The Unsinkable Speculationship


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Like the majority of Leicester City fans, and great number of external fans of football, I’m still coming to terms with the departure of Claudio Ranieri from the helm of a club that is still reeling from the epicness of its previous season.

If you’ve ever been inclined to read anything I blog post or tweet, I actually am fairly positive, not overly critical, and try my best to look at he club, the management, the players, and events around the club in as balanced manner as I can. Sure I can be biased. Perhaps I can occasionally draw the wrong conclusions at times, but I’m just a fan. I don’t purport to have any inside knowledge, and I don’t gossip, or unfairly lambast or unduly praise where it’s not warranted.

This post has no comedy photos, no attempted witty sub headers.

I’ve tried to reflect on the last few weeks as it has slowly developed and come to its heart-breaking conclusion.

As I read the following epitaph from Ranieri himself, an overwhelming feeling of sadness and disappointment came over me.

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I know that Ranieri has made errors of judgement, at times poor tactical decisions, and certainly some odd substitutions in some games, but I am trying to understand what he had himself to deal with to try to make the team a success once more, and it’s certainly not straightforward.

Like last year a number of factors have come together to produce the negative yin to what was our positive yang.

We can all agree that the trip to the States in the summer was probably a fairly lucrative offer that our owners couldn’t turn down.

I’m doubtful that Ranieri was happy for our players to clock up the air miles, train inconsistently, and suffer at the hands of teams with colossal reserve teams, never mind the first teams they have at their disposal. You put on top of that no real chance to experiment with any positivity without being punished.

Whilst the tour can’t be blamed for our fortunes this season it was the wrong foot to start on. Fitness levels were clearly well behind last year when we went into our first 5 or 6 fixtures.

Players who had the endless energy and verve last season, were lethargic and mentally looked as though they weren’t hungry anymore.

Journalists and some fans have blamed the bumper contracts for some, and the few overlooked may have created a split in the camp. New players were brought in and our spend was that of which we’ve never seen at our club. I even caught myself discussing numbers with work colleagues like it nothing. Pure FM daydream stuff.

I figured that bringing in Slimani would keep Mahrez, and between the pair of them a slick understanding could flourish, one boosting the other, and the rest of the team slowly getting fitter and eventually coming around and the momentum built on a new desire and yearning, inclusive of a Champions League experience, would bring the team together and we’d settle, and for me, a 10th place might be feasible given the workload of serious fixtures.

As I write this, I feel as though I’m writing a season review. A depressing season review. The season is not over. There are 13 games to try to maintain our status!

However, all my optimism that at some point we’d pull it together, shake of the cobwebs or shackles of expectations, were slowly ground into the dirt.

From my observations some players were dragging their heels, playing with the handbrake on, and not shifting out of 2nd gear. I assumed, that surely, it’s some tactic that Ranners was trying to wrongly impose on the players. It’s been suggested in some articles that the players wanted to play balls to the wall attacking football, like last year, with quick and hard pressing, but Ranieri quashed this.

I don’t work at the club, and I certainly am not privy to the training and tactics that were requested of the players, yet when I’ve seen the lacklustre displays from individuals I wonder whether the humps they were carrying were slowly them down to the point that they couldn’t achieve the hard pressing that they wanted to.

It was obvious to anyone watching that they were either uncomfortable with what they were being asked to do, or were being petulant.

The question I’d ask is if they were uncomfortable with the tactics why didn’t the captain try to speak to Ranieri to try and find a middle ground or encourage the team to do what they were asked 100% in the matches instead of sluggishly pottering around the pitch, and not concentrating?

I recall Ranieri saying that the players wanted him to return to the 4-4-2 formation as they thought they could play better and get results. Guess what, when Ranieri relented, they failed to show up.

How does that make me feel? When I hear the rumours of backbiting, backstabbing, and mutiny from players and some backroom staff?

Well Shakey came out today and said that this never happened. Pure ‘speculationship’. Everyone was behind the manager all the way along. Really? Shakey whilst I appreciate that its important PR to maintain the guise that there no foxes in the chicken shed, as who in the hell would want to come and manage a team where the players have a serious sway with decisions, and like to exercise that notion as and when they feel.

Like I’ve said at the beginning of the post I’ve yet to be serious critical of things around the club, merely made observations, but this kind of structure will never work.

Our owners have been gangpressed into making a decision on a manager who won us the league. Who won us the league by 10 points. You can say that this was based on Pearson’s foundations, or that all he did was maintain positivity, and the players did the work, but whatever your angle on how it was done, it was done under his management. He enabled it! So what could they do outside of a transfer window, where the players clearly and evidently were calling a coup to the board for the manager to go? They can’t ask these players to sit the reserves and find a new club come the summer could they? Ulloa would have company. The easiest way was to cull the manager they didn’t listen to, or refused to believe in anymore, as they knew or know better.

Now the owners are taking grief from every pundit, journalist, football fan up and down the country and beyond, because they had no choice to pull the trigger.

