Every Monday, theScore’s Daniel Rouse breaks down the weekend that was in English football. Welcome to the “Eye on England.”
No one remembers Hector Enrique. His pass into a clump of bodies was ill-advised, but Diego Maradona was magnificent enough to evade several Englishmen, run to Acapulco, and score what became known as the “Goal of the Century” in 1986. Maradona did it by himself in the Azteca, but Enrique’s forgettable pass is equal, in terms of assists, to Andrea Pirlo’s bewitching no-look dab to Fabio Grosso during the 2006 World Cup. That doesn’t seem right.
The assist is football’s useless statistic; a number that not only puts the sublime on par with the bland but also unashamedly ignores the great work players do out of possession. Ayoze Perez was credited for an assist for his jabbed release for Ricardo Pereira in Sunday’s 5-0 rout of Newcastle United, but it’s Jamie Vardy who deserves much of the credit for the buildup, as the right-back correctly mentioned in his post-match interview.
“I saw the space (for the goal). Jamie’s movement dragged one of the defenders away, and then I tried my luck and I scored,” Pereira said of Leicester’s opener.
Vardy provided vital assistance for Pereira’s goal, even if it isn’t reflected in the statistics. The Portuguese defender was able to dash through the heart of Newcastle’s backline because Vardy’s run pulled Fabian Schar and Jamaal Lascelles aside. It was a goal embossed with the hallmarks of Brendan Rodgers’ tactical approach – a devotion to off-the-ball movement, space, and, of course, possession – which is the main reason why the Foxes’ hunt for a top-four finish needs to be taken seriously.
Vardy and Pereira represent two of the three corners in Rodgers’ system, with left-back Ben Chilwell completing the triangle. The points are intended to open up space for the midfield: the full-backs often sit as wide as possible, while Vardy is patient in a high position, expanding the playing area by hanging off the last defender. Other strikers would grow restless and drop to try to influence proceedings, but Vardy sticks to the game plan and is economical with his touches and intelligent with his movement when called upon.
Thanks to Vardy, Pereira, and Chilwell, the midfielders have a vast chasm to operate in. Perez and Harvey Barnes, Sunday’s widemen, have both played in central roles during their careers, so they were comfortable moving inside to link up with Vardy and switch positions with Dennis Praet or Youri Tielemans. Alternatively, they could shift wider to gang up on a Newcastle full-back with Chilwell or Pereira.
Praet, a summer arrival from Sampdoria, is a quick convert to Rodgers’ plan. In his first home start for the Foxes, he left Newcastle disheveled with his running and retained possession superbly alongside Tielemans in the demanding central midfield positions.
Tielemans was the strongest of the pair at sliding across from Leicester’s nucleus; his knack of moving out wide was demonstrated by his 11 crosses, which matched Pereira and Steve Bruce’s Newcastle combined.
Beating the Magpies isn’t a huge statement, but a 5-0 win without your best player, James Maddison, certainly is. The Rodgers revolution is rolling.
“You can see what we have been up to on the training field and (we) are implementing the manager’s plans,” Vardy said after he scored twice in the public undressing of Newcastle. “We have got lots of different ways to score, we used to be counter-attacking but we have different dimensions in attack.
“You can see the way we are playing, we keep possession but play it fast and (it) has an end product.”
Letup in London
Mauricio Pochettino doesn’t hide his feelings. The Argentinian gaffer was airing his displeasure about transfer matters before the new season even kicked off, and followed that by reiterating concerns about a poor squad dynamic following the midweek League Cup elimination to fourth-tier Colchester United. Thankfully, Harry Kane saved his best work to help 10-man Tottenham Hotspur see off Southampton in a nervy 2-1 win on Saturday. It doesn’t get any easier for Pochettino, who is now overseeing preparations for Tuesday’s Champions League visit from Bayern Munich.
It’s not really Phillip Cocu’s fault. Derby County’s three best players from last season – Fikayo Tomori, Mason Mount, and Harry Wilson – were only on loan and are now starring in the Premier League. Then, despite being offered rides home by the club, Richard Keogh and two other first-team players were arrested for drunk driving on Tuesday evening, with the captain being sidelined for the rest of the season following a car crash. Saturday’s 3-2 win over Birmingham City brought some much-needed relief for Cocu, but the visitors’ non-existent midfield and Derby’s 15th-place standing in the Championship after nine matches provide scant hope of another promotion push this term.
Karl Robinson, who led MK Dons to the Championship in 2015 and dealt with Charlton Athletic’s negligent owner for longer than he wanted, is an underrated EFL boss. This week, the 39-year-old manager showed exactly why. Oxford United’s last five results have been 3-0, 0-0, 6-0, 4-0, 3-0, with the penultimate one coming when the under-strength U’s overpowered West Ham United, no less. James Henry stood out with two goals and an assist in Saturday’s 3-0 League One defeat of Gillingham, but it is the cohesiveness of Robinson’s ranks that is most impressive.