Irritating. Destabilising. Painful. These are the words which best describe Leicester City boss Enzo Maresca’s task of replacing integral Callum Doyle.
Four months is the estimated time the English defender is absent from the Foxes XI. What a terrible start! First we lose Conor Coady for the opening games of the campaign without barely a look at the CB, and now our exciting loanee is also out for an extended period. The thing is, Doyle was absolutely pivotal to how the King Power side set up on the pitch.
This whole mess really brings into question the decision to loan out our two other left-sided defenders in Luke Thomas and Victor Kristiansen. The latter of which a decision I deeply feel was woefully concluded upon by the Leicester hierarchy. Anyway, without a left-sided defender to support, there are a couple options open to Maresca.
Option 1: Leicester City’s English fullback
The first possibility is also the most obvious and honestly I believe likely one. James Justin is an extremely versatile defender, playing left-sided, right-sided, and even performing once or twice as a winger for former head coach Brendan Rodgers.
Versatility is a highly accredited attribute for someone of the calibre of Justin. It was confusing to see the talent out of the side, despite being a high quality and impactful starter for much of his Foxes career. This versatility is exactly the feature we need to fill the void left by the absent centre back.
You see, Doyle was an aggressive, forward-looking player who would often make marauding runs in the half spaces to support inward-looking wingers and midfield runners such as Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall. Justin can easily fit into this role, able to go forward, track back and defend, and also can push further onto the wings and loft crosses into the box. The player is the perfect fit if all the Italian head coach wishes to do is make a like for like replacement.
Option 2: A systematic remodelling
Fancy talk for making a minor alteration to how the team lines up on the pitch. Let is remember how ‘Marescaball’ works for Leicester: out of possession, the team are a high-pressing dynamic 4-3-3 with a focus on a compact shape with explosive wing play; in possession, the side become a probing and controlling 3-2-2-3 where a fullback tucks into midfield and the other into a back three. This allows for effective controlling of the flow of the ball both on and off the ball in midfield.
Now, a simple alteration in the absence of the right kind of player would be to go for a back three from the start: three out and out centre backs. This would mean less of an emphasis on finding a like for like replacement and allow the exploration of two other players to bring in while retaining the crucial feature of the 3-2-2-3 we have ordinarily been playing in.
For fun, let us postulate a possible lineup. A 3-4-3 with Wout Faes, Conor Coady, and Jannik Vestergaard forming the back three, Stephy Mavididi and Kasey McAteer (as he has previously played as an attacking wing-back in the youth set up) on the wide midfield positions, and a front three including Jamie Vardy, Abdul Fatawu, and Yunus Akgun. This would be highly unlikely as I feel Marc Albrighton is actually a more realistic addition than Akgun, with ‘Kevin’ switching with McAteer.
I also feel this formation would be especially weak to explosive counter attacks with a lack of pace in defence. The combat to this would be to either have two shielding DMs – say Hamza Choudhury and Harry Winks – or to keep one back and let a ‘KDH’ character roam freely to keep the ball flowing.
Personally, I feel a simple switch to ‘JJ’ at the back is the most realistic and superior choice, but would be perfectly happy to see a more permanent 3-4-3 formation while we wait to see if there are better options to more directly replace the exact role of Callum Doyle. One this is for certain, the Foxes will miss the English starboy.