There’s every chance now he’s gone that the players will actually find the next gear, and put more effort into their play and actually put some efforts to winning matches. There’s every chance too that they’ll have egg on their faces, ostracise the fans, and lose whatever modicum of respect leftover from this farce, and be shipped off into the twilight with their Premiership winners medals glinting in the mirrors of their BMWs, with their paychecks stuffed into the gloveboxes.

I’ve said in a tweet, the players should sell those motors, give the proceeds to charity, and apologise for the lacklustre and embarrassing season we’ve had so far, and push on.

But that of course would be pessimistic. I want the club to do well. I want the owners to choose the right manager to follow Ranieri, and hopefully build on his foundations, and I want the players to invest their efforts in playing, in winning, and pay back the fans that have invested their support, their money, and their hopes in them.

I hope that what I have wrote isn’t too negative, or critical, but there’s a need to address what has become a stain on our reputation as a club, and tarnished what was and still is one of the greatest sporting achievements that has ever been.

I wish Claudio all the best in the future, he will be a legend in my eyes, and deserves better than this. I hope that the club can recover, and prove to the loyal support that we can compete, and can succeed with everyone pulling together in the right direction, with the right attitude and goals.

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Ifs and Ands


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If ‘Ifs and Ands’ were points and plans; there’d be no need for the TinkerMan?

 

So I’ve been drawn to post another drafted, rushed, and unchecked blog given the outcomes of the last month of games since my last musings.

My assertions in the last post were hopeful that we’d start to pick up a bit of form in the league and start to push on. Clearly that hasn’t happened and some fans are up in arms and those with an extreme view are contemplating the worst possible scenario – relegation.

Firstly I’m not saying it isn’t possible, but I do think unlikely. Secondly, I don’t think the idea of sacking Ranieri is the best idea put forward, should we slip any further or can’t find consistency before Christmas.

I read a lot of people posting their thoughts across various interwebs means, and people are drawn to question the what ifs, and the asking why areas of the team were not addressed, and ultimately that the manager should be held accountable for this.

I’m not certain there’s much point in dwelling on what ifs and not sure whether all these conclusions are based on rational thought, non-evidential assumptions, or simply hysteria.

 

Spoiled with Success?

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I keep reading people questioning the team’s efforts, drive and willing to at least attempt to replicate some of the form that we showed last season. Various areas are used to blame this on, and I suppose some will mix and match or say in totality that combined this is all part of why we are not succeeding.

 

Contracts –

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This is I suppose the most common stone thrown. Key and squad players given bumper contracts, bigger than anything Leicester has offered before. Everyone knows that when you get a payrise you cease to care and put any efforts in like you might do when your low or medium paid contract is coming to its end, or prospectively another team is knocking on the door. You play out of your skin and earn that payrise. You have nothing now to aim for. Hard work done right?

I don’t buy this. Everyone who got a new contract earned it. It was the decision of the manager and owners to offer these contracts, both in reward for achieving the impossible, and trying to keep the team together that had achieved this.

I don’t believe that our lacklustre league performances are contract related. You may disagree. If you have examples of teams (not necessarily football) that have a similar path as ourselves, and done the incredible, and it all fell apart because of new contracts, then please share, as I’m interested seeing how that turned out, and what they did or didn’t do to turn it around.

 

Law 12 –

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Whilst both Robert Huth and Wes Morgan look as though they both could be lawmen from Judge Dredd, the question of whether or not their strong arm techniques in the box were a great addition to our defensive successes last season. With the FA asking for referees to enforce Law 12 vigorously when noted that this has neutered our CBs, with their old-fashioned style of bossing the box.

I think this certainly has had an impact on how our CBs manage the opposition, but the goals we’ve conceded so far this season, I would argue that it’s been individual errors rather than a timid and less physical approach.

Certainly corners and freekicks make me exceedingly nervous these days because of it. We don’t have a great deal of alternatives on the bench and in the squad that have enough time on the pitch together to make up for the absence of one or the other of our first choice CB pairing, but I don’t think this adds weight to the argument of some fans disgust.

I think we can all agree that as they get older and perhaps slower, that we do need to address this area, but I’ll discuss this under the next point.

 

Transfers –

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A great deal of fans suggest that had we got this player or that player or recruited to this position and/or that position we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in today.

This is difficult to tackle because a lot of transfers can’t be confirmed, they are possible speculation, or conjecture.

I don’t know and most fans don’t know who we scouted, who put bids in for, and what reasons they didn’t happen. There’s simply too many reasons, from the amount offered, the contract, the player themselves, transferring elsewhere, or agreeing to wait until another window opportunity.

We were linked with a great number of players over the summer. Too many to mention in this post, and probably not worth going into, as I don’t know how close any of these were to actually happening, other than the ones that owners or managers have openly said they wouldn’t sell to us for whatever particular reasons. Particularly Silva (CM) comes to mind. It would seem they wouldn’t sell to us as we apparently offered too late in the window for them to find a replacement.

With that in mind, there were areas that I agree we could really do with some backup and possibly even upgrades, but I’m not going through each and every position, just additions that maybe we could bring in January to strengthen the team, and we can reassess in the summer.

As mentioned our CBs are ageing, and are struggling with the type of play the rules now dictate. We not only need someone who can step in if either are suspended or injured, but fight them for the position itself. It’d be great to see some youth coming through, and purchased, but time is of the essence in that area for sure.

