Why Leicester City Needed A New Winger

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During this past weekend Leicester City announced the signing of Roma winger Cengiz Under. The deal is a loan for 2020/21 with an option for Leicester to make the move permanent next summer. This is the kind of move I have been waiting for throughout this transfer window, because as the 2019/20 season came to an end, it was fairly clear that a new winger, particularly a right winger, was essential for Leicester this summer.

Last year their winger group was made up of Harvey Barnes, Ayoze Perez, Marc Albrighton and Demarai Gray. From those four, the only player I was really convinced by was Harvey Barnes, who will be the starter over on the left side of the attack and has already got his season off to a good start through the first two games.

Looking at the other three, I’ll start with Ayoze Perez who was the main option for starting on the right wing last season. He was signed from Newcastle United for around £30million in the summer of 2019, and even at the time I was a bit sceptical as he had played most of his best football as a second striker playing off Salomon Rondon.

Leicester’s 433 setup didn’t appear to accommodate for Perez to play that role and sure enough, he was used predominantly as a wide forward. While I wouldn’t necessarily describe Perez as a flop, and I do think he is a very useful player to have in the squad, having him as your best choice at right wing is far from ideal for a club trying to push for European places.

As for Gray and Albrighton, the issue isn’t so much about the fit as it is with Perez, but also the quality. Albrighton kind of falls into both, being a more traditional, stay wide and deliver crosses type of wide player, he doesn’t particularly suit this Leicester team anymore. Under Brendan Rodgers they now need their wide players to operate closer to the box. Gray on the other hand, he has a skillset that would be of more use to Brendan Rodgers, especially when used off the left side, but over the past couple of years he has only been able to show his quality in flashes.

So, the addition of a new right winger gives Leicester the option to deploy a more natural fit for that position than Perez or Albrighton. My prediction for Gray meanwhile, is that he’s kept and used more as an alternative for Barnes on the left side, and it shouldn’t be hard for him to find minutes with Leicester also competing in the Europa League this time around.

I can’t claim to have watched too much of Cengiz Under, so it wouldn’t be fair for me to speak in detail on his exact qualities. Instead I have focused more on how the addition of another right winger was crucial when you looked at the existing winger group at Leicester. However there is another dynamic to Under being added to Brendan Rodgers’ squad that I wanted to explore, and that is the fact that Under is a left footer.

Out of all the Leicester midfielders and forwards used even semi-regularly since the start of last season, only Iheanacho is left footed. There are a number of ways having reliable left footed options is helpful, from basic examples like corners and free kicks, to forming a more balanced midfield to open up different passing lanes.

For Leicester though, I think right wing is the ideal position to add another left footer to the squad. First off, Leicester’s full backs get very high up the pitch and we have already seen the aggressive role Castagne has played in his first two games at right back, which includes getting into the box to score from a cross in gameweek 1.

Having Under playing on the right and cutting inside onto his left foot is a more productive way to create space for your right back to get forward than using Perez, for example, and have him float inside as a right footer. On top of that, it is useful for Leicester to have wide players who naturally gravitate towards coming in to the middle of the field on to their stronger foot because of the type of striker Jamie Vardy is.

Vardy tends to sit on the shoulder of the centre backs and make runs in behind or down the channel to offer Leicester a more direct option. The problem with that, is sometimes a gap is left in the build up play when opponents are defending deep.

With Vardy not coming deep for the ball, he can be crowded out by the opposition centre backs and then you see a lot of the ball being moved from side to side with little penetration. As a result, once teams had a lead a to defend against Leicester last season, particularly those outside of the ‘big 6’, Leicester often struggled to break them down.

Obviously there is no guarantee Under comes in and solves these issues right out the gate. Players joining new teams and leagues can often need time to settle in, but also, more importantly, Under’s football has been disrupted by injuries during the past couple of years which means he isn’t arriving in England with a great deal of momentum.

Aside from that, I think the most important thing here is that this move makes a lot of sense in terms of addressing what was probably the biggest need in the Leicester squad. Not only has the right wing position been strengthened but the profile of Under opens up some different ways for Brendan Rodgers to shape his attack. We will have to wait and see how Cengiz Under takes to life at his new club, but of all the clubs in the Premier League, there aren’t many whose recruitment I trust more than Leicester’s.

Originally published at http://jackmccutcheon.com on September 22, 2020.

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