Barnes and Perez’s narrowness off the ball helps Leicester’s counter attack
One of the most enthralling sights in the last five years in the Premier League has been Jamie Vardy sprinting past players like a rabbit escaping a Hare coursing. Sprinting past defenders as if he had a deal with the wind to push him through.
In a recent interview he credits Brendan Rodgers for his continuity despite being 33. Rodgers advised Vardy not to waste energy, rather wait for the correct moment. This has helped his case and the Premier League top scoring chart shows that.
Vardy missed his chance of sharing the Premier League Golden Boot in 2015–16 when he missed a penalty against Everton, but this season there is a high probability that the English striker will win it.
During Vardy’s spell in the Premier League oppositions have chopped and changed to accommodate his pace on the counter. So how can Rodgers utilize Vardy’s threat on the counter against opposition who are closing him down?
It was needed urgently as Leicester’s record after the break (1W 3D 3L) wasn’t entirely appealing. The Foxes collapsed in the second half against Bournemouth dropping more points in their chase for a Champions League spot next season.
The game against Sheffield United was crucial for them and Chris Wilder’s side who are seeking European football for the first time in the clubs history. Current form suggested that Sheffield United might continue Leicester City’s misery. It wasn’t the case as Leicester came out winners, keeping 4th place only because of goal difference.
What does all that have to do with Vardy then?
Well, Sheffield United were aware of the threat, but the threat wasn’t Vardy. Rodgers utilized Vardy as a creator in this game rather than the finisher he is.
Ayoze Perez and Harvey Barnes were the threat on the counters. Playing in a 3–4–3 — Leicester has been using 3–4–1–2 and 3–4–3 shapes since James Maddison’s injury — they flanked Vardy, but it’s where they positioned themselves off the ball that gave them the edge once the offensive transitions started.
Barnes and Perez regularly moved in-field to mark Oliver Norwood when Sheffield United were in possession. Not only that but also to be ready once the counter-attack started.
The consequence is that once Leicester retrieve the ball they aren’t wide, far away from the ball. Being narrow and central allows them to be more of a threat on the counters as they reach the penalty box faster than they would have had if they were wide.
By doing that they give Vardy passing options when the ball is played wide into him. The narrow and central positioning of the duo makes them closer to Vardy and the ball. Here, Barnes makes the perfect run into the box but Vardy’s ball is too heavy for him.
One of the duo or both of them regularly kept a central position off the ball, anticipating the counter.
Once Leicester have the ball back they are central, providing Vardy with options when he tends to drift wide left attracting defenders with him.
In this situation the benefits of the narrow positioning can be seen. Barnes and Perez take less time to reach the center area of the pitch, providing Vardy with options after he dragged the Sheffield United defenders wide. The striker’s pass into Barnes is perfect this time, but the latter failed to score to double Leicester’s lead.
Even if support is needed in the wing area on one side of the pitch, the other player — Perez here — is positioned narrow to be ready for the counter.
And vice-versa. Barnes here is going inside to be more central as Perez moves wide left to defend the wing area.
Eventually, it gives Leicester and Vardy more legs on the counter as from a central position Barnes or Perez can reach the goal faster than being in a wide position. Barnes failed to score again, shooting at Dean Henderson.
Leicester scored the second from a counter-attack where Vardy assisted Demarai Gray. It wasn’t similar to the aforementioned scenarios as by then Leicester City had switch to a 5–3–2. Yet it could have been a 5–4–1 with Gray stuck out wide, but Rodgers held the same principal of having a player centrally to help Vardy on the counters.
Off the ball positioning of Perez and Barnes helped Leicester against Sheffield United. Defensively, they neutralized Norwood and offensively it aided their counter-attacks by reaching the box faster and giving Vardy passing options.
Leicester City will be needing all the cards up their sleeves when they face Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United.
Just don’t let your eyes fade away with the Vardy card, ignoring the other cards on the table.