Monday, 19 August 2013

Nigel Pearson has the right ideas

Nigel Pearson's Foxes have made a very solid start to the new season and have conceded just one goal so far in what many anticipated to be a rather tricky opening month of league fixtures.

Leicester City have made their best start at this level in sixteen years. Not since the Premier League days, under Martin O'Neill, have the Foxes made such an audacious start. That season, 1997, saw City's first forays into European competition since the 1960s and the beginning of one of the most celebrated periods in the club's history.

Let's not get carried-away on this record - only three league games have gone and the stories of the new football term are yet to begin unfolding, after all - but Pearson has made small alterations that yield much promise for what is to come.

The manager used pre-season not as a cheap goal-scoring exercise but a practice in fitness and in new ideas, not least the changes in formation that have seen Leicester turn from a team without a 'Plan-B' into one with not just one, but two alternatives to Pearson's favoured 4-4-2 formation.

Whilst he has dallied with the idea of a 4-3-3 formation in previous years, this is the first time we have seen Leicester under Pearson field the 3-5-2 so favoured by O'Neill over a decade ago, the formation that propelled City to so much success under the stewardship of the Ulsterman.

It is pleasing to see that, without changes in personnel, Pearson and his backroom team have not rested on their laurels. The team have clearly been put to work in the off-season to adapt to the new strategies and it has paid-off on the pitch. Two away wins from two, plus a goalless draw at home to the always-fancied Leeds United, is proof enough that City have started this season on the right foot.

Whilst the 3-5-2 is not to the pleasing of all - not least the ousted Anthony Knockaert, an unfortunate casualty as City look to full-backs, not wingers - it has allowed the team's best players to flourish. Richie de Laet is the prime example, his pacey wing-play now unburdened from defensive duties to trouble the opposition defences much more readily. It allows the Foxes a greater width in their play and tightens an often criticised midfield, allowing Andy King more freedom to push forward and support the front duo.

Meanwhile, a different flavour of 4-3-3 as tried-out against Derby County at the weekend allowed three orthodox strikers the opportunity to bite into the game, with Jamie Vardy the most reinvigorated character of this still-emerging season. His promising pre-season has carried-through to the new league campaign and he was unlucky to be unable to claim the winning goal against the Rams on Saturday afternoon.

Whatever the fans' opinions of these new systems, one thing cannot be denied: the one-dimensional nature of last year's Leicester City, found out in January of last season and undone to such damaging effect in February and March, has been addressed and improved. The Foxes have three dimensions after all.

The players will be cheered that they will have new opportunities and be bhoyed by gaining such a promising start to the season. That, in turn will have pleased the manager and his team.

And that should please the Blue Army, too. After all, they have often been vocal in their criticisms of Pearson's tactics but he has answered those calls for new ideas and for that Leicester's supporters should be grateful.
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