Yes we’ve been liked with Keane, and Burnley were asking for stupid money, but now the big teams are sniffing around, and we have no chance, and Burnley will get a January bumper bonus as someone overpays for another Englishman despite their attributes.

I hope we have other irons in the fire, and bring the goods.

Midfield is problematic. Let’s address the elephant in the room. N’golo. Everyone who is anyone can use this stick to beat the drum of why we are failing to achieve consistency in any form.

It’s true we didn’t replace him, with a player of his calibre. This would be have been impossible in my view. Well why didn’t we find someone with similar attributes?

I think we did try. I don’t know who we approached, where we got up to with negotiations or whether we were outbid/ rebuffed, but any team who has a possible or 50% N’golo on their teamsheet isn’t going to give them up easily. Why would they?

Well, why did we sell him then? Failure of the manager and owners!

Really, for what I read, he had been convinced to come to us with the basis that if someone significant came knocking that we would sell him. That’s why he had a release clause, however pitiful people think it was.

I still actually shudder that Leicester’s last record sale was £11m for Heskey. We amongst other records managed to blow this out of the water with the sale of Kante. Yes, it was painful, and embarrassingly people are calling him a snake or a Judas, to go to lowly Chelsea. They aren’t even in Europe etc.

Yeah? Well Kante won the league, and as Chelsea are not bothered by those extra European excursions this season, he has a great opportunity to win the league again.

As I write this Chelsea are two points off the top with a game in hand and play Middlesbrough away. There is every likelihood, given their form and abilities that they will win and be top by the end of the weekend, and I noted that when he signed that they have every chance with little or no distractions of staying there.

I hold no grudges against someone who had asked to better themselves with a team that might have that chance, and have possibilities of achieving success regularly in the future.

Sure it would have been nice to hold on to him, but it wasn’t to be.

So have we managed without him? Nope.

It’s obvious he helped enable our CBs to do their jobs better, made room for Drinkwater to distribute, for our winger to push on, and for strikers not to have to spend their time chasing the ball out of the midfield and make something happen themselves.

So is this a failure?

Well it is and it isn’t. We’ve managed to succeed in the Champions League (yes in a soft group admittedly) without him. This, in my view, won’t be possible should we get to the next stage. But that’s in February, and there’s a transfer window. I really hope that we’ve got someone lined up early doors, and get them integrated as quickly as possible.

 

Formations –

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Another big stick to beat Ranieri is why we can’t play the formation that worked for us last season.

When coaches, other managers, and commentators joked that N’golo was worth an additional midfielder when he played, they were not kidding. We do not have that player in the squad, who can do that incessant running, and brilliant intercepting that he did without looking even remotely lagged or tired following that game. A machine.

We also have lost a midfielder in Mendy. I’ve read some posts, like he’s always injured, we were had, he’s a crock etc. Really? He didn’t have an injury prior and the injury he had was misdiagnosed, and it turned out that there were fragment of bone which had to be removed from his injured ankle and unfortunately he has had some setbacks, that are down to luck rather than some bad scouting, or mismanagement.

What if he hadn’t had this injury would he allow us to better flow, and improve our form. Who knows? Can he come back this season, get match fit, and would he then be able to get in the first team should we go to the market in January? Again, it would be speculation that even Ranieri can’t suppose.

Will Matty James ever be fit and ready for the team, can he bring the needed steel to the midfield getting us through the season should we not bring someone in? I’ve not been able to see his performances in the under 23’s, but I know he’s getting more minutes under his belt, but is he ready, or will he be one of the few outgoings in January to make room? Time will tell.

For me, we’ve been forced to play a certain way and been hampered by injuries, form, and to a small degree internationals. Shinji is a good example. Claudio even openly said that Shinji’s brother had come back on the plan instead of him.

What I do know is that when you had a workhorse in the midfield and Shinji on the other end of that third of the pitch, the opposition didn’t have a moments rest, and we need to find that balance again. Our central engine isn’t firing on all cylinders as half the pistons are missing. Drinkwater came back over the summer, and is fitter than he ever was before, however because he’s being asked to work either beside King or Amartey, I don’t think he has the freedom that he had before, and is making poor decisions, and his passing at times has taken a hit.

We can play a 4-4-2 or a 4-4-1-1, but without the right personnel it’s clear we are suffering because of it, as teams are set out in the league to stop us, whilst at least in Europe they are less prepared.

 

What ifs?

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I think it’s easy to moan and whine about the what ifs. We are where we are, and it’s a matter of progressing out the Champions League group, which openly has been discussed by Ranieri (and probably our owners) as the priority. I appreciate that when you pay week in week out for league football that this isn’t what you probably would like to hear. But also an understanding that whilst have the best chance of progression (a weak-ish group) that we take it, and make the most of it.

We hopefully will be able to strengthen in January before we get back on the road in Europe and play tougher sides, but that supplement should also help the league side too.

We didn’t seal the deal as I had hoped against Copenhagen, but still got a draw. If we get this over the line, I’m hoping to see a more invigorated impetus to make roads away from the bottom, and to get us to the January window to seek reinforcements and plug the gaps.

