Leicester City’s decision to replace Craig Shakespeare with Claude Puel is one which has created a lot of controversy, although it is difficult to understand why.
Puel guided Southampton to a cup final and an 8th placed finish in the Premier League in his debut season in the division, of course statistics don’t tell the entire story as his campaign was marred by attacking deficiencies, yet he still did more than a good job.
Now he wouldn’t have been many people’s first choice to take charge of Leicester City, especially not in modern football where any form of failure stains a reputation like no era previously, yet it would be more than fair to assume that the Foxes are aiming for the kind of success Puel achieved at St.Mary’s.
The title win side-effect
One of the unfortunate side-effects of the club’s historic title win in 2016 is that it created some level of unrealistic expectations around the club, aiming for a position just above mid-table would be an overachievement whichever way you look at it.
Leicester should be more than good enough to avoid a relegation battle, but they have to find form quickly. Victory over Swansea City on Saturday gave the club just their second league win of the campaign, they now have to build on that.
Puel, for all his positive achievements, must recognise that he failed in some aspects of his job on the South Coast, his team didn’t score a single home goal from April 15 right through to the end of the 2016/17 season.
Attack is the best form of defense
This is unacceptable and is largely what cost him his job with the Saints. Such an attacking impotence would not be tolerated at Leicester City, especially when you consider that the attacking corps is the strongest area of the squad.
If you can’t find a way to get Jamie Vardy, Islam Slimani, Kelechi Iheanacho, Shinji Okazaki and Riyad Mahrez scoring goals, then you are quite simply failing as a coach. There is such unbelievable talent there, especially in the form of the former Manchester City striker; Puel must get the best out of them.
A central defensive pairing of Wes Morgan and Robert Huth will not be stable enough for Leicester to succeed again, the real strength of the team is in their attacking talent, this will be further boosted by the January ‘arrival’ of Adrien Silva.
Puel’s OGC Nice team were exceptional in front of goal in the 2015/16 season, albeit they were carried by a resurgent Hatem Ben Arfa. It is actually unfortunate for everyone involved that the French attacker opted to join Paris Saint-Germain instead of Southampton in the summer of 2016 as things could have worked out differently.
Time to unleash Demarai
In taking the job at the King Power Stadium, the French coach has to accept that his team will have to be as effective going forward as his Nice team was, perhaps Riyad Mahrez could be the squad’s answer to Ben Arfa and play in a more central role.
This would actually solve two problems for the incoming coach as it would create a space out wide for Demarai Gray a spot on the right which he richly deserves.
Gray is arguably one of the club’s most talented players and it is baffling how he hasn’t yet been given an opportunity to play regularly. Whilst it is understood Tottenham Hotspur are cutting their fiscal cloth according to their mounting stadium costs, the fact that Mauricio Pochettino wanted Gray in his team during the summer is an indication that he should be a star at Leicester.
There is also the possibility that Ben Arfa will be available in January with his PSG career effectively over, Unai Emery does not want him around and the player himself no longer wants to be there. How Puel would fit him in is another matter, but a further injection of quality can only be a help.
All in all, a sensible appointment
Puel’s teams always have a solid base; at Southampton he oversaw an incredibly tidy football team with Oriol Romeu playing the finest football of his career in the holding midfield position.
If he can replicate this at Leicester, then at the very least the defeats should dry up a little.
It is an appointment which makes sense, even if it doesn’t take your breath away, Puel will be given money to spend in January and he has a talented team as it is, the question for the Frenchman now is whether he can shake the stigma of being overly cautious which has followed his spell with Southampton.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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