How Marc Albrighton’s second prime made him vital to Leicester

Ben Chilwell of Chelsea and Marc Albrighton of Leicester City (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Ben Chilwell of Chelsea and Marc Albrighton of Leicester City (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images) /
Leicester City
Ben Chilwell of Chelsea and Marc Albrighton of Leicester City (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images) /

In a time when Marc Albrighton should be entering the twilight of his career, the Tamworth-born winger has become more important to Leicester City than ever.

Leicester City’s Marc Albrighton is somewhat a relic of days passed. The emergence of the increasingly popular 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 systems has brought about not only the death of the 4-4-2, but with it the “traditional winger”. Deployed on the left or right of midfield and tasked primarily with delivering tantalising crosses into the awaiting forwards in the penalty area, it wasn’t a role demanding yards of pace or a wicked shot- but an excellent delivery.

As wingers became regarded less as midfielders and more as an attacking threat, their required skillset changed to reflect this. The modern wide-man is deployed on the opposite side to their strong foot to encourage shooting across goal, and is expected to be quick and technically brilliant to facilitate the beating of opposition defenders. Today’s game has phased out David Beckham and Leicester’s own Steve Guppy in favour of Cristiano Ronaldo and Mohamed Salah.

That said, the traditional winger isn’t completely dead in the ground. It’s survived largely by the modern-day full-back, with Liverpool’s Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold perhaps two of the finest examples. The 4-4-2 similarly survives with the likes of Burnley and current La Liga leaders Atlético Madrid, but is often looked upon as “negative” football, seldom enjoying the adulation of its early 2000s heyday.

Coming back to our man Marc, it’s a miracle that he’s been able to embark on such a career –1 EPL title, 269 Premier League appearances and Leicester’s first ever Champions League goal- considering by the time he’d made his debut in 2009, players of his ilk had long been out of fashion. In a world that seems utterly set up for Leicester’s No. 11 to fail, he’s achieved the highest level of success possible.

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Albrighton’s role at Leicester City

Even those with the fondest memories of the Foxes’ title-winning season can admit that Albrighton was far from one of Leicester’s superstars that year. The curious comparison of eventual PFA award winner Riyad Mahrez on one wing and the affectionately named “Sharky” on the other draws some interesting observations. While Mahrez’s qualities lay in his technical ability, Albrighton’s were in his inconceivably high work rate and willingness to track back, rendering him closer to Shinji Okazaki than the Algerian in that regard.

But while Okazaki was quickly phased out of subsequent managers’ plans, receiving little game time and eventually transferring to Málaga in 2019, Albrighton persists as a Leicester City player- and an important one at that. Of Claudio Ranieri’s title-winning XI, only five remain in the East Midlands (Schmeichel, Morgan, Fuchs, Albrighton, Vardy), and only three of those receive regular minutes.

I’ll admit, in the years following 2015-16 I was very much of the opinion that Albrighton should be sold. This was a distinctly average footballer playing out of his skin, elevated by the few world-class players that surrounded him; while as an English player, could be easily cashed in on were any of the “big six” to come knocking. At this time, cracks in the winger’s game were starting to show too- I was particularly aggrieved with his obsessive spam crossing, floating balls into the area to be met by no one. Considering the stark lack of creativity in Leicester’s team as a whole around then, it was easy to become frustrated when our only attacking outlet was aimless crossing.

However, with the Foxes’ creative issues solved by the arrivals of James Maddison, Harvey Barnes, Youri Tielemans and a more complete Jamie Vardy, Albrighton offers excellent balance to Leicester’s more attacking outlets, bringing consistency to a team that sorely lacked it, subsequently finding himself a place in the starting XI. In the 13 games Albrighton has started this season, Leicester have won 11, and lost just once.

It’s evident to me that Marc Albrighton plays his best football as a supporting member of a larger, ensemble cast. With less attacking responsibility on his shoulders, the No. 11 is able to dedicate his game to pressing, ball recovery and delivering crosses only when the correct option arrives, allowing Jamie Vardy and Co. the freedom to perform their individual roles to the best of their ability.

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It’s also worth noting the winger’s flexibility to slot into a variety of attacking and defensive positions when called upon, significantly easing this season’s growing injury crisis. He might be old fashioned and he might not be flashy, but Marc Albrighton’s qualities have been no small part of Leicester City’s success this season.