I remain steadfast optimistic, despite my disappointments, the overreactions and the hysterics, and the inevitable rollercoaster still to ride before this season ends.

I welcome any thoughts on my musings. Whether you agree or disagree, by all means drop us a message below, tweet me, or join my FB page to discuss without text limitations etc.

Thank you for reading…

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Nextpectations Too


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So do I start my latest post apologising for not writing for a while? It’s probably not worth noting my lengthy absence as usual, as if you’re reading this, you’ll most likely not even known I hadn’t written owt for some time. But it feels like a long time (cos it is), and one or two things have happened in between the last time I made the efforts.

Why haven’t I been drawn to write about them?

A multitude of boring reasons.

But why are you bothering to bore us now?

It’s raining and I’m inclined, and some of examples of exaggerated hyperbole from both fans and corners of the media have encouraged me to share my observations of our current situation.

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I always try not being a reactive, trying to see the context, see the long-term strategy, and hopefully understand the steps being taken to achieve those long-term goals. I don’t always manage that, but I’m going to try lay out how I see our current situation as best I can, and I know that some of you will disagree, and question how I’ve come to my conclusions, and wonder why it’s a hap-hazard prose, full of typos, and structured like a drunk blatherer. Well, that’s because I rarely get past a first draft, and haven’t got time to do much other than freestyle my thoughts, for better or worse.

So feel free to be critical over my musing, and comment on why I should or shouldn’t continue posting.

 

Short vs Long term

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Given the overwhelming achievement of last season, it was inevitable that this season was going to be tough ask. With Champions League commitments to manage, and dependent on who we could bring into the team in the summer transfer window, a plan would need to be devised to achieve the club’s priorities.

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When we realised that our Champions League group draw would potentially allow us to get to the next stage, it’s clear to me that this became our number one priority. In order to make this possibility a reality, sacrifices would need to be made. With tough away games just prior to each of the Group games something had to give. Those games in isolation would be difficult tasks if we were not in Europe. I understand some fans frustration that it shouldn’t matter and we should be giving every game 100%, but it’s not possible.

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There are fans who will feel that we shouldn’t be concerned about Europe and should be focussing on the Premier League. I guess that’s going to happen, but whether that’s down to expectation because of last year, or whether it’s just a lack of interest in Europe, or maybe even a feeling that that we won’t succeed in Europe and we should be challenging in the Prem, cos that’s home, I don’t know.

I think that we’ll come good in the Prem, but the owners will want success and for us to go as far as we can in a competition we are strangers to, and as we’ve already achieved the impossible in the Prem, then we’ve ticked that box conclusively for the moment. Whilst we are in Europe, we might as well take it seriously.

 

Stranger Things – The Up Side to the Down

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The start of the season we were ill-prepared. A dreadful, energy sapping world tour of meaningless games against tough opposition started us off on the wrong foot. Our fitness levels were woeful, and we started off games behind where other teams began. Our sharpness and match-fitness was markedly poor, this was going to take at least a month or so to put right. Given that one of our strengths last season was our ability to out run, and maintain, even up our gears in the final third of the game, when the opposition became tired and lethargic; we simply lacked this weapon in our arsenal.

 

Circumstantial Adaptation

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Let’s address this. Without Kante’s ability to intercept, harass and support the CBs on a monumental scale, allowing Okazaki to meet somewhere further up the pitch with the same graft, this enabled our attackers to do their thing, and open up defences, and gave us the capability to feed a hungry and tireless Vardy with through balls, long balls, and/or Mahrez the freedom to utilise his pace, excellent touch, superb vision, and one or two step overs, with him cutting in from the wing scaring the shit of defenders worried of taking him down in the box. With some of these efforts bearing fruitful goals.

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He was our engine, and he fuelled the component parts in simple terms.

As we didn’t bring in the necessary replacement for Kante (I think we did look, but were unsuccessful in the summer) to keep that style of play was something that would prove difficult to manage until the next window.

We’ve resorted to a 4-4-2, however our midfield depth at the moment is a weakness as we essentially have lost Matty James, who has not recovered from a bad injury, and has fallen into the shadows, and since he has not got out on loan, something tells me that it has been worse than it has been revealed.

Speaking of injuries, Mendy, who came in with the hope of at least of supporting the CBs, and on paper had a good record of passing, hasn’t made his mark due to what now appears to be a glass ankle.

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This leaves us inevitably light, and for those shouting that we should be playing a 4-5-1, not the 4-4-2 in our away games, we simply do not have the players to be able to do this. Ranieri isn’t doing this because he thinks that’s our strongest formation. We simply can’t.

 

Back to the Front

 

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We’ve seemingly changed our style of marking at the back. We’ve gone from hands on, close marking to zonal. We’ve suffered from the change in rules about grappling, pulling, and holding in the box. Whilst this can be argued to affect all teams, this is Huth and Morgan’s bedrock style, and given their age, and our CB backups’ style of marking is all about physicality and strength. Given the ages of our CBs this isn’t something that is easily addressable. We clearly are struggling with this aspect, and it’s affecting us desperately when we try to defend corners and free kicks. Every team under the sun should now be aware of this, and be looking to take advantage.

