two more, if they are successful against Preston in a week’s time).  Leicester were one of only two teams to pick up three points in the Championship last weekend, which allowed them to open up an eight-point cushion at the top of the league.  The pressure is now on QPR and Burnley to keep pace.  That being said, fans will know it is too early to pop open the champagne.  This season has been hugely successful so far, but in the back of Pearson’s mind will be last season’s collapse.  It is his job to ensure that the players stay focused on the job at hand.  Phillips and Mahrez offer just a little something different in terms of options during the business end of this season.