Teaching Character to Foxes: A Tactical Analysis of Brendan Rodgers

“Here we go, ten in a row!” Chances are that you’d hear this echoed at Celtic Park after every win from Celtic. Fans and the board understood the significance of this project within the club. The project in which the holy grail is winning ten Scottish Premier League titles in a row. Brendan Rodgers was sold by the prospect of this too, accepting to join the Hoops in 2016, just over six months after his dismissal from a Liverpool side, whom he nearly won the English Premier League with in 2014.

Fast forward to March 2019. Two Scottish Leagues, Two Scottish Cups and Three Scottish League Cups later Rodgers is now the manager of Leicester City. Much to the apathy of Celtic fans, questions of loyalty and intent come under the Northern Irishman’s umbrella.

Replacing the opinion-dividing Claude Puel, Rodgers is blessed with a very promising and diverse talent pool of both homegrown and foreign players over at The King Power Stadium. Personally, I found Puel to be a good manager, but his preferred style was the same problem that saw him dismissed over at Southampton.

His best results during his tenure came when Leicester flashbacked to their pressure absorbing, rapid counter-attacking style that saw them win the Premier League in 2016. However, there seems to be a more growing hunger for a possession-based style of play at the club, something that Puel tried to employ, but it wasn’t successful. The likes of Wes Morgan, Wilfred Ndidi, Kasper Schmeichel and Jamie Vardy struggled with the slow pace and added responsibility to look after the ball, rarely creating chances for their attackers.

Brendan Rodgers is known for tactical flexibility

Brendan Rodgers could have better luck employing this style of play, based on his work at Swansea, Liverpool and Celtic. His principles of play are clear and have a strong sample size. It’s all about the ball. Dominating it, looking to win it back quickly, owning it.

Brendan Rodgers formation Analysis

One thing that separates Rodgers from many other British managers is his tactical flexibility. Unafraid to use different systems of play from a 4-2-3-1 at Swansea which saw them as being a Budget Barcelona, to the 4-3-3 diamond that had his Liverpool team running over teams in attack like a Monster Jam truck which almost saw them win their first league title since 1990, it seems as if Rodgers will employ the 3-4-2-1 (although maybe differently to the asymmetric version which was used) that became a regular mainstay at Celtic over at Leicester, if his debut which ended in a gut-wrenching 2-1 loss via an Andre Gray injury-time goal.

Leicester’s existing wingbacks vital to Rogers

Right now, Leicester can argue that they have one of the best fullback pairings in Europe, let alone just England in Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira. Both technically sound in defence and attack along physically gifted, slotting into the wingback role should see them being two of the biggest cogs in Brendan Rodgers’ system in order to make it work the same way Celtic’s Kieran Tierney dominating the left flank week after week over in Glasgow.

Kieran Tierney Heatmap

Unlocking the Ndidi & Tielemans partnership

As previously mentioned, Leicester’s build up under Puel tended to be slow, sterile and lacking in cutting edge. A good chunk of this stemmed from the first two phases of the build-up (defence and midfield). In regards to midfield, Ndidi is one of the best players within the squad, especially out of possession. However, his possession numbers (77.7% pass success rate in 29 games, via Whoscored) are not the best considering his role as a defensive midfielder.

This could easily improve depending on the positional structure Brendan Rodgers lays out, with more passing options being open due to this. Yuri Tielemans was signed in January on loan from AS Monaco, and could be the perfect partner to compensate Ndidi and improve the quality of Leicester’s cutting edge in possession with the Belgian wonderkid’s ability to create with his intricate passing into dangerous areas along with being able to burst forward into the final third with delayed runs.

The new Riyad Mahrez

It must be noted that Leicester have seriously good attacking depth for a club at their level. A strong mix of playing styles and the potential to compensate that in many ways. During his first game in charge against Watford at Vicarage Road, Brendan Rodgers started with a front three of Harvey Barnes, James Maddison and Jamie Vardy. Rodgers is big on using creative ball-players drifting to receive both between the lines and in front of the defence, who can make the difference both with their dribbling and passing, and this is where James Maddison and/or Demarai Gray could become as important as Man City’s Riyad Mahrez was for The Foxes before moving to the Citizens.

Riyad Mahrez, Leicester 15/16

Goals: 17
Assists: 11
FPL Points: 240
FPL Bonus: 38

Questions of Brendan Rodgers’ ability to construct a coherent and truly effective defence have been a constant arrow pointed towards his name. Celtic’s performances against the best European sides at Champions League level usually ended in big losses on the scoreboard, along with his Liverpool team seemingly having to rely on outscoring nearly every team they faced because of the defence seemingly being unable to keep a clean sheet.

Leicester themselves have had problems with defending this season under Puel too, a manager more renowned for his attention towards reducing defensive risks. The back three deployed against Watford consisted of Harry Maguire, with captain Wes Morgan and Jonny Evans either side of him and in that game, The Hornets were willing to submit their quest for holding the ball, instead looking to attack down the flanks with pace and directness once Leicester lost the ball and had to recover.

This resulted in the home team having less shot on goal (six shots to Leicester’s twelve shots), but had more shots on target (five to Leicester’s two) and got inside the box more times too.

The new best team outside the top 6?

The Leicester City project is always interesting to look at, as them winning the Premier League in 2016 with 500/1 odds has somewhat become their Achilles heel since then. Sometimes it may look as if both the fans and board are overambitious in their expectations, but some would disagree with this. Realistically though, The Foxes want to establish themselves as the undisputed best team outside of the Top Six, which seems more than achievable with their squad quality and finances.

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Brendan Rodgers’ ability as a manager would see most agree that he is in the right club in terms of size currently and that the Scottish League was becoming too small for such a manager of his quality and CV. Once in cloud nine back in early 2014, there has always been an aura of unfinished business with Brendan within the Premier League, and it will be very intriguing to see how his evolution as a manager has evolved since being fired by Liverpool in 2015.

Leicester as a club are one of the most exciting to keep a lens on, and Rodgers being at the helm will keep everyone from the casual fan to the FPL fanatic with their eyes and ears pierced on them.

Jamie Reeves

BEST FPL FINISH: 8,872 (17/18)

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