The issue we have is that should be revert back to our old tried and tested ways is that we risk giving away penalties, and potential suspensions, which we cannot afford given our already discussed European challenge.

As we look at our midfield weaknesses, it would seem that we aren’t putting the miles in like we did last year. Without the ever-ready bunny hunting down the opposition, the two midfielders both Drinkwater and Amartey are having to do the hard-work to make up for this. Well they aren’t doing it say some! Again, can’t afford to burn out the two midfielders we have available. That goes for all our players.

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King has earned a new contract but is he the midfielder that defends or the midfield that links up to feed the strikers? I like him, but I am struggling to see him play more than a part-time role, as he isn’t the player to come on and change a game, but more of a player to come on and be an extra body in the midfield to maintain a lead. Whilst he has on occasion come on when we were down and push for the winner, he can be inconsistent and doesn’t feel like the player we need in the 1st team, as his passing can be erratic, and his tackling is simply not good enough.

I’ve noted that even though we are now all mostly match-fit, we are not pressing hard, and chasing everyone down, closing players like last year. This seems to me to be a strategic effort to reserve energies. Certainly against the tough away opposition we’ve seemed lethargic, but I see it as deliberate. In our European games, we’ve played to a degree a much better pressing, and energetic style of play. I also believe that once we’ve got this difficult number of tough away games out of the way, followed by European encounters, we will then push on a gear or two. Fans who are saying that we look like we are not bothered are burnt out or are suggesting the passion is gone (new bumper contracts?) perhaps don’t want to believe that this is part of plan.

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I always felt that when there were rumours abound about Slimani, that it was key that his transfer might tempt Mahrez to stay for that little bit longer. Whether or not this actually was one of the reasons he has, I don’t think I’ll actually know. But something tells me it might have.

So far, Slimani has proven his worth and quality. Statistically he has hit the ground running, and certainly he looks the part in our European adventure.

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Vardy isn’t making the impact he did last year, as he’s not getting the service he used to, and teams are prepared for him. Slimani in theory should be complimenting him, holding up the ball, and offering an extra bit of quality that Ulloa had offered.

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I have read people questioning Musa’s cost and why he’s not regularly making an impact or playing in the Premier League, and asking whether he is a waste of money, but again he hasn’t looked out of place in Europe and has that experience.

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We have not had years upon years of pumping money into our 1st team and second team. We’ve invested this year sure, but it’s only the beginning, and it’ll need to be incremental over time. Last year’s success, has rocketed our plans forward by at least 3 or 4 years, and adjusting to this is going to be difficult, as we need to both take advantage of this, but also remain pragmatic about how we build upon this for the long-term without destroying the ethos we’ve built to achieve that success.

 

Love You Long Time

The season is a long one. We were never ever going to defend the title. A 10th (or perhaps higher) place finish with a strong European campaign is obviously our club’s goal. Ranieri keeps dropped in remarks about Europe, specifically the Europa League. He’s no fool. Getting out of the group stages should be considered a fantastic achievement, something a number of so called top four UK clubs have failed to do over the last few years. Should we drop out of the Champions League and again do well in the Europa, this should be considered massive progress for a club of our stature, and this should help us with our long-term aims, strengthening us financially and building a solid base for our reputation, and future.

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I believe that we will be back to our pressing best, closing down, and harassing the opposition in January/February. Whilst that feels a million months away, and there will be plenty of games where I will inevitability feel disappointed, I think there is a strategy to what seems like a tactical madness. But I still believe that there is logic and forethought behind the way we are playing.

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It doesn’t excuse individual errors or bad days on the pitch, but we’ve yet to see ourselves at full throttle. I think we will, and when it happens the naysayers will disappear.

 

Every Cloud has a Silva Lining?

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So we were linked with Silva from Sporting Lisbon, a highly rated midfielder who has an eye for goal. Is he the player that we’re missing? He’s played with Slimani, and no doubt helped him achieve the success he had at Sporting CP. Would he help Slimani and Vardy?I don’t know the definitive answer to that question, but I think it was more than a rumour this summer, and think that they wouldn’t sell to us, as they didn’t have a replacement. The January window could well see us bringing him in, and with Mendy, er back on the mendy, then we should then have the midfield to push on both in Europe and in the Prem. It could be the missing piece of the jigsaw.

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AFCON

With the loss of Slimani and Mahrez, and Amartey for the AFCON in January, we need an additional central midfielder, and perhaps another winger for good measure, though Musa will still be with us, and with hope he will have settled and replace Mahrez, though my instinct tells me that we might dip in the market should our young Pole-wonder, Kapustka, not be ready to step up.

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So there you have my ramblings, you’ll probably disagree with some of my assessments, but happy to hear your thoughts, so by all means leave some feedback. And before you bother to comment, if it’s going to be, ‘So you think we’re being deliberately shit as a tactic.’ No I don’t, is the answer.

