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Young, talented and offensive: Leicester are the team Man Utd should aspire to be

16:00 SAST 2019/09/13
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Brendan Rodgers Man Utd Leicester PS
A club with a clear identity, a good recruitment strategy and a formidable coach in the dugout, the Foxes know what they are and where they are going

Leicester City are the team Manchester United should aspire to be.

They have a team stocked with young and coveted English talents. They play bright, front-foot football, orchestrated by a manager who believes in the power of possession. They have a solid recruitment structure that has provided the club with a clear identity.

Leicester are a club going places and again look a good bet to break into that gang of six which has monopolised the top positions of the Premier League table for most of the decade – again, because the Foxes went and won the title three years ago.

Their victory under Claudio Ranieri owed everything to defensive steadfastness, to predictability in the line-up and the structure, and to the ability to raid on the counter-attack.

That kind of football is rarely sustainable for a concerted title challenge, which makes Leicester’s 5,000/1 shot all the more remarkable. It is percentage football at best, something which would have been quite obvious to the decision-makers at Leicester at the time.

They went in another direction under Ranieri’s eventual successor, Claude Puel, after alighting on continuity for a spell under the Italian’s one-time assistant Craig Shakespeare.

In came a coach who wanted his team to play in a certain way, who tried to up his side’s share of the possession and who wanted to find a more varied way of making chances, breaking down defences and scoring goals.

Not even the staunchest Puel fan in the world would say it was successful, which is why he was replaced earlier this year with Brendan Rodgers.

The Northern Irishman lost his first game in charge against Watford but since then has come out on the losing side only two more times. One of those was a statistical freak show against Newcastle, when they had nearly 80 per cent of the ball, and the other was away to a title-chasing Manchester City side who desperately needed three points in order to hold off Liverpool.

Leicester have become one of the most attractive teams in Europe, with Youri Tielemans pulling the strings in the centre of midfield. In James Maddison, they are possessed of one of the most creative playmakers anywhere in the Premier League and a player who epitomises their laser-focused transfer strategies.

In Ben Chilwell, they have England’s first-choice left-back and one grown in-house since his early teens. They have Hamza Choudhury and Harvey Barnes for good measure, a midfielder and an attacker both destined to represent the Three Lions at senior level one day.

They have Jamie Vardy, who looks a man reborn, having scored 12 times in his first 14 games under Rodgers.

While they may have lost England’s Harry Maguire, they did so for an upfront fee of £80 million ($100m), his replacement, Caglar Soyuncu, has scarcely missed a beat in the heart of the defence.

Under Rodgers, they sit third in the table. And while no one is expecting him to usurp previous employers Liverpool or Manchester City for a place in the Premier League top two, they look a lot better than United right now.

At a time when Leicester got busy dismantling the last vestiges of their counter-attacking regime, United were going the other way. King counter-puncher Jose Mourinho was hired and then replaced with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

He has achieved some landmark wins with this United squad – including Tottenham, Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain away, and Chelsea at home – but all those big victories were achieved against the run of play.

For United to win against the so-called big teams, they have needed out-of-this-world goalkeeping performances from David de Gea, monumental luck or a combination of both.

They have also struggled in the games against the league’s lesser lights, with those wins last season against Watford and West Ham representing the worst performances under Solskjaer to have yielded three points.

United simply do not have the right system to break down teams that sit deep and settle. Witness the last home game against Crystal Palace for the latest example of that.

There is no secret about Solskjaer’s intentions of turning this United team into a counter-attacking one first and foremost.

The signing of Daniel James, the deployment of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial in attack, and the sale of the more static Romelu Lukaku pay testament to Solskjaer’s need for speed.

But that won’t be enough; United will find it difficult to get through the season playing like that, especially against teams which will demand that United break them down.

Against Leicester, it will be a different story. Rodgers will bring his team to Old Trafford in full expectation of dominating the ball, of making chances and taking three points.

While the Foxes will have to be alert to United’s threat on the break, they should have enough of the ball to teach them a lesson.

That’s because Leicester are upward-looking, forward-thinking and a team on track.

In short, they are everything Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United are not.