Claude Puel has a reputation of giving the media understated comments but his description of Leicester’s performance over Everton was ‘perfect’ speaks volumes.
“I saw a team in Leicester with a good attitude, a good structure and a lot of solidarity,” he told reporters after the game.
“I was impressed with my players. I hope it’s just the beginning of something.”
Two early goals put the Foxes in total control of the match, allowing them to soak up pressure and cause the visitor’s problems on the counter-attack. This has proved to be the tried and testing formula at the King Power Stadium over the years and it is also goes someway towards explaining why Puel could thrive during his time with the 2016 champions.
More Reactive than Proactive
Claude Puel is a manager who is perhaps more reactive than proactive. Wanting his team to control games not necessarily in terms of possession but certainly in terms of soaking up pressure, he will drill them carefully so that they show tactical discipline and decisiveness when attacking.
During his spell with Monaco, Puel won Ligue 1 in 2000 and, perhaps more impressively, he brought Lille to within one place of the title five years later. Taking Lyon to the Champions League semi-finals, he also reinvigorated Nice transforming them from a struggling side into a genuine force.
Leicester are a side with potential – many of the stars from that incredible title triumph remain but they have lacked a man who could gel them along with a string of new signings with potential.
Last season, Vicente Iborra captained Sevilla, Kelechi Iheanacho had recently broken through at Manchester City and Adrien Silva had established himself as a Portugal international. All arrived in summer but due to fitness and registration issues; all have yet to make their mark.
Craig Shakespeare was dismissed – perhaps a little prematurely – on the basis that he lacked the tactical nous and ability to manage players of such ability and this is where Puel can be decisive.
Whilst Leicester will not threaten this season’s top six, there is a genuine argument to be had that they have the potential to be the ‘best of the rest’ and push for a European spot.
Back-to-back league victories and progression to the League Cup quarterfinals provide reasons for optimism. This is a squad with more depth than previous years and, unlike last season, no European distraction.
Class is Permanent, Unsworth isn’t
Everton rode into the season upon a wave of optimism which has quickly evaporated with shoddy performances and a series of poor results. Sunday’s defeat took them into the bottom three and they’re also facing group stage elimination from the Europa League.
David Unsworth wants the job on a permanent basis and has excelled for the club’s Under-23 side, leading them to last season’s title. This, however, is an entirely different task altogether.
He inherits a squad who are heavily unbalanced and with several gaping deficiencies. The central defensive partnership of Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams, with a combined age of 68, were once more left exposed in Sunday’s defeat to a quick and direct Leicester attack.
Gylfi Sigurdsson – the club’s record signing – was benched with first league starts of the season handed to wingers Aaron Lennon and Kevin Mirallas, but despite this injection of pace and width it was a side who were sterile and predictable.
Lies, Damned Lies and Damning Statistics
The statistics are damning. Only Bournemouth and Crystal Palace have scored fewer than Everton while Palace are the only side to concede more. The Toffees have not won any of their past 13 away league games and only two of their players have found the net in the league this campaign.
Unsworth will be in place for the trip to Lyon on Thursday and the visit of Watford at the weekend but it’s unclear if the club are willing to hand him the reins on a permanent basis. Few managers could succeed with this squad and handing it to a managerial novice is an even greater risk.
Should their poor form not subside there will be a genuine fear of a relegation battle and whilst many Evertonians will want their former full-back appointed, there is scant evidence to suggest this would be wise.
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