TACTICAL football boff Chris Bland (@blandc_1996) gives us the lowdown on Super Sunday's showdown between Leicester and Newcastle.
Leicester v Newcastle | Sunday 29th September 2019, 16:30 | Sky Sports
The King Power Stadium hosts Sunday’s only fix of Premier League football as Leicester take on goal-shy Newcastle, looking to make it a hat trick of wins this week.
The Foxes will be full of confidence after an impressive comeback against Tottenham last weekend, which gave them a 2-1 victory and moved them up to third. Able to rest a number of key players in midweek, Brendan Rodgers made seven changes as his side eased past Luton in the EFL Cup 4-0.
Feeling like a broken record when writing about Newcastle this season, goals are still an issue under Steve Bruce as they languish in 17th. A drab performance in a 0-0 draw against Brighton last weekend will have done little to alleviate concerns regarding this blunt strikeforce, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see similar issues on Sunday.
Newcastle to attack the flanks
Newcastle have already played Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal, and I expect to see them set up in a similar shape against Leicester. Bruce has opted to set his team up in a very defensive 5-4-1 in these games, prioritising a tight defensive shape over attacking output, and this has been highlighted by his sides Expected Goals (xG) output in all three games.
Despite scoring on the counter against Spurs and Liverpool, their xG has sat at 0.38 v Arsenal, 0.51 v Tottenham and 0.29 v Liverpool, highlighting the lack of chances the Toon have been creating.
Bruce relies upon the hold-up play of Joelinton, coupled with the energy of Christian Atsu and Miguel Almiron on the wings to exploit spaces on the counter to create these chances, which ultimately led to the goals against both Tottenham and Liverpool.
Leicester’s full backs Ricardo Pereira and Ben Chilwell attack in a similar fashion to those two sides, so Newcastle will once again look at utilising these wide areas to fashion attacking opportunities.
However, Leicester’s central midfielders are more restrained than Liverpool and Tottenham have been in previous games, so covering these channels may be an easier task, with the likes of Wilfried N’Didi and Hamza Choudhury comfortable to picking up second balls in around Joelinton, stifling the supply to onrunning midfielders.
Sean Longstaff is expected to be available and will make a big difference, offering more energy and suiting Bruce’s tactics better than Jonjo Shelvey, whilst also offering more energy in defence.
Carroll a worthy option from the bench
Injuries have been a problem so far for Newcastle, with Andy Carroll not yet fit to start a match. However, he does offer an alternative off the bench, and managed eight minutes against Brighton last weekend. In a game where Brighton dominated possession, passing Newcastle off the park, it allowed a change in tactics to a more direct approach, and led to Newcastle mustering a few opportunities towards the end.
If Newcastle are required to do so, they can look to Carroll towards the end of the game, and with his impressive aerial ability against any defenders in the Premier League, he will cause problems for Leicester’s back four.
Furthermore, Saint-Maximin has impressed off the bench as he builds up his fitness, and if Newcastle are still in the game with 20 minutes to go, he and Carroll may be risked as they look to exploit the wing areas in search for goals, and this currently looks by far their best option.
Can Leicester pick the Magpies lock?
The issue for Leicester will be how they break down Newcastle’s rigid back five. James Maddison is expected to miss the tie due to an ankle injury, and this leaves a gaping attacking hole for Rodgers to fill.
Match winner last weekend against Tottenham, Maddison has been averaging 1.8 key passes a match (highest in the side), whilst also providing two assists this season. Also averaging 3.3 shots per-game, it adds up to over 25% of all his sides shots, and as a result Leicester will be looking to alternatives to break down this Newcastle side.
With Newcastle expected to sit deep, this will stifle the threat of Jamie Vardy running in behind which has caused most Premier League sides problems in recent years. Furthermore, Newcastle look to close the space in the middle, meaning that there is very little room in between the lines for the likes of Harvey Barnes and Ayoze Perez to receive the ball.
Liverpool’s quick passing allowed them to break down the compact defence, and it will need to be a similar approach from Leicester.
This was a particular problem in their home defeat to Newcastle last season, where a vintage Rafael Benitez performance saw Newcastle come away with a 1-0 win, frustrating the Foxes for large periods as they relied upon crossing into the box, despite not having an adequate aerial threat.
Foxes look to avoid the aerial route
Still without that aerial threat, Leicester have to be careful not to be dragged into a similar match.
As a result, I can see Leicester dominating possession once again, and relying upon Youri Tielemans and the wingers to unpick Newcastle’s defence.
Tielemans has been impressive in recent weeks with his interplay with the full backs, and this will be key to getting in behind the Newcastle defence.
Tielemans provides a strong awareness of when to up the tempo of Leicester’s attacks, often looking to play quick one twos with full backs Pereira and Chilwell (depending on which side he is playing) to get them in behind. He also isn’t afraid to make runs into the box, and this will be a key focal point of Leicester’s attacks.
If they are able to get in behind the defence, they possess one of the best poachers in the Premier League in Vardy, so expect this to be an area Leicester opt to target. Demarai Gray scored in midweek, potentially offering another option and runner in behind for Leicester.
The betting angles
Given the defensive nature and lack of goals, as well as chances created from Newcastle, I am expecting another low-scoring affair. Maddison will be a huge miss for Leicester as they look to break down the Toon side, but I do still think that Leicester will have enough to secure a win.
Priced at 21/20 (Bet365), Leicester to win and Under 3.5 Goals is appealing, as Newcastle have shown capability on the counter, whilst may be able to cause problems late on with the introduction of Carroll, suggesting Leicester ‘to ni’l does carry more risk than the stats suggest.
I expect Leicester to utilise the flanks to create chances against this compact Newcastle side, and they are so far averaging seven corners per-game. Newcastle are also letting up 5.67 pe- game, and Leicester’s style of play in this game make them a tempting prospect.
Leicester will look to get in behind, and due to their lack of aerial threat, they will look to use low crosses to create opportunities. These increase the chances of more corners, and as a result Leicester to have Over 2.5 Corners in each half at 11/10 (William Hill) looks the most tempting angle.
Leicester v Newcastle – Leicester to win and Under 3.5 Goals (21/20 Bet365)
Leicester v Newcastle – Leicester to have Over 2.5 corners in each half (11/10 William Hill)