Football

Nigel Pearson emerges as tactical genius when it matters

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On the 26th of December, Boxing Day, Leicester City slumped to their sixth consecutive defeat, a 2-1 loss at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur at the King Power Stadium.

It seemed a long time since The Foxes' famous 5-3 win at home against Manchester United, where Nigel Pearson's side showed such great character to produce one of the most memorable comebacks in Premier League history.

And it was exactly that grit and determination which Leicester lacked as they went winless in their following 13 league games. After what had been a bright start to their campaign, taking eight points from their first six league games by upsetting United and managing to hold Arsenal and Everton, no one would've expected The Foxes to find themselves sitting at the bottom of the league come the turn of the year.

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What sparked Leicester City's flying start was their solid defence, coupled with their capability to launch quick counter attacks and be clinical in front of goal. Record signing Leonardo Ulloa had a huge role to play in that, bagging five goals in as many matches in a dream start to life in the Premier League.

Bought from Brighton & Hove Albion for a hefty £8 million, the Argentine centre forward served as an unorthodox target man, becoming the centre of Leicester's attacking plays and duly converting his chances.

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The team as a whole were motivated to grind out results, determined to fight for every point on the back of a successful season in the Championship. However, as the Foxes flew high up on the league table, all eyes were on them to continue their fantastic start. Eventually, they crumbled under the pressure.

The confidence and swagger that Pearson's side had in their playing style disappeared since that 5-3 victory over United. Leicester struggled to keep hold of possession and individual players started to make unforced errors. The players looked as if they had nothing to play for, and the once disciplined and organised Leicester defence turned into a huge mess.

Upfront, they were creating chances but no one seemed capable to finish them. Even the ever reliable Ulloa went on a barren streak and lost his scoring boots. To make matters worse, the Leicester fans were calling for Pearson's head and critics were pouring in, sending the Foxes into turmoil. Heading into 2015, Leicester City seemed destined for relegation.

Tactical shift

However, after some inconsistent results between January-March, it all changed going into April. Defying all the odds and silencing all their critics, Leicester went on to win four straight league games, starting off from a 2-1 victory over West Ham, followed by wins over West Brom and Swansea.

This was capped off with a huge six pointer away at the Turf Moor to fellow relegation battlers Burnley, where a Jamie Vardy strike was enough to secure the crucial three points, lifting Leicester off the bottom of the league for the first time since November. So what exactly has inspired this miraculous revival of the Foxes?

Credit certainly has to go to the man that some of the Leicester faithful had initially turned their backs on, Nigel Pearson. The Englishman has tinkered with tactics all season long, but only recently has he got his decisions spot on.

In their 2-0 home victory against Swansea, Pearson switched to a brave 3-4-3 set-up, starting all three of his fully fit forwards in Vardy, Ulloa and Kramaric. He sent Leicester out with a positive attitude, wanting his team to start on the front foot and revitalising the spirit in his players.

In that particular game, Pearson made his players press high up the field, showing hunger to make the ball theirs, urging his team to create more chances and to attack with positivity. It soon payed dividends as Ulloa scored an early first half goal with Leicester dominating much of the game.

Yet it was Pearson again making another wise move as he brought on right back Ritchie De Laet for Martin Wasilewski, changing his team's shape to a 4-4-2. It was a decisive move to contain Garry Monk's men in the second half, pushing them on the back foot as Leicester looked to retain possession of the ball, slowing down the pace of the game.

With a quarter of an hour to go, Pearson reverted his formation again to his usual 4-2-3-1 which brought the Foxes' second goal of the game, effectively securing the result for Leicester City. Pearson's adaptability and brilliant decision making definitely played a huge part in Leicester's resurgence.

Attitude

Another key reason for Leicester's revival has to go down to their changed attitude. The belief and hunger the players have shown in their recent games is remarkable compared to their mid-season slump, where they looked lethargic and played defensively. There was a drastic change in the Foxes' approach in April.

It was as if the players suddenly realised they were playing to stay in the Premier League and had nothing to lose. The difference in their mentality certainly helped in their resurgence. A clear unique feature that Leicester have lacked before is their fast and aggressive starts to their matches.

The way Pearson's side have pressed from kick-off and attacked with such ferocity is truly impressive, leading to vital early goals they scored, boosting their already overflowing confidence with their flamboyant style of play.

It was a far cry from the same side that were held to a boring 0-0 draw against Hull just a month ago. This positivity and 'nothing to lose' attitude Pearson's side has brought to their game has been another key part of Leicester City's rise from the bottom.

Despite a 3-1 loss at home to champions elect Chelsea midweek, Leicester's belief and aggressive style was ever present. Hardened perhaps by the off-field incidents involving Pearson afterwards, Leicester were able to thrash Newcastle in their next outing, with the 3-0 victory one of their most memorable performances of the season.

Can they do it?

The Foxes carry with them a good run of form heading into their last three league matches, a considerably kind run in compared to their relegation rivals. They currently sit 16th in the table, one point clear of the drop though having played a game more than 18th placed Sunderland.

Leicester host Southampton at home, before two potentially huge relegation deciders against Sunderland away and Queens Park Rangers at the King Power Stadium.

The tides have turned. Leicester now have their survival hopes in their own hands, carrying momentum with them into their final three games. Pearson's side have found the renewed hunger in them and the Foxes are out to kill.

Can Leicester City stay up? Given the unpredictability of the Premier League, anything can happen. However, given their inspired revival from the perseverance of the team and Pearson's newfound genius, it's very likely that they will be out of the relegation zone on May 24.

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Topics:
Leicester City
Football
Premier League

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