So Leicester have become only the second team in over 30 years to begin their defense of the First Division (in this case the Premier League) title with a loss. Not the best start to sequal of the fairytale season they had last year. It is especially concerning when you consider that the team that beat them was Hull City, the team many have predicted would be the first relegated. The team some in the media have predicted would break Derby County’s record of the lowest point total in the Premier League. I could go on, but it doesn’t change the fact that Leicester lost 2-1 against a team that has been described as a garbage fire of a club. So what exactly happened and, more importantly for Leicester, should they be worried?
First, the lack of N’Golo Kante in midfield weakened them significantly in the middle of the park. Kante was amazing for Leicester last season, allowing the players around him to attack with ease, while protecting the backline. Without him, Leicester exposed a soft spot in their team that can be exploited. Kante was also great at starting Leicester’s counterattack, quickly releasing the ball to the pacey attackers who would run at the opposing defenses. Without that, Leicester were a bit slower in attack, which is practically a lifetime when it comes to counters. Leicester have, of course, brought in replacements for Kante, and they will be hoping these players will step up as they grow into the team.
Most importantly to the game, however, is that Hull sat back and allowed Leicester to attack. For a team that relies on quick counters to break open teams, this dulled their attack considerably. They simply did not have an answer for a team that said, “Here, you have the ball. Now, do something with it.”
Part of the reason Leicester were so deadly, especially early on, last season was that teams underestimated them. They would play against Leicester as you would any relegation-battling teams. They pushed up and tried to control the game. This allowed Leicester to break up the play, though players like Kante, and crush them on the counter with their lightning fast attack. As the season wore on, teams got wiser to this style and kept an eye out for the counter. This is when they started scoring more goals, but became incredibly sound at the back. Teams would still get caught on the counter, because all it takes is one moment of being caught out and Leicester will punish you.
Hull, on the other hand, expected this and didn’t give Leicester the chance to counter. Instead, by letting them have the ball, they forced Leicester to open themselves up to a counter. We can expect many other teams to play this way against the Champions, especially lower to midtable teams. The Champions League chasers will still be expected to attack, but everyone else has the luxury of sitting deep. What this means is that Leicester will find it very tough to play like they did last season. They may shock a few of the ‘big teams,’ but they will find it difficult against the rest of the league. Do Leicester have it in them to change up how they play, or are they built to play one style only? For Claudio Ranieri, that’ll be the million dollar question this season.