The Champions League may be a whole new world for Leicester City but Claudio Ranieri’s men should feel quite at home in one sense, at least – their trademark ploy of a Danny Drinkwater pass over the opposition defence for Jamie Vardy is perfectly in sync with the increased tendency for direct, back-to-front passing in the elite European game.
The evidence of last season’s Uefa competitions – both at club and national-team levels – pointed to teams moving further away from possession-focused football, with an increased use of long balls to inflict damage on the counterattack. The average number of passes needed to score a goal in the Champions League in 2015/16 was just 3.74, while teams required an average of 11.51 seconds’ possession to find the net.
Reflecting on the reasons behind this trend, Loan Lupescu, the Uefa chief technical officer, told The Independent that “teams are well organised in the more dangerous central areas and the easiest way to get the ball to attackers in these positions is via long passes or via crosses”.
Uefa’s technical reports into last season’s Champions League and Europa League, along with Euro 2016, offer plenty of food for thought – with pressing strategies and ‘sweeper-keepers’ both significant discussion topics for the governing body’s team of observers, led by Sir Alex Ferguson.
However, it is the vogue for counterattacking that will strike a chord with Leicester fans making their way to Bruges for their club’s first European tie since 2000 on Wednesday evening.
Ranieri, the Leicester manager, said: “We are the flag-bearers but a lot of teams play on the counterattack – that is normal. Of course there are managers who believe in keeping possession of the ball but to keep possession of the ball you need high-quality players in every situation, in every position.
“There are different ways to win. I know if I put Albrighton on the right, he makes ten crosses in each half. At the end of the match its 20 crosses. I don’t have the [same] players as Barcelona so I try to beat Barcelona in another way.”