What we can learn from Leicester’s chemistry lesson

By Paul Derby 04/05/2016  0 Comments  [Jump to last]

Watching Leicester City's players celebrate becoming champions of England, my overriding feeling was ‘good on them'. An unfancied team from the East Midlands, assembled on a modest budget, featuring unheralded players and led by a quietly respectful manager, proved that competing not just for the top four but winning the title itself was not an impossible dream.

Leicester's squad cost something like £57 million, or to put it another way, one Anthony Martial or one Kevin de Bruyne. Theirs is a triumph of recruitment, man management and teamwork, which at the same time rams home the scale of our own shortcomings: the tactical ineptitude, the fitness issues, the lack of ‘chemistry', the mental weakness and the continued under-performance of talented players.

What Leicester and to an extent Spurs have proven is that there are no excuses. Yes, financial clout matters, but of greater significance is the ability to mould a group of players into a sum greater than their parts – the polar opposite of our desperate performances in recent times. This is my take on the lessons Everton could learn from Leicester's achievement:

The art of defending

The centre-half pairing of Robert Huth and Wes Morgan would be unlikely to threaten a World 11, but it is ultra-effective and demonstrated that stopping goals and a willingness to win the physical battle are the bread and butter of how you give yourself a chance to win matches. The work rate of Leicester's starting 11, not just Kante and Drinkwater, but throughout the team simply overwhelmed many opponents and they were prepared to put in the hard yards without the ball. They defend as a team and nobody ever stands still or leaves the dirty work to a team mate. In this regard, they shame us.

At the start of the season Leicester leaked goals, but after Christmas they kept 11 clean sheets in 17 matches and won plenty of tight games. This ability to see out close-fought victories would have been impossible without defensive solidity and a well drilled team shape. Not hard to see where we might pick up a few tips on this score is it?

It's what you do with possession that counts

One of the biggest criticisms of Everton during the tenure of Roberto Martinez has been the ponderously slow ‘possession at all costs' mantra, which has sucked the life out of our identity and left many fans cold. Our best performances have come when we've played at pace: Southampton away this season; the success on the road in last season's Europa League... although these are increasingly fleeting memories.

Leicester averaged about 45% possession in 2015-16; in itself, this is a startling statistic because no team in the past decade has won the league with a possession percentage below 55%. Instead Leicester relied on lightning counterattacks led by Vardy and Mahrez and they played better in ‘transition' than anybody else. While we might not want to copy these tactics precisely, surely there is a lesson in the art of possession with a purpose?

Chemistry

Leighton Baines says we don't have it, and that it's been missing all season. Roberto Martinez believes we have phenomenal amounts of it, while the rest of us are left wishing that the men in white lab coats would come and take us away until the start of next season.

Call it what you will – chemistry, team spirit, camaraderie – it is sorely lacking at Everton and positively bubbling over at Leicester and not only since they've been top of the league. Far too often we give the impression of a group of strangers whose energy has been sucked out by the straitjacket of playing sideways passes. Without straying into yet another critique of the manager, chemistry is not just about winning matches, it stems from a system that everyone believes in, plus the tactical flexibility to implement a Plan B. Patently, our players don't believe in the system and the designated Plan B is more of Plan A.

Hope for the future

So, in short well done to Leicester for proving that anything is possible. They have shown that speed of thought and speed of movement can overcome so-called better players and vastly bigger wage bills. Amid the wreckage of this season, there are many lessons we need to learn, from the boardroom to the pitch. A swift glance in the direction of the King Power Stadium wouldn't be a bad place to start.

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