Can Schmeichel play the modern way under Rodgers?: Leicester

Leicester City's Brendan Rodgers (R), Kasper Schmeichel (1st-L), Liverpool's Alisson Becker (Photo by PETER POWELL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Leicester City's Brendan Rodgers (R), Kasper Schmeichel (1st-L), Liverpool's Alisson Becker (Photo by PETER POWELL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) /
Leicester City
Leicester City’s Brendan Rodgers (R), Kasper Schmeichel (1st-L), Liverpool’s Alisson Becker (Photo by PETER POWELL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) /

It’s been an excellent nine years for Kasper Schmeichel at Leicester City, a pivotal component in the title-winning season and a brilliant servant in the seasons that have followed – but does he have the credentials to play the modern way?

With Brendan Rodgers at the helm, Schmeichel’s role has been tweaked, no longer is the Dane purely relied upon for his shot stopping ability, he’s now required to initiate every single Leicester City attack – through the “building from the back” philosophy enforced by the Northern Irishman.

His distribution has divided the Foxes fans, with many unconvinced with his implementation in the role, especially when compared to the other goalkeepers in the league playing for Leicester City’s “current rivals” – Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, and Tottenham Hotspur. For what it’s worth, I’m still a massive fan of Schmeichel and truly believe he’s an asset to the club, but I do also see the on-the-ball errors and kicks into touch and empathise with those who seek a replacement.

At Liverpool and Man City you’ve got two exceptional Brazilian keepers, who are arguably better on the ball than their actual goalkeeping, I’d say this is definitely the case for Ederson. With Rodgers wanting to implement similar building structures to the two aforementioned teams, it’s worth noting how pivotal ball-playing is, but also how much of an emphasis Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola put on the trait during the recruitment process.

In the East Midlands, Rodgers has stuck with the Danish-international, and as I’ve already said, rightly so. I’m going to dissect a few statistics, and a couple of games that I’ve personally watched a couple of times to better understand his distribution, but also the consequences of his actions. With the idea of acknowledging if Leicester City are best to keep Schmeichel as the number one, or pursue someone else in January or the summer – again, I want to disclose my personal preference, which would be to keep the 34-year-old for the foreseeable.

Looking at last seasons data, we can see that Schmeichel completed 76.7 per cent of his passes – this encompasses goal-kicks, free-kicks, any open play actions, but not throws. For last seasons starting goal-keepers that ranks him sixth in the league. As telling as this statistics is, it doesn’t articulate certain contextual parameters that impact the numbers, such as having a target-man profile at striker who will win the majority of his battles and inflate the success rate. Or, on the reverse, it doesn’t highlight how many passes are simple five-foot across the floor passes to the centre-back, that have very little danger/are easy to execute.

For instance, Schmeichel attempted 1,178 passes in the Premier League last season, and completed 904 of them – 76.7%. Of those passes, he went “long” 634 times – 53.8%. If you’re looking at who goes long the least, Ederson went long for 34.9% of his passes – so Schmeichel’s 53.8% placed him in sixth position again; meaning, out of all the goalkeepers, Schmeichel played short the sixth most in the league. The reason that Leicester City’s goalkeeper has a lower pass completion, aside from a technical standpoint, is because he goes long a considerable amount more than the keepers in the league who have a higher percentage – and that’s due to the difficulty in longer passing.

I watched a couple of matches from this season, and saw that Schmeichel really struggled to complete the “medium” range pass. This normally takes the form of a clipped ball in the air to either one of the full-backs or a dropping winger. The idea of the pass is to bypass the first line of the oppositions press and to initiate an attack, but the difficulty of the pass has caused problems for the Dane.

In the game against Burnley this season, which ended 4-2 to the Foxes, Schmeichel had a 73.9% pass completion for the game. When you looked specifically at the passes into the mid-range, he had a 65% completion; 17 of his 46 passes were aimed into this region – 37%. If you’re to compare this to a keeper who excels in this metric, Manchester City’s Ederson, you’ll see a much higher completion rate. I analysed the Brazilian’s performance against Wolverhampton Wanderers earlier in the season, and for the same mid-range area, Ederson had a perfect 100% completion; 10 out of 10 – 27% of his passes in the game were played into this area.

I’m not expecting, or even anticipating numbers of this scale, but closer to the 100% completion is desirable. Again, if you look at the last fixture – the away loss to Liverpool, Schmeichel completed 12 of his 24 passes into the mid-long range – 50%. All of these misplaced passes result in turnovers for the opposition, and interestingly, of the 12 completed passes into this area, Leicester City lost possession on the next pass six times (50%). Even when the initial header is won, the Foxes aren’t structured in a way to capitalise on second-balls.

However, what the numbers are suggesting is that Schmeichel isn’t subpar for his passing. In fact, for the amount of passes he attempts to hit into the medium-long area, he’s averaging the standard completion for the league. The question is, do Leicester want a goalkeeper that plays 53.8% of his passes long when he’s the building block of each attack? Perhaps not, but that’s a decision for the management.

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With Schmeichel now being 34-years-old, could now be a good time to invest into a young, up and coming goalkeeper who can slowly be integrated into the starting XI over the next couple of seasons. Leicester do have Danny Ward as the current number two, and as good as the Welsh-international is at shot-stopping and saving penalties, he definitely isn’t a ball specialist. I think Rodgers could be looking at investing into the future, in the immediate transfer windows.