The Game Plan
Tactically, Leicester are a patient passing side a world away from the team that won the league five seasons ago. The obvious threat of Vardy getting in behind Albion’s centre halves is well-documented but Leicester don’t tend lean on this threat like they once did now Rodgers is at the helm.
Brendan Rodgers always gets his teams to keep the ball wherever he’s been and Albion should prepare for Leicester to have the lion share of possession on Sunday afternoon. According to whoscored.com, only City (62.6%), Liverpool (59.6%) and Chelsea (57.9%) had more possession on average last season than Leicester (55.1%).
The Foxes are also blessed with many technically gifted footballers within their ranks who make this possession-based style possible, it’ll be a real test for Livermore and Sawyers to contain the play making abilities of Tielemans, Barnes, Perez and Praet.
Patient build-up play is a hallmark of this Leicester side but so is the use of their attacking wing backs. Pereira and Chilwell were instrumental in Leicester’s success last season, firing in crosses and laying off key passes to Vardy and co. Whilst neither will be lining up for the Foxes on Sunday, West Brom will have to be clever with how they press and how they deal with Leicester stretching their defensive line laterally.
Leicester were not a strong side away from home in 2020. They haven’t won away from home in the league since New Year’s Day where they ran out 3-0 winners against a hapless Newcastle side. Leicester dominated that game with 77% possession and ten shots on target – Albion can’t afford Leicester that much time on the ball.
Yet if West Brom are to get their Premier League season off to a winning start then they must play to their strengths which coincidentally align nicely with some weaknesses in Leicester’s game.
West Brom need to be patient and remain organised off the ball much like they were against Derby at The Hawthorns, where the visitors had 59% possession but zero shots on target. When Albion do win possession I’d expect them to shift the ball quickly towards wide areas, in an effort to get beyond Leicester’s wing backs and go at the Foxes’ vulnerable centre back partnership.
Being direct in attack will be crucial for Albion because the East Midlands outfit conceded numerous goals towards end of last season from counter attacks emanating from wide areas where the wing backs were out of position. This is demonstrated in all three of Tottenham’s goals in their 3-0 win and Solanke’s first goal in Bournemouth’s 4-1 victory.
Leicester were also capable of committing some major defensive howlers which resulted in three penalties in their last seven league fixtures. The penalties were often result of unforced defensive errors but they signal a broader fragility whereby Leicester struggled to cope with pacy forwards going at the centre backs.
Söyüncü, Bennett and Evans are not particularly mobile and Martial and Callum Wilson were felled in two of the penalties whilst Son, Richarlison and Aubameyang chipped in with goals (or forcing own goals in Son’s case) from within the penalty area after the league’s restart.
Whilst those three names are some of the league’s best forwards I would still suggest Albion’s own pacey and direct wingers Diangana, Grosicki and Phillips should enjoy success on Sunday if they see enough of the ball and can get in behind the wing backs. Playing Robinson up top with his extra yard of pace may also be a smart move.
If you watch Aubameyang’s goal vs Leicester back in July, this is exactly how I’d envisage Albion getting the better of the Foxes. Use the pace and trickery of our wingers on the break to get the run on their centre halves before coolly picking out an Albion player in the box.
If only it were that easy. We all expect a difficult and potentially humbling afternoon but there should be cause for optimism. Albion have the tools and talent to snatch a victory and this is a weakened Leicester team who are fallible to the Baggies’ primary strengths.
Two gruelling seasons in the Championship have led to this weekend. Hopefully the players, staff and us fans alike can savour being back in the big time – especially if we can cause an opening weekend upset.
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