LEICESTER host West Ham on Wednesday night. Jack Lambden (@_JackL_) analyses the encounter.
West Ham v Leicester | Wednesday 22nd January 2020, 19:30 | BT Sport
Leicester play host to West Ham on Wednesday evening looking to quickly stop the rot and avoid losing three consecutive league games for the first time since February 2019, the culmination of a run that sparked a change in management at the time.
Despite the recent defeats, you won’t find any Leicester fans calling for the managers head on this occasion. Leicester’s league position continues to defy the odds and although they will never be able to replicate the magic of the title winning season in 2016 with Liverpool so far ahead this time around, the priority from now until May will be to secure Champions League football which would be a terrific achievement.
With such a big cushion to the teams in fifth place and lower, it’d take a remarkable collapse for Leicester to miss out but nothing should be taken for granted.
Brendan Rodgers seems clear that the Foxes’ problems are a result of tiredness but Wilfred Ndidi’s injury has certainly not helped matters. The Nigerian, just like N’Golo Kante in 2016, is integral to the way Leicester play by breaking up opposition attacks and playing a simple passing game to his teammates who are more effective with the ball at their feet.
Without this, City have looked lightweight in midfield in the past two matches with the physicality of Southampton and Burnley’s middle packs giving their defensive line more problems than they have been used to dealing with.
The two factors has led to City playing with far less intensity and becoming far too predictable in their build-up play, something they will have to fix for this match against a West Ham side who will undoubtably sit deep at times in two banks of four (even a 4-5-1 out of possession) if they are to break through and create decent chances.
West Ham have become a lot more competitive under David Moyes and had VAR not intervened late on at Sheffield United, the Scotsman would still be enjoying an unbeaten start to his second reign at the Hammers. With Leicester having won only one of their last five at the King Power Stadium, a 2-0 FA Cup success over Wigan, Moyes will know that his team have a chance of picking up at least a point here if they can produce a solid defensive display.
This is a crucial game for Leicester with their next three league fixtures coming against Chelsea, Wolves and Manchester City but I’m not convinced enough on the outrights to back them at such short prices with the team taking a few confidence body blows in the past month or so. In fact, I wouldn’t turn anyone off backing West Ham +1 on the Asian Handicap at 101/100 with Bet365, meaning you would at worst get your money back in the event the away side lose by a single goal.
Value in tackles
Instead, I went looking to the prop markets for some value and the stats that stand out for these two sides is tackles.
Leicester and West Ham sit in the top two of the Premier League for successful tackles this season which is hardly surprising when you look at some of the individuals that feature for both. Leicester, in front of their own supporters, are particularly aggressive, registering 19 or more tackles in nine of their 11 Premier League home games this campaign so the 6/5 on Over 18.5 Team Tackles with Bet365 looks rather generous to say the least.
One of those 11 matches that this line didn’t land in was the 4-0 defeat by Liverpool which I think even the most optimistic of Leicester fan would admit was a game in which their side didn’t lay a glove on the Champions elect. The King Power crowd certainly get behind their team and it’s this atmosphere along with the way Rodgers likes his team to press the ball which has the team putting in plenty of challenges.
I mentioned the individuals in these two squads and their tackling numbers which the bookies seem to have reflected quite fairly in the odds they are offering and therefore, I’ve combined two players with my second selection.
Ricardo Pereira and Pablo Zabaleta to make 10+ tackles between them is 6/1 with SkyBet and I think it’s worth a small dabble. If you look at the last three matchdays that the two right-backs have both played, they’ve produced 10, 11 and 11 tackles between them so this bet, if it was possible to combine, would have brought home the money each time.
Looking at the selection tactically as well as on the stats, there should be plenty of width on show here should Ben Chilwell return at left-back from his mystery weekend absence and James Maddison play on the left of a front three. Leicester will need to stretch the play to break down the Hammers and Chilwell and Pereira both offer an option on the overlap so Zabaleta and his teammates will be busy.
On the flip side, the minimal pace in this West Ham side comes down the left and Pereira has topped up his tackles per game average in recent weeks with 20 in 3 matches so don’t be surprised to see him register a few more here and maybe help the 6/1 home.
Leicester v West Ham – Leicester to make Over 18.5 Team Tackles (6/5 Bet365)
Leicester v West Ham – Ricardo Pereira and Pablo Zabaleta to collectively make 10+ Tackles (6/1 SkyBet)