Why Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers dropped in-form Harvey Barnes

Harvey Barnes of Leicester City, Brendan Rodgers (Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images)
Harvey Barnes of Leicester City, Brendan Rodgers (Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images) /
Leicester City
Harvey Barnes of Leicester City, Brendan Rodgers (Photo by James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images) /

A startling absentee from Leicester City’s starting XI against Wolverhampton Wanderers, was in-form winger, Harvey Barnes. The Englishman has been a key cog in the Foxes’ impressive start to the season, but was Brendan Rodgers right to prioritise tactics ahead of Nuno’s Espirito Santo’s visit to The King Power Stadium?

Leicester City are becoming formidable inside of the 3-4-3 formation, that was only initially implemented post-lockdown due to injuries, and is still consequently deployed for this reason – yet, the Foxes look increasingly comfortable in its structure. What better test than Nuno Espírito Santo’s Wolves side, who’ve perfected the three back formation since their climb back into the Premier League in 2018.

Why was Leicester City’s Harvey Barnes dropped?

For me, it’s because of the oppositions formation that he wasn’t present in the starting XI, as both sides playing a 3-4-3 formation, resulted in Harvey Barnes being dropped to the bench. Brendan Rodgers highlighted two key areas where the Foxes could find joy – the left and right half-spaces, and a certain area that would find limited success – behind Wolves’ defensive line.

With this in mind, playing two “false” wingers (a player that holds the winger position in the structure, but looks to play in more central areas in the attacking phases) such as Dennis Praet and James Maddison, ensures that you dominate in the areas that Wolves are seemingly weak. This created a numerical overload in the centre, and that’s how Leicester City had such joy in the first-half and early exchanges – and inevitably won the game from this period of the fixture.

This did sacrifice creativity in the wings, which in most attacking phases saw the wing-backs – Luke Thomas and James Justin, as the most advanced players. Both players had fairly conservative performances, opting to play internally into either the “false” winger or the advancing midfielder out of the double pivot – Youri Tielemans and Nampalys Mendy.

With respect to both wing-backs that played, if the Foxes started the game with Timothy Castagne and Ricardo Pereira instead, the attacking intent is of a much higher standard. I don’t want to downplay the performances from Thomas and Justin, who have both been exceptional in recent matches – in particular Justin.

At half-time, Thomas was replaced by Marc Albrighton – I thought the 19-year-old had a difficult game, but he was by no means “bad”. The quality in possession of Daniel Podence and Pedro Neto is very good, both quick, good in tight-spaces and flexible in terms of sidings. It was a tough ask for Thomas, and I feel Albrighton was a more secure option defensively.

However, what this did force was a rotation of positions for Justin, who has primarily played as either the right-wing-back or right-centre-back, was tasked with operating as the left-wing-back. Early into the second-half, Leicester City turned the ball over very frequently (in a negative way) and this was mainly due to Justin being constrained to using his weaker left-foot when in possession/progressing the ball.

Essentially, looping back to why Barnes was emitted, his 23 minute cameo at the end of the game painted a fairly quiet picture. Admittedly, the 23-year-old was utilised on the right-side of Leicester’s front three – a position he’s not frequently played and does limit a lot of his key assets (the internal run inside the full-back), but he only had 14 touches.

However, the spaces Barnes likes to play in weren’t available – even with Wolves starting to play openly and expansively. Imagine the fixture with the England-international starting, he would’ve had a frustrating afternoon – limited chances to get the ball into feet, especially against a deeper block, with more structure to it in the first-half.

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Once again, Brendan Rodgers judged the fixture to perfection. Wolves seemed excessively poor in the first-half, and yes that was partially due to their defensive game plan, but it was also because of Leicester‘s dominance. Had the Foxes started Barnes, who wants to play on the shoulder – and doesn’t possess as good on-the-ball qualities as Maddison/Praet – would they dictate the game as much as they did? I’d argue not.