Leicester City’s creative solution to their defensive woes

Leicester City

Brendan Rogers and Hamza Choudhury of Leicester City (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Touted as the “Leicester City Mascherano” by Brendan Rodgers, Hamza Chouhdury transitioned into an unorthodox right centre-back position, as the Foxes required creative solutions for their injury problems.

The involvement of Hamza Choudhury was indisputable — especially with Boubakary Soumaré’s late injury omitting him from the squad, but to play in the defensive line was unexpected. What had Brendan Rodgers noticed in the Loughborough-born defensive-midfielder that enabled a positional switch such as this?

A lot of Choudhury’s critics focus on his aggressive style of defending. Unafraid to commit into challenges, both in a sliding and standing motion, initiating either with high frequency. Of course, with this style, you will mistime tackle attempts and thus concede fouls — this being where the critics come in.

There’s an undeniable quality to Choudhury’s defensive acumen. The evidence was clear in the victory against Watford, as he won all five of his ground duels highlighting his proficiency in one-vs-one battles — an important asset for a centre-back to have, particularly when fielded as one of the wide CB’s in a back three/five.

He’s deceitfully quick across the ground, making him adept at recoveries. This perhaps was another reason he started in defence, as Jannik Vestergaard’s lack of pace was subsidised by Choudhury’s mobility. There’s an element of Wesley Fofana in this style, able to commit freely and understand that they’re capable of recovering the situation by using their body/pace. He made some mistakes in this fashion, and was able to rectify them by aggressively reacting to the danger.

Lastly, he’s also competent in possession, but definitely aided by the freedom centre-backs have to play progressively. The luxury they’re afforded is extra space and time on the ball, whilst also having the entire pitch in front of them. This enables higher quality pass selections and Choudhury benefitted from this — often utilising expansive switches of play to start attacking sequences.

There was slight references to his ability in possession during the Foxes‘ run in the UEFA Europa League, as he started in a double pivot (central-midfield) away at AEK Athens, where he was rewarded with a goal. He played progressively on the ball and didn’t seem impacted by the high pressure nature of elite European football. When you add this extra space to pick passes, it’s perhaps unsurprising that he flourished as a centre-back whilst in possession.

I don’t think Choudhury will play this role often, it’s definitely influenced by availabilities, but he’s suited to playing as a wide centre-back — perhaps more so than as a single defensive-midfielder. If push comes to shove, there’s a case that Choudhury could manipulate his role with Leicester City to become a “Mascherano” style figure under Rodgers’ management. The boss deserves a lot of credit for having the initiative to try Choudhury at centre-back and for it to work as well as it did.

If injuries continue to plague the Foxes squad, then Brendan Rodgers will either have to enquire about adding some loan signings, albeit limited choices in January — players have to be out of favour at their current club, thus restricting the qualities of any incomings, or be creative with players inside his squad.

With Choudhury failing to puncture the starting XI as a midfielder, perhaps converting into a makeshift centre-back could be his way of adding value to the frail Leicester squad.