I’ll be looking at the future prospects, and want to ramble about year to come in the next post. So I hope that this isn’t in another year’s time…

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The Fit Factor


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I could comment on a number of factors about Leicester City’s current success, and in combination they compliment each other and give the club a foundation that hopefully we can build upon to maintain Premiership status for many many years to come, but I’m just going have a go at writing some words on one area, with little structure, overuse of poor humour, and self-deprecation.

I remember the Bolton side ‘the man that ordered some chips’ developed up to 2005, and the remarkable work keeping pros going at ages that seemed impossible, but somehow they extended some careers and put experience, quality, and a higher level of maintained performance. All of which proved successful for a club of Bolton’s stature to punch way above its head instead of fighting an expected relegation.

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They managed on a modest budget between 2003 & 2005, and seriously brought to the club experienced quality. After this they went and signed the Big Sulk (enter big pic of Anelka) for a whopping £8.5m like a bunch of mentalcases.

But what they did before that was draw in decent players albeit on serious wages, and used their sports science department to keep them fit, and get the most out the experience they had to formulate tactics that suited what they had and got the most out of these strengths.

This article about sports science and the impact of a successful use of it probably spells things out better than I can. 

An extract:

“At Bolton, Allardyce conceptualised a rigid game plan around data. His backroom staff included David Fallows, a former Prozone analyst, Gavin Fleig, who had studied under Mike Hughes, and Ed Sulley. Allardyce and his performance analysts had a model he called “the Fantastic Four”: four areas that dictated success. Out of 38 games, they knew that a team had to prevent the opposition scoring in at least 16 games to avoid relegation. They knew that if they scored first they would have a 70 percent chance of winning the game. They knew that set pieces, free kicks and corners accounted for nearly a third of the goals scored, and in-swinging crosses were more successful than out-swinging, so they practised not only those types of crosses but also defending against them. They also discovered that they would have an 80 percent chance of not losing if the players outworked their opposition by covering more distance at speeds above 5.5m/s. Allardyce insisted on players using long throw-ins, deep into the opponent’s area — if a player failed to follow that simple command he’d go crazy because he knew the odds of scoring had been reduced. Bolton’s performance analysts studied a huge number of throw-ins and Allardyce would organise players in the places on the pitch where the ball had the highest probability of landing, the so-called positions of maximum opportunity, or “pomos”, to increase the odds of scoring. “Pomos weren’t just relevant to throw-ins. In training, he would shout to the players to attack their pomos when trying to score,” says Sulley. Between 2003 and 2007, Bolton recorded consecutive top-eight finishes in the Premiership, a record of consistency bettered only by the top four. They qualified for the UEFA cup for the first time in 2005 and again in 2006. When Allardyce left in 2007, they had an impressive 39 points after 21 games.”

 

Show me the numbers

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Now I’m not comparing like for like with Leicester City, by no stretch of the imagination, but what we’ve done is similar to a degree. We’ve spent much more, but on the scheme of things is we’ve taken our sports science to the next level in conjunction with better tactical scouting based on statistical analysis of what will compliment and strengthen what we already have, for higher but still marginal sums of money.

Ranieri couldn’t have come into a better set up.

PICTURE ALEX HANNAM - Burton Albion v Leicester City - Claudio Ranieri - STORY

A long link with Loughborough University going back to 2009 (under Milan Mandaric), that clearly had been building a foundation of solid knowledge and expertise. With our new owners they improved our own facilities, and have clearly invested in staff, facilities, and equipment necessary, to have one of the best departments in the country.

Anyone who cares disagree, may need to look at the number of injuries we’ve had, the money we’ve spent, and an ubiquitous snapshot of the Premiership table, and some of the results we’ve managed to produce so far this season.

http://www.lboro.ac.uk/service/publicity/news-releases/2009/21_LCFC.html

‘A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed in which both parties will work together in a broad range of research, consultancy, training and other areas of mutual benefit.

The agreement is thought to be the most extensive of its kind between a football club and an academic institution – consistent with the Foxes’ vision of being at the forefront of technology in a cutting edge industry.’

I think this partnership was a major turning point leading to the club’s current success, and it seriously shouldn’t be overlooked in its enormity.

Nigel Pearson talked to the media during his tenure, I can’t seem to find it specifically to link you to it, but he was keen on the small percentages. Basically if you make small improvements across the board, minor positive percentage increases, then this can make the difference. Doing this across the board and involving the players actively in this process has clearly paid off.

This includes the fitness, but not forgetting the psychological work that’s done with players to get motivated, positive, and enthusiastic, and overcome challenges as team and personally.

Pearson mentioned this in the past, and I know that we’ve got successful momentum currently in our favour, but a supportive department in that area for those who are not making the team, but have the hunger to step up. It’s something that Bolton aligned with their fitness and tactical work too.

Here’s an article on OptaPro, By Ryan Bahia, Inside Leicester City. A real good professional insight into the work that’s done behind the scenes.

This percentage improvement ethos seems to be prevalent across the club. Small gradual but significant improvements all adding up to success. Whether we now, having exceeded our own expectations, have to take a leap of faith and inject much more so soon will be up to the owners. The question of the stadium upgrade and a European adventure, may twist the arms holding the chequebook.

