Leicester will be without racist shitbag Jamie Vardy for at least one game so I wanted to take a quick, tactical look at the options Ranieri has.
Firstly we need to have a glance at their current system.
I, like most, was guilty as describing Leicester as playing 442 ahead of their January clashes with Tottenham but in reality they play the same 4231/442 hybrid that is common of most Premier League teams. The central midfielders play deeper than the wide midfielders – who are actually wingers – and the second striker often acts closer to continental 10.
The above link is an excellent, lengthy piece on Leicester this season; but in short they are a counter-attack team who remain a constant attacking threat whilst their opponents have the ball by retaining the option to immediately send a long ball into the channels for Vardy to chase down the second they win the ball.
That might sound like the belittling of a bitter Spurs fan but I don’t mean to take away from what Leicester have achieved this season. Football doesn’t have to be complex to be good and Leicester continue to do the simple things, successfully, and to a high quality again and again.
But although it’s not their only route to goal I do believe it is crucial to their style and missing Vardy presents a bit of a dilemma.
They could simply bring Ulloa in for Vardy. Ulloa’s very mobile for a target man, although that may be aided by playing the final 30 minutes of most games. And he can provide a different kind of outlet for long balls in the form of knock-ons and hold up play. But Leicester’s directness is more about being able to transition into immediately threatening attack whilst their opponents are out of shape than it is about being able to get it clear without losing the ball.
They could move to a more situational front two partnership in which Okazaki takes up Vardy’s role of staying high for long balls and Ulloa comes deep whilst Leicester are defending. And then when Leicester are on a slower attack Ulloa would play as the target man with Okazaki playing as a 10, linking up play.
Okazaki’s work rate is outstanding, and while he’s not slow, he’s still a lesser option for running on to through and long balls than Vardy. But the real drop-off would be in Ulloa trying to play Okazaki’s intelligent and high-intensity game (which requires that 60 mins sub) that enables Vardy to do what he does. More on that role here:
They could bench the Japanese versatile forward to optimise their use of Ulloa as a target man by moving Albrighton to the right and bringing Schlupp on the left to have two natural wingers who can pepper the opposition’s box with crosses for Ulloa to convert.
This would also allow Mahrez to move into a central role from which he can enjoy greater freedom and an increased proximity to goal. Mahrez has been a little off-form recently which could be aided by being given the 10 role. I’ve been focussed on recreating functionality in Vardy’s absence but Ranieri might consider it to be more important to maintain a ‘special player’ aspect to the team.
Ranieri could introduce Gray rather than Schlupp on either the left or right with Okazaki up top. This front 4 gives them a good amount of pace, creativity and a potential for fluidity but perhaps would be overly individualistic and defensively lackadaisical for Ranieri who has built Leicester’s success with a heavy focus on the collective effort.
King could enable Leicester to move to a 433/4141 shape which Leicester used against Manchester City in December to earn a 0-0 draw. The draw at the time was seen as a success due to the opposition they were up against but it was very limited in attack and Leicester are now in a position in which they can probably only afford to drop points on one occasion. Additionally this shape was more reliant than ever on being able to send the ball into the channels for Vardy which makes even considering this option somewhat redundant.
Honestly, I’m not sure which of these options I would take or Ranieri will. Some options are certainly lesser than others but none especially stand out as a favourite. And, of course, there’s an element of changing it based on opposition.
I’ve realised at the end of the this article that I’ve spelt Okazaki’s name wrong in each of the images but I’m simply too lazy to bother re-doing them all now so I’ll simply offer an apology.