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Opposition Preview - Leicester City (Away)
Written by ad_wilkin on Friday, 19th Jan 2024 13:57

It’s, as it stands on Friday, first v second yet again, this time on a Monday night at the King Power.

Since the last time these two teams played Leicester extended the gap to 10 points but following last weekend's results, this has dropped to seven with the Foxes suffering a 3-1 defeat to Coventry. A win for Town here could bring them back to within four.

With Southampton, who are at Swansea City on Saturday afternoon, still only three points behind, this is yet another important game in this incredible season for the Super Blues.

Previous Meeting (Ipswich 1-1 Leicester)

A thrilling end-to-end clash at Portman Road on Boxing Day ended in a draw thanks to a last-minute own goal as Sam Morsy’s late shot deflected off two Leicester defenders to wrong-foot goalkeeper Mads Hermansen and claim a deserved point for the Blues.

Leicester ended the game with 55% possession, but Town were dominant in most other aspects with higher xG, more shots and more shots on target. They also won more duels with 51 to Leicester's 35.

Town started the game well creating the majority of the chances. Wes Burns and Harry Clarke both delivered dangerous balls into the box before Jack Taylor hit a shot from outside the box over the bar.

Despite that early pressure, it was Stephy Mavididii who struck first for Leicester. Conor Coady played a ball that split the midfield and got Patson Daka in running at the defence.

Wilfred Ndidi’s run from deep drew Harry Clarke narrow to cover him, which opened up the space wide for Mavididi. Morsy failed to intercept as Daka swept the ball out wide to the left winger and despite Clarke’s best efforts to get back across, he curled in from just inside the edge of the box.

With Town rocking a bit, a long pass from Jannik Vestergaard picked out Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall on the run. The midfielder nipped in to take the ball ahead of Cameron Burgess, but the big Australian recovered well using his body to push the midfielder off of the ball just before he made it into the penalty area.

This was followed by a snapshot from sub Kayden Jackson at one end and then a last-ditch sliding tackle from Clarke as Ndidi looked to be through on goal after Leicester pressed well to win the ball high up the pitch at the other.

Vaclav Hladky was then called into action to save from Daka before play was once again down the other end with Marcus Harness escaping the attentions of a two-man press to set Leif Davis away. Davis’s ball across the box missed Jackson and Wout Faes managed to get back to take it off the toes of Wes Burns.

The second half was all Town, Burgess missed a free header from a corner, Davis shot was closed down by a flying Abdul Fatawu, Conor Chaplin attempted to lob Hermansen from the halfway line, Hermansen made a fine save diving to his right to deny Chaplin’s rifled shot from the edge of the area and the same man sent a left-footed shot high over the bar before Leicester had a big breakaway chance through Dewsbury-Hall once again.

In a very similar incident to the one in the first half, Burgess muscled the midfielder off of the ball, this time however he was clearly in the penalty area but for me once again Burgess was just too strong.

The best chance came after a lovely flowing passing move ended up with substitute Nathan Broadhead getting into the box but slipping at the moment when he was about to pull the trigger.

Freddie Ladapo then had a shot blocked in the box after fine dribbling from Omari Hutchinson before Town finally got the equaliser. Morsy found space to receive a throw-in, dropped his shoulder and shrugging off a non-existent challenge from Cesare Casadei, before hitting a left-footed shot which ricocheted into the net.

It was an end-to-end contest with both teams showing their class at different stages. On balance, Town edged it and could have come away with three points had their finishing been a bit better.

However, they also had to survive a few scares and a couple of penalty calls from some last ditch defending as Leicester's quality came to the fore in moments of the game. It’s was a performance that should give them a lot of confidence coming into the away tie.

What's Changed

It’s not been too long since these sides last met but it there could be a few changes in the Leicester side that Town take on in this one.

The first major impact is that of the Africa Cup of Nations with striker Daka having been whisked away to play for Zambia after he had just started to get a run of games in the side.

His replacement, Tom Cannon, has more than filled his boots so far though with a double against Huddersfield and another against Millwall in the FA Cup.

With Jamie Vardy having just recovered from injury and Kelechi Iheanacho also at the AFCON, he’s likely to lead the line in this one.

