Nigel Pearson's timely tweak is launching Leicester towards safety
Back-to-back victories have finally rewarded Leicester's bold, scrappy approach to top-flight football as they bid to extend their stay among the Premier League elite. And while ripples of creative energy have fizzed before flickering out at the King Power Stadium this season – met by a collective groan for Leicester's bad luck – a quietly effective tactical switch seems to have finally unleashed a more balanced and cohesive team.
For the last four matches (two wins, one draw and a 4-3 defeat at Spurs), manager Nigel Pearson has reinvented Leicester's left flank and created a newly flourishing partnership by shifting Jeffrey Schlupp to left-back and Jamie Vardy to left midfield. The improvements were instant.
With Vardy's inward charges and Schlupp's natural attacking instincts, the duo terrorised West Brom's backline last weekend, building on the over and under-lapping double act that's steadily clearing an escape route for the Foxes. In the last four games Leicester have averaged 31 crosses per match (up from a season average of 23) as part of a pattern exponentially increasing with each game; Schlupp made 8 crosses from left-back – and his team 39 – in the dramatic 3-2 victory at The Hawthorns.
Vardy's twisting slaloms and terrier-like darts towards the penalty area provide something of a third striker option during Leicester's typically gung-ho counter-attacks (only the top four spend more time in the opposition half than Leicester – 28%), forcing a fearful opposition defence to remain narrow, and thus create space for Schlupp to barge his way to the byline.
Furthermore, Vardy's pace makes him a far better target for Leicester to sweep long passes towards – a tactical necessity for relegation candidates unable to match the technical precision of their rivals.
Swansea manager Garry Monk is a tactically astute boss capable of responding to this threat and, indeed, their latest re-jig into a 4-3-1-2 could already prove effective. Ki Sung-yueng essentially operates as a right midfielder in a formation that demands positional fluidity of their tenacious, intelligent South Korea international (1.5 tackles, 2.1 interceptions per match).
However, Swansea's 3-2 defeat to Spurs a few weeks ago highlighted their potential vulnerability in wide areas when operating with three central midfielders (who receive little defensive cover from wide forwards). With Kyle Naughton out injured, 32-year-old Angel Rangel might just be pulled, twisted and tangled on the touchline if Ki is distracted by the left-leaning support play of David Nugent.