Claude Puel continues to face regular questions about his job security at Leicester City and remains the favourite to be the next Premier League manager to be dismissed. One of the biggest reasons for his questionable future is the poor support from fans for the Frenchman. Having joined in October 2017, Puel has completely revamped the playing style of the squad. He has guided the Foxes through the toughest period in their history following the loss of chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha but, on the pitch, results have remained inconsistent.
Barring a disastrous run of results which sucks Leicester into a relegation battle, Puel looks unlikely to lose his job this season. Last Word on Football looks at what he needs to change in the last three months of the season to keep his job through the summer.
Changes Claude Puel Must Make to Save His Leicester City Job
Improve Home Results
Under Claude Puel, The King Power Stadium has become a toxic environment. This was demonstrated in Sunday’s loss to Manchester United when fans booed Puel’s substitutions, an ongoing occurrence. There is a huge disconnect between the club and the fans at present, which is largely due to a terrible home record.
This season, Leicester sit 15th in the home Premier League table, winning only a third of their games. Frustratingly for them, their biggest home struggles have been against lower-placed opposition. Recently, both Cardiff City and Southampton have won at the King Power Stadium, but the problem stretches further back. West Ham, Burnley and Everton have also taken points away from Leicester this season.
The previous success of ‘The Great Escape’ and title win were built on home wins, but the King Power Stadium is now an easy place to play. One reason for this is the lack of creativity in the squad. Puel’s commitment to his system is admirable, but this lack of flexibility is causing issues. Understandably, away teams now play deeper against Leicester to counter Jamie Vardy’s threat. This makes them trickier to break down, yet Puel fails to change his side to bring in more attacking option.
Another enormous reason for this is the lack of fan support. The atmosphere on matchdays is significantly different from that of previous seasons, and fans are quick to moan at errors. This is borne largely from frustration at the patient, possession-based playing style which is a far cry from previous seasons.
Unless Claude Puel is able to alter this home form, it is difficult to see Leicester progressing under him. Any team has to be reliant on a home fortress, but if performances and results continue to be poor, the toxic atmosphere at The King Power Stadium will continue.
Solve The Central Midfield Dilemma
Claude Puel’s favoured central midfield pairing all season has been Wilfried Ndidi and Namphalys Mendy. Both have similar strengths; reading the game, intercepting and winning the ball back. This is reflected by tackle statistics; Ndidi has the fifth most tackles in the league this season, whilst Mendy has fifth most in the team.
However, they both lack creative spark. Between them, the pair have no assists and only two goals all season. They also struggle to play the ball forwards. Combined, Mendy and Ndidi have completed 2261 passes this season, yet only six have both tracked as ‘through balls’ – 0.2%. In comparison, Jorginho, who leads the league in passes, attempts a through ball with 0.8% of his passes.
Both Ndidi and Mendy are good players but, paired together, they offer too little offensively. Yet, Claude Puel has been reluctant to change the pairing. Both Vicente Iborra and Adrien Silva were allowed to leave the club in January, having made a combined ten appearances this season. Both players are creative, ball-playing midfielders yet were deemed surplus to requirements by Puel.
Academy product Hamza Choudhury has impressed in fleeting appearances this season. Although another defensive-minded midfielder, Choudhury is more willing to carry the ball forwards and attempt more challenging passes. The biggest hope for change in the midfield is deadline day loan signing Youri Tielemans. A dynamic box-to-box midfielder, Tielemans could revitalise a lifeless midfield. Tielemans scored five goals for a struggling Monaco in the first half of the season and should add a creative spark to the team. The biggest obstacle to Tielemans making an impact could be Puel’s unwillingness to change his midfield pairing.
Continue With Youth
The biggest positive to Claude Puel’s tenure has been the blooding in of several talented youngsters. The stand out talent is Ben Chilwell, 22, who has improved enormously under Puel. There have also been improvements in James Maddison (22), Harry Maguire (25) and Wilfried Ndidi (22). Puel has a history of developing young talent. Whilst at Lille he gave Eden Hazard and Kevin Mirallas their debuts at 16. Puel also gave first career professional starts to Eric Abidal, Yohan Cabaye and Mathieu Debuchy.
This season, Puel has given young players more opportunities than any other manager. Prior to the last round of fixtures, Claude Puel had given 8373 minutes of Premier League football to under 22’s. This is more than double that of the second-placed side. Furthermore, it is more than Cardiff, Chelsea, Watford, Burnley, Brighton, Manchester City, Newcastle, Southampton and Crystal Palace combined.
It is, therefore, to be expected that a young team will make mistakes, some of which will cost the team points. Ultimately, the players will learn from the experience of this season and become better players because of it. However, there is a fine line between accepting differing results because of young players and using it as an excuse.
Puel may only remain in a job because of the work he is doing with young talent. It is therefore essential that he continues to show faith in young players. Given the recent form of Harvey Barnes and Hamza Choudhury, the minutes played will continue to rise. This can only be a good thing for Puel.
Find a Way to Get the Best Out of Jamie Vardy
Jamie Vardy is on course to have his statistically worst season since his first in the Premier League. Vardy has only seven league goals this season, of which three have been penalties. Worse still, he has been snatching at chances and not showing the same cool presence in front of goal as in previous seasons. This could be due to his frustration at Puel’s playing style.
Since emerging as Leicester’s most important striker, the team has been built around Vardy’s strengths; playing the ball forwards quickly for Vardy to run onto. However, under Puel the style has changed to a slower, possession-based approach. This means Vardy spends large chunks of the game with his back to goal, often receiving the ball to feet. It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that Vardy has not had the same level of success.
But with few other options in attack, Puel needs to find a way to get the best out of Vardy. Kelechi Iheanacho is playing like a man who has lost all confidence, whilst Shinji Okazaki is a shadow of his former self. With no one else to turn to, Leicester will continue to struggle for goals unless Puel can reignite Jamie Vardy.