Another big miss for Leicester will be Ndidi. The Nigerian would likely have been called up for the AFCON but suffered an injury which looks likely to keep him out for three months.

It’s been young Italian loanee Casadei who has stepped in to fill the boots so far in the games he’s missed and he ran the show in there against Millwall in the FA Cup, ending up with both a goal and an assist to his name.

Those are the injuries, there’s also now a suspension that Leicester will have to deal with. Fatawu received his marching orders for an off the ground two-footed lunge against Coventry and will miss this match.

Kasey McAteer is fit again and is the most likely to replace him down that side, although Marc Albrighton and Wanya Marcal are also both options, the pair having started the FA Cup game for minutes.

Manager Enzo Maresca will also be facing a touchline ban for this one having picked up his limit of yellow cards for this stage of the season.

Players to watch

Stephy Mavididi (Goals – 9, Assists – 4, Penalties Won – 2)

Mavididi has already proved what a threat he is against Town so far this season with a peach of a right-foot curler from the outside of the box in the game at Portman Road.

His pace on the counter, dribbling ability and marksmanship make him one of the trickiest wingers in the league alongside Sunderland's Jack Clarke.

He’s also likely to play on the left-hand side of Leicester’s attack, which is the side of Town’s defence that is often targeted. Other than the goal Town kept him pretty quiet at Portman Road with players doubling up on him when he got the ball and will have to do the same in this one.

Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall (Goals 9, Assists 9, Key Passes per game –2.7)

I called him out as one of the best players in the Championship in my last blog and he did okay at Portman Road. He’s since been on the scoresheet twice since with the opening goal against Cardiff and a penalty against Coventry.

With Ndidi injured there will be even more pressure on him to get in good positions and lead the team. He’s an all-round midfielder ranking second for key passes and ninth for successful dribbles but in the last match Ipswich were very good at stopping both of those aspects of his game only allowing him to make two progressive passes and two progressive dribbles.

With potentially both of Town’s first-choice midfielders out, he’ll be hoping to have more of an impact this time around. (I wrote this before the news that he might miss out on Monday night due to the knock he picked up against Coventry. This would be another big boost for Town as Leicester don’t have loads of natural replacements. It will likely be Dennis Praet or Yunus Akgun filling in there if Leicester’s main man is missing).

Mads Hermansen (Clean Sheets 9, Goals prevented 2.74)

Hermansen is another player who statistically didn’t have the best of games against Town but has still been one of the standout keepers in the division.

His nine clean sheets are the joint-second best in the division (alongside Hladky and Illan Meslier) and only behind Alex Palmer on 12. Of those four keepers mentioned, he has conceded the least goals and has saved the highest number of shots on target at 77%.

He’s claimed the highest number of crosses into the box of the four but perhaps counterintuitively has conceded six goals from corner kicks, an area Town could exploit.

He’s comfortable playing with his feet as well with the most progressive distance on his passes out of all four goalkeepers with Leicester playing a very possession-based style.

The Teams

Ipswich were boosted massively by having both of their full-backs fit against Sunderland and with over a week of recovery and training time and the addition of a couple of new faces the squad depth looks to have returned.

That means that for me four of the back five are set in stone. Hladky in goal, Clarke on the right, the resurgent George Edmundson as the left centre-back and Davis at left-back.

Axel Tuanzebe has filled in at right-back in a couple of matches previously but prior to that had been rotating with Luke Woolfenden. Woolfy has an established partnership with Edmundson but lapses in concentration have started to creep into his game a little bit. With such high quality of opposition, I think Axel could be given the nod in this one.

With Morsy still suspended, the midfield will largely depend on the fitness of Massimo Luongo. Lewis Travis had a very solid debut getting about the pitch and throwing himself into tackles so has done enough to play the holding role.

If Luongo is fit, you’d imagine he would play alongside him. If not, then Jack Taylor should be given another chance following a hit and miss performance against Sunderland.

The attacking areas are where it gets interesting. For me Burns and Chaplin are the two nailed down starters with Jeremy Sarmiento and Hutchinson likely to be on the bench to come on and make a similar impact to the one they made against Sunderland.

