The development of formations at Leicester from 3-5-2 to 4-4-1-1 and on to an ulitimate possession unit without the best stability

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Talk of formations in football is a topic that seldom gets dull and you need to address your ideas as a football manager when bringing that to the table.

Some managers tends to be learned in one formation and seldom makes changes and others do the total opposite, but the simple rule based on learning is to play a system to the strength of the players to your disposal.

Over the years we have seen a number of formations used at this football club and also experiments and shapes that in one way or another became a trademark of the team at the time.

Current manager Brendan Rodgers often makes changes in his defensive structure swopping between a back three and a back four. He has earlier said that he prefer to play with a four men back line and as we have seen so many times a 4-3-3 set up or a 4-2-3-1 approach which is based on a similar structure but with two holding midfielders instead of one.

Looking back in time and from 1966 and forward most teams did adapt to a 4-4-2 structure, but in different settings. Sir Alf Ramsey became famous for his wingless wonders and using midfielders with stamina to work both forward and backward as they managed to press and mark the opponent better.

Most teams from then on adapted to a 4-4-2 but with different approaches with teams of good standard and success not dropping wingers and often played with one special winger in the team as we did see with Nottingham Forest and Brian Clough using John Robertson as a key element in his attacking style and force.

Brazil, Holland and West Germany became the force of football after that and we did see them either playing in a 4-4-2 fluid and stylish set up or as for the Dutch making the 4-3-3 their trademark.

Leicester did follow the paths and to go back to the 1969 FA Cup final we did see a traditional 4-4-2 set up which in a way was the preferred formation used at the club during the years going forward.

Martin O’Neill became pivotal in changing to a 3 men back line with a strong set up involving a certain Emile Heskey as a key player to be able to hold the ball from a long pass from the back, but also playing through the midfield with Muzzy Izzet and Neil Lennon as base. Steve Guppy had a special role out wide as he became the perfect man with the ability to swing the ball in from wide areas and being perfect in that set up.

Martin O’Neill made his Leicester success on a fluid system and using defensive players in the flank postions as they sprinted up and down. This became a trademark of his teams as Leicester managed to become masters of their performances by continuity and a good base of players adapted and skilled to play in that certain way.

Peter Taylor came in and took over without changing much in his first season making a grand start in taking Leicester to the top of the Premier League table for the first time in October 2000. He probably made the line-up stronger with the move of Robbie Savage into the midfield area and partnering Izzet and Lennon. But with Neil Lennon sold to Celtic and Junior Lewis brought in to fill the gap we did see a fall of performance, despite winning 2-0 at home vs. Liverpool being 4th in the PL in March 2001. Taylor watered out the influence of this formation and slightly moved in another direction which again made Leicester a relegation candidate dropping another important man for this formation approach in Steve Guppy.

Going a number of years forward formations has been used to lay a foundation for success. Nigel Pearson made a formation change to 3-4-3 when he managed the great escape in 2014/15, as he often fielded a fluid team in this structure. This also became a base for Claudio Ranieri with his approach looking to a model with the one man on top approach getting the best out of Jamie Vardy.

Leicester had great success with the 4-4-1-1 approach as we did see in the 5000/1 winning season. This was a perfect set up but it was strange to see Claudio Ranieri going back to the dinosaur 4-4-2 replacing Shinji Okazaki with Islam Slimani. Against weaker opponents this worked well as we could see in games against Brugge and Burnley, but playing tougher opponents you never had the defensive work of Shinji in there. Craig Shakespeare made a straight return to the special formula when he came in and got answers from the first game he came in.

Craig Shakespeare never really put a stamp on his team when he took full charge and the 4-4-1-1 was watered out with different players used as their abilites was different to Shinji Okazaki as his role in this set up was a key.

Players are either perfect in one setting and sometimes not working at all in another and over time you tend to see formation changes that will either see a progress or a decline. Brendan Rodgers surely gets the best results when playing a steady 4-3-3 or a hybrid 4-2-3-1. He has also played the team in 3-5-2 as his juggles makes the team unstable and unpredictable as results differs a lot.


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