Ranieri has asked the players to adhere strictly to the training routine devised for them over the break prior to today’s game with Norwich City FC, even though they could do what they pleased.

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The bit that’s important is whether the players can stick to these without question. It is paramount that they have the full buy-in’, and can see themselves the benefits of doing so, which is being ready for the challenge ahead now the break is over, which is mountainous, but not impossible.

I always bark on about the final third of the season and its importance, and this season has been no different (though VERY different). If we can maintain that extra edge physically in our forthcoming matches then we can do continue to do what others teams have failed to do.

Look at all the major clubs failing to meet expectations. The amount of injuries this season for big-name and big game players has been astounding. This hasn’t been the only factor but has been a serious contributor to our own success, as, we seem to have a consistency that other teams have not been able to put together, because their teamsheets have been forcibly muddled, or key areas have opened them up either in defence or in attack.

When you look at Jamie Vardy, he’s another kettle of fish. His determination even when he was injured, and playing with a broken wrist, and a groin injury has been a different phenomenal factor and maybe needs its own article alone.

Not only are we playing with a level of fitness that most haven’t achieved once this season, we are playing tactically with our competitors during the match. Our levels are such that we, now we took our foot off the gas over Christmas, run rings around teams that are nowhere near our level in this aspect, and we’ve turned the screw on them in the early first third of the season, with stunning comebacks and thrilling disregard for our foes with wins where there never was a window.

We have had another rest, and if come back with a hunger, we could threaten to do the impossible, and achieve something very very special indeed.

 

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Don’t forget to read from tuppence wot I wrot last week etc!!!!

Oh Captain…my Captain!

 

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Oh Captain…my Captain!


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I won’t bother you or bore you with a paragraph of excuses to why I’ve not written anything for awhile, because a.) you’ve probably not read this blog before, and b.) it’s not that interesting anyways.

However, in my interlude things have massively progressed and we’re at this time top of the league and playing out a dramatic thread of heroic magnitudes from relegation to prospective title contenders. It simply is unreal!

Last week’s game against Man City, nearly brought me to tears. Now…I was poorly with a shitty cold, and hadn’t really slept for the week prior, so I was vulnerable, and my guard was down. We were gifted with the improbable, and we played like incredibles.

I’ve been extremely interested in the attention the team, and the club have garnered over for the last year or so, and how it’s gone from write-offs from the media and our gambling factories.

 

The X Factors –

Like a perfect storm our situation has been a combination of momentum, hard work, scouting analysis, training, and tactics. And seemingly a faltering elite, who with a cataclysm of injuries, unrest, management disasters and continuing executive failure, an opportunity arose to whomever was ready to accept it.

We’ve not just been lucky as some bitter supporters have griped, and even some media up to this point have muttered under their breaths and now have mostly had to concede their preseason predictions and inability to swallow that lump of broken pride. I give credit to them for changing their minds and admitting they had been hasty, that lump has some sharp edges. But the facts can’t be denied.

Now a lot has been written on the momentum, the scouting, the playing personnel, the consistent team sheet, and the Pearson legacy. All important in their own rights, but attention to each has been the key. Improvement across the board. But the underlining successful ethos isn’t rocket science. Identify your strengths. Play to them. Identify your weaknesses. Don’t try to eliminate them, just improve all of them by a small percentage. Obtainable improvements that build positive reinforcement of a strong team ethos and collective desire for achieving their goals.

 

Bang for your Buck –

Nobody can deny that one of the key elements of Leicester City’s success has been the team spirit. This spirit of course has been gorging on success at the table of the top. The difficulties of our relegation struggle a memory that helped forge a stronger bond, and the development of an even fiercer union, as we emerged from relegation ashes and escaped from its seemingly inevitable clutches not with a whimper, but with a roar.

There’s uncertainty of why or how all of a sudden something fell into place, and I’m not going to add my tuppence to that historic conversation, as it would be supposition and conjecture that at this point doesn’t change the outcome.

I also won’t gloss over Pearson’s graft. The methodology was all laid down prior to Ranieri, and I am grateful to Pearson for laying the foundation of what could be a fine erection once it’s finished.

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This attention to areas that conceivably can be improved in detail by one or two percent is applied to aspects across a players’ training, utilising and analysing the data, and more importantly extracting and identifying where those weaknesses if improved could make the most impact. Like the scouting network’s ethos, of biggest bang for your buck. Lean thinking and avoiding wastage of time and efforts that only return the same or only a minute difference on overall result. Coming up with a calculation for success, and then finding players that can offer characteristics and prospective attributes to achieve these mini goals has been the less sexy side of our success story. Data, maths, and analysis.

If you review the type of players have brought in you can if you watch with any succession, a team of hungry, driven, players in unison that with underlying fitness that most other teams dream of.

Each player with their own plan, fitting into the overall team’s firm and achievable objectives of improvement.

 

The 2% Percenters –

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As I watched our team formed. I noticed a common trait amongst the majority of those employed.

I recall (or I’m imagining?) a quote from an interview Alex Ferguson made about his cup and title winning team. Asked why he made a substitute of his Captain, his stern response was that he had a team of captains, and when the actual captain came off for whatever reason that he expected his team to step up and show a collective leadership on the pitch.