That then leaves three players into two positions. There were a couple of comments on the Sunderland blog about Jackson's lack of threat, but he definitely gave Sunderland problems to think about with his running in behind and his pressing. He was also on hand to anticipate and expertly finish his third goal of the season.

He’s not going to be prolific, but he has attributes that help the team and suit the style of play better than Ladapo, who sadly seems like he’s on his way out.

The other two players who I think could be vying for a start in this one are Broadhead and Harness. Broadhead’s quality is clear and he’s one of Town’s most technically-gifted players but can sometimes leave Davis a lot to do defensively down that left hand side.

Harness came in for the previous game against Leicester and had one of his best games in a Town shirt with four successful dribbles and two key passes. He also offers more defensively than Broadhead and is excellent at taking the ball under pressure.

I was also very impressed with those abilities and his ball control when he came on up front in the last minutes of the Sunderland game and if Kieran McKenna does choose to go without a natural striker, I'd rather see Harness in that position than Broadhead. As it stands, I'm going to go with Burns, Chaplin, Harness and Jackson.

For Leicester, they’re very much limited in terms of numbers right now. Hermansen will start in goal. Coady came in against Town last time with Faes shifting to left-back but the Belgian struggled against Burns and it’s likely to be their first-choice back four of Ricardo Pereira, Vestergaard, Faes and James Justin for this one.

With Ndidi out injured, the midfield is likely to consist of Harry Winks sitting with Dewsbury-Hall and Casadei ahead of him. Maresca has reported that Dewsbury-Hall picked up a knock in the last game and could miss this one, however anything can happen.

I was expecting a front three of Jamie Shackleton, Joe Gelhardt and Daniel James for the Leeds game at the start of the season and instead we ended up facing Wilfried Gnonto, Joel Piroe and Lus Sinisterra! If he is out, then Dennis Praet is the most logical player to come in for him, but I think it could be a bit of a smokescreen by Maresca.

Ahead of them it’s likely to be Kasey McAteer, Mavididi and Cannon, although Leicester have been boosted by the news that veteran striker Vardy is back in training. It would seem too soon to start him in this one, but he’ll be hoping to make an impact from the bench on his return.

Action Areas

Once again for a top-end clash the key factors will be winning individual battles and putting chances away.

Town were dominant in the second half at Portman Road but only ended up coming away with one goal from all of their shots with Leicester defending excellently and putting bodies on the line with a number of blocks.

Even without Fatawu and Daka, they possess players who are effective on the counter and will look to work the ball to create spaces for Mavididi and also get Dewsbury-Hall running from deep (if fit).

To counter that, Town will need to work on keeping tabs on the movement of the Leicester players and making sure they don’t leave any gaps to exploit.

Without Morsy or Luongo in the middle, not much play went through there against Sunderland. Taylor attempted to pick out Jackson with a number of balls over the top but the two weren’t on the same wavelength. It meant that more play went wide quickly which Sunderland counteracted and Davis was forced inside a lot of the time.

With Pereira likely to tuck into the midfield to form a double pivot with Winks, this might actually open up the wings more in this one and provide opportunities for Davis.

Justin is also a naturally right-footed left-back, so Burns is also likely to fancy his chances one on one against him.

The other big area that could have an impact in this one is the substitutions. With 20 minutes to go, the thought of Hutchinson and Sarmiento coming off the bench with their combined dribbling ability is mouth-watering.

Leicester, by comparison, will have experience but largely defensive changes on the bench with the likes of Hamza Choudhury, Marc Albrighton and Praet, although as previously mentioned Vardy still knows where the net is at this level and is one to watch.

The squad issues do run quite deep, however, and 19-year-old Benjamin Nelson was drafted in to fill a bench space against Coventry.

I’m feeling a lot more confident about this game than the last one. Leicester's squad is seriously depleted, they’ve just suffered a defeat to local rivals and with a seven-point gap still at the top maybe some complacency will start to creep in.

Town, by contrast, seem to have navigated a tricky spell of injuries and ground-out some results when performance levels haven’t been their highest. The squad got minutes in the FA Cup and they’ve followed that up with a good win against Sunderland.

If they can replicate some of that performance and the second half against Leicester the first time round whilst keeping an eye on their counter-attacking threat, I think they could win this. I’m going for a bold prediction of a 2-1 away win against the league leaders.

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