“I never knew anything about him before I came here,” Claudio Ranieri recently said of his title-winning captain Wes Morgan. “But I watched all the matches, I watched how solid, strong and intelligent he was.”
If Ranieri meant he’d been watching Morgan’s performances last season, however, it’s difficult to imagine he arrived at those conclusions. While clearly a talented centre-back, Morgan had a worrying tendency to make completely unforced errors, both defensively and in possession. He was strong, certainly, but not particularly solid.
This season, however, his transformation has been remarkable. Morgan has been outstanding at the heart of Leicester’s defence, becoming only the third outfield player in Premier League history to play every minute of a title-winning campaign, after fellow centre-backs Gary Pallister in 1992/93 and John Terry in 2014/15.
A simple game
His sudden improvement is partly the consequence of Leicester’s improved organisation higher up the pitch, with the forwards keeping the side compact, allowing the central midfielders to drop deep and protect the centre-backs closely. Morgan has been exposed much less than last season, has needed to move forward into midfield zones less, and is rarely dragged out towards the flanks. He and centre-back partner Robert Huth have been able to stay in the penalty box and head away crosses – and both have been excellent at that simple but crucial job.
Of the duo, Morgan was the more slightly more proactive centre-back. He made 51 tackles to Huth’s 41, 95 interceptions to Huth’s 76, while Huth’s deeper positioning meant he made more clearances, 258 to 215. Impressively, Morgan was only booked three times all season.
The Jamaica international produced his best form during the spring, particularly the five-game run of clean sheets against Watford, Newcastle, Crystal Palace, Southampton and Sunderland. At Selhurst Park, where Leicester went ahead through Riyad Mahrez’s first-half goal but then became rather too passive, conceding too much pressure, Morgan’s defensive performance was almost flawless: 10 of his 11 duels were successful.
Strength at the sharp end
He also nodded in the only goal against Southampton, and later scored a crucial equaliser at Old Trafford, when Leicester had been wobbling – to put the pressure on Tottenham. They promptly slipped up at Chelsea the next day, handing Leicester the title.
The set-piece threat provided by Morgan and Huth was crucial during the run-in, when opponents were increasingly sitting deep to prevent Mahrez and Jamie Vardy counter-attacking into space. The Foxes needed to find another source of goals, and their centre-backs stepped up.
“I think we've always believed, it has been the people around us that weren't really convinced that we could do it,” Morgan said shortly after lifting the trophy. “But we knew our capabilities, we played all the other teams and knew on our day we were as good if not better than all of them. It's just performing week in week out, concentrating, ignoring what's going on around us and just doing our job.”
That sums up Morgan’s performances: nothing fancy, nothing spectacular, just consistently doing his job. Ranieri’s words – “solid, strong, intelligent” – now ring true.
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