When you look across the team sheet and you see not only International captains, strong work ethics, and a never say die approach from individuals, a camaraderie that even facing what on paper looks like insurmountable odds there is a united fearlessness that drives them forward hammering the opponents with relentless attack, and composed defense.

From actual large physical specimens to the even the smallest in stature it seems to me that the hard graft behind the players, and their purchase to the core ideals proposed them and the belief in the tactics from a manager who has been unrightfully questioned in appointment by detractors and unbelievers, has taken us from what I believed to a season finishing in midtable to a team now looking forward to a competitive tour of Europe and the tantalising prospect of a title.

Whilst the latter is still for me only prospective, I will not question whether we have the bottle nor the talent, nor the manager to pull it off.

There is bound to be more eventful drama ahead. I genuinely predict that there is going to be a team that’s going to face us yet, that is going to receive a colossal defeat as I think we’ve yet to hit our full stride following our lull during the Christmas period, which was a transitional period tactically, as Claudio focussed on sewing up the defense and helped form a team that maintains shape, works a focussed unit, and has helped improve our goal difference, for which I think may prove an important factor in our positional finale.

Claudio and fox

 

Tomorrow’s game against Arsenal is not the benchmark on which we can draw conclusions for the season, as Claudio says, it’s just another game. A game that will be a lot different to the game we played back in September. We’re not a different team. It’s just we’ve just gotten even better.

If you like what I write, or even if you think I’m garbling nonsense, then by all means leave a comment, or if your interested what else I might dribble, then follow me as below!

 

Thanks for reading (and making it this far!)

 

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All Things Blue and Beautiful


What more can be said about our return to the Premiership? I’ve been using all sorts of adjectives to describe our start, and specifically ran out of ways of describing the Manchester United match. I do hope West Ham, Everton and West Brom are exceptionally grateful for us literally breaking their defence. Without a first team CB available, they are going to have score a lot of goals to avoid a repeat of what for me is the most joyous Leicester City match and performance I’ve witnessed for a very long time.

So many years ago I adopted LCFC, the local team to my immigration. Not the big boys. I wasn’t diligent, it was a slow process.

The first game I saw was the Crystal Palace playoff match in 1996. I saw it over a good friends house. What a match to begin my journey.

I’ll be honest, it wasn’t a season ticket I went out and bought at the next opportunity. I’ll even admit at one point sneering at the game itself. But I followed the progress of the club and watched games I could, and went to the games I could afford to, and those I gratefully sorted out by others.

Now over the years, you don’t need me to repeat in detail our ups and our downs. Some of those downs were truly heartbreaking, and some of those snatched highs were fantastic.

Over the last 4 years for me have been a increasingly exciting and full of drama, and looking back maybe I wouldn’t have had it any other way, as this season wouldn’t taste a sweet as it does, and last week’s result wouldn’t have given me a temporary physical disorder for two days.

Whilst this was great, work was none to pleased, and driving was made pretty much next to impossible.

So Saturday has come, and it’s been a long, long exasperating week! The waiting has been killing me.

A look at Palace this week in the Cup, they put out a strong side. That side played extra time, and they’ll be weary, but shouldn’t be underestimated. Their own results have been commendable. A 3-3 draw against Newcastle away, an away 2-3 win against Everton, and though a loss against a second team sided Newcastle, they are still scoring goals, are a serious threat. Or defence will need to be on their game. The whole team needs to be.

I can’t see Nigel wanting to change a winning formula, but he may take more conservative approach to Selhurst Park. I would be delighted to see Warnock complain about the ref, and blame everything but his players for not totally dominating and be the better team.

I think there are still some surprises to come from us this season.

Players that to be honest I felt might be sitting on the bench have stepped up to the plate and made major impacts in our current momentum, making Nigel’s job picking the team a difficult one.

It’s going to be a long slog this season, and the competition within the team gives me confidence that we can maintain our place in the premiership, and hopefully push on to bigger and better things!

KTF!

If you are interested in being involved with a video I’m putting together, then read my previous article and see the video below.

Nextpectations

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Nextpectations


So I’ve been bored again, and wanted to do another LCFC video after my last one.

 

 

As that’s a little out of date, it makes sense now we’re in the Premiership to make one that’s not going to go out of date within a week!

So here it is, it’s not finished so please don’t be too harsh!

 

 

However I’d like to fill it out as the season progresses, but I wonder whether you’d like to be involved? If you’d like a photograph or video of yourself at a game, on the way to a game, watching the match celebrating etc, then please do post them on my Facebook page, and I will add them to the video:

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By the way I don’t make any money whatsoever doing this, it’s a hobby, and one that I’m not exactly great at! But practice makes perfect, and it keeps my idle hands busy!

I’ll be putting mind to digits following our Arsenal match, so keep an eye out for my blabblings on our season so far, the drama of our transfer window, and my thoughts on the year ahead! (I know you can hardly contain yourself! Ha!)

Up the Foxes!

Fantasy Football League – By The Sphericals

Do join, and embarrass me week in week out!

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