Claude Puel: Should Leicester City Fans Be Worried?

Claude Puel: Should Leicester City Fans Be Worried?
Mar 8, 2018

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Football has always been a results business and in the modern day game, we are reminded of this constantly. With a place in the Premier League reported to be worth at least £97m, every point is precious as team’s owners strive to ensure that they don’t miss out on this extremely lucrative payday. However, this need for success means that clubs often take a short-term view and more often than not, the managers are the victims of a team’s malaise.

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Leicester City are something of a case study with regards to managerial hiring and firing. They are on their third manager in just over a year, with Claudio Ranieri and Craig Shakespeare both being shown the door following poor runs of form, with Claude Puel the current incumbent of the King Power hotseat. Leicester are currently sat decidedly low in the Premier League form standings, with just one win in their previous six – so should their fans, and their manager, be worried?

Form Is Temporary

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Looking solely at results you can see why certain sections of Leicester’s fanbase have lost patience; in the last ten league games Leicester have managed just two wins, and dropped points against teams they arguably could expect to beat such as Swansea, Stoke and Bournemouth. This frustration is increased by the lack of form at Arsenal and Burnley, as had Leicester performed as some may expect across those fixtures then 6th position would likely be theirs – so there is a palpable sense that this is an opportunity missed. There has also been criticism of Puel tactically in these games, with certain selections and substitutions criticised for being too negative. Across social media some fans have expressed their disappointment:

However, this seems like another example of modern football fickleness. The last ten games have been poor, and yes, Leicester fans could be forgiven for expecting more, but, in the 10 games preceding this poor run The Foxes won 5, and lost only twice – one of which was against a simply terrific Man City side. So can Puel really be judged on this current run whilst ignoring the positive results that preceded it? Certainly not.

formtableA fairer assessment would be to look at the overall effect Puel has had on his Leicester side and their fortunes. Craig Shakespeare was sacked with Leicester 17th in the table, having collected just 6 points from their opening 8 games. Discounting the win under caretaker manager Michael Appleton, Puel has overseen 20 games – winning 7, drawing 7 and losing 6, enough to sit 7th in the form table in this period. This is despite their recent torrid run of results. This form has propelled Leicester to 8th in the league and they will soon be competing in the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup – so whilst the short term may well be worrying the longer term trend offers encouragement.


Maybe Southampton Knew Best?

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During the early months of his tenure most fans seemed incredulous that Puel had been sacked by Southampton, with Leicester rocketing up the table whilst Southampton continued to slide further and further towards the drop zone. The Saints parted company with Puel in the summer after just one season in charge with the perceived “negative” style of football cited as the main reason, not results in this instance, as Southampton had finished in a respectable 8th place with an League Cup Runners Up medal. There has certainly been perceived negativity in recent games at Leicester also as they have struggled to break down sides who have been sat deep in their own half with 10 or 11 players behind the ball, often looking rather laboured, slow and lacking creativity. In fact you have to go back 6 games for the last time they scored more than once in a match.

Leicester fan’s frustration is likely exacerbated by the style of football that they have become accustomed to. In their title winning season they utilised a lightning fast counter attack to devastating effect, blitzing teams who made the mistake of committing men forward. So watching their side attempt to show patience by retaining the ball and moving the opposition from side to side in a bid to forge an opening could be considered rather boring in comparison, frustrating even.

This frustration is understandable to an extent, and when this style results in three 1-1 home draws in a row there are bound to be criticisms. Again though, things are rarely this simplistic. Puel is quite clearly trying to add another arrow to Leicester’s quiver. In purely possession terms they play a completely different brand of football; against Stoke they enjoyed 66% of the ball – a real departure from their previous style which relied heavily on quick and direct passes but in no way prioritised keeping possession. Results would also suggest that Puel has them playing too cautiously with the ball, and even on the face of it certain personnel selections have been criticised for being too safe (Matty James in particular). However the statistics simply don’t back this assertion up. Take the last 3 games for example, all 1-1 draws against teams below Leicester in the table. In these three games Leicester averaged 60% possession, had 55 shots and only faced 17.  The xG stats would also imply that these are not simply long shots borne from frustration, but are genuine chances to score that the players simply are not converting – at some point the buck has to stop with those on the pitch rather than with Claude Puel?

Transition Takes Time

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There are other mitigating factors in Puel’s defence. Not only has he had to manage the Adrien Silva transfer fiasco and facilitate Riyad Mahrez’s return to the side (rather brilliantly too), but he is quite clearly attempting to transition Leicester City from a one dimensional side to one that can operate with a number of different playing styles.

In my view, Tom has it completely correct. Leicester’s transition is important if they are going to consistently challenge in the upper echelons of the Premier League, and with the owners targeting further European football this is clearly something that they agree with and believe in. However this is by no means an overnight process and it’s easy to forget that these are not yet Puel’s players as such, I would imagine there will be a fair few in and out the door at the King Power in the summer, and so Leicester’s fans need to show patience with Puel for now, as if he is successful in his project there then the European Tour could well be